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BONNKE’S BRAND

by Daniel Schere

Christian evangelist comes to Greensboro

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

Billy Graham, move over. A new Christian evangelist is making his way around America, and Greensboro is his latest stop.

More than 7,000 turned out at the Greensboro Coliseum on both Friday and Saturday night to hear internationally renowned evangelist Rev. Reinhard Bonnke preach the gospel as part of his Bringing Good News to America gospel crusade. The event featured a band, a choir and several preachers prefacing the main figure. And while Paul McCartney’s concert isn’t for another month, one could have been forgiven for mistaking it based on the decibel level in the building.

In his address Friday, Bonnke spoke of his belief in the ability of Christ to lead people to salvation. He used a variety of stories followed by “Hallelujahs” and “Amens” to put the crowd in a spiritual mood. In one story, he described his childhood in Germany where he learned English in school and received poor grades. Bonnke went on to say how one day his teacher handed him an exercise book marked up with red ink that he promptly threw into a ditch.

“If you spoil an exercise book, no problem,” Bonnke said. “If you have the money you can buy a dozen new ones. But if you spoil your life with sin you can’t just do with your life what you did with my exercise book.”

Bonnke also emphasized his belief that everyone has the ability to be saved regardless of their actions “” something he said he has seen in Africa and now the United States.

“What I saw God do in Africa has given me faith in America,” he said. “There are different continents, there are different people, but it’s the same God.”

At the end of the service, many made their way down to the floor to participate in an alter call where Bonnke guaranteed everyone who gathered around him would be “saved.”

Bonnke started his ministry Christ for All Nations 40 years ago in Africa and frequently speaks to large crowds there, sometimes with as many as 1 million followers. He recently became a United States citizen and has been touring the country over the last couple of years. His next stop will be Houston in February, said spokesperson Jim McMahel.

Christ for All Nations is headquartered in Orlando, where Bonnke has preached at a similar event. McMahel said generally the ministry holds events in cities that have a large number of followers.

“Many factors go into it,” he said.

“This is the Bible Belt, and honestly the biggest factor goes to his judgment. He’s carried such integrity for so many years that we don’t question his guidance, his leadership.”

McMahel said in addition to the crusades, Christ for All Nations holds youth rallies, reaches out to college campuses and puts on TV programs for older audiences.

“What we’re bringing is not about religion,” he said. “I think what’s so appealing to people now is so many people have been burned by the church. They’ve been burned by the establishment of religion, and it’s been abused globally for centuries. So what we’re representing is a relationship with Jesus, and it has nothing to do with the building that you attend on a Sunday.”

Bonnke’s visit to Greensboro had received much hype due to the billboards across the state that went up a month ago. McMahel said the ministry usually spends in the hundreds of thousands on each event, a large chunk of which involves advertising. Christ for all Nations is entirely funded by private donations and they did not take an offering for this event, which is their standard practice.

The crowd featured a diverse mix of locals, people from across the country and others who came from as far away as France and the Czech Republic. There were also 1500 volunteers, including 240 partnering churches and pastors from across the state.

Rev. Dr. Kevin Williams of New Jerusalem Cathedral in Greensboro and Praise Ministries in High Point said he has followed Bonnke for several years and understands his influence on Christianity today.

“In the Christian ministry, we understand his work and how effective he’s been in Africa because Africa is a majority Muslim country, and to have Christianity have that level of domination is excellent,” he said.

Williams was attracted to the crusade because of the amount of collaboration involved between churches.

“This event is about soul winning and that’s what ministry is about, doing the lord’s work,” he said. “So I thought that it would be advantageous for us to all collaborate together for the same purpose. I mean we do that every week anyway so why not do it with someone who has a long history and a resume of doing it around the world.”

Williams said the simplistic message Reinhard Bonnke gave was particularly powerful and thinks it may inspire others who previously were not willing to embrace religion. He said he particularly enjoyed the alter call because it made for a more open worship experience.

“I think that this generation is turned off by a lot of things that they don’t understand,” he said. “And because people are not open enough to kind of explain it on a level that they can be receptive, then they’re rejecting. And that’s anything. If you’re in any environment that talks over your head and doesn’t talk to you, immediately you start rejecting that environment. And I think that’s what’s happening in the religious realm. And I think pastor Bonnke does a very good job at explaining it at a level people can understand and making some level of relation.”

Rev. David Crabtree of Cavalry Church in Greensboro said he has been with his church for 30 years and they have had a few crusades, but none like this one.

“The place was jumping,” he said.

“From the time you came in you felt like something great was going to happen. It was the type of thing you could bring a friend to because it was done with excellence.”

Crabtree said he felt Reinhard Bonnke was direct in his speech and was able to unify members of the different denominations that were in attendance. He said he thinks six different people could have gone on stage at once and preached the same message.

“I think that one of the other things that’s going to be really positive coming out of this is gospel crusade is just the connection that I saw between the ministers and the ministries and the churches,” he said. “A lot of walls came down, barriers were kind of set aside and we were comfortable with being different and yet working together for a common goal.”

Many pastors agreed with the idea of Bonnke’s simple message resonating with generations of all kinds, even in the wake of a still-recovering economy and in a country that can seem divided in every way . Rev. Dr. James Hash Sr. of St. Peter’s Church in Winston-Salem said he thinks Bonnke is part of God’s plan to remake America.

“Mr. Bonnke, his ability to take the gospel, and make what seems complicated to many simple,” he said. “Don’t delay. Don’t wait. If you hear he comes to your city, make sure that you get a seat and be the first there.”

Rev. David Olinger of Awake Church in Winston-Salem said he thinks Bonnke can appeal to younger generations because he does more than provide theatrics to his preaching.

“I think one of the mistakes we make as churches is we try to be relevant and try to make things really cool, thinking that that’s going to attract people but that’s just going to entertain people,” he said. “He’s not trying to put on a light show and have a concert with a cool band that wears V-necks and skinny jeans, that stuff doesn’t matter.”

Bonnke’s message Friday and Saturday may have been simple, but the event was just a rung below a rock concert, as more than 15,000 can attest who were there over the two nights. !

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