If Reinhard Bonnke is to be believed, swathes of Florida have been saved and Houston, Texas is about to be. This is to happen on the 20th and 21st February. It is the fourth stop in his march to spread his brand of evangelism through the US, having already saved Africa, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Interestingly all countries were the official, or prevailing language is English, and of course his native Germany. The Holy Spirit has told him, “I have not sent you to America for it to be the offering plate for Africa. I have sent you to America for America’s sake.”
In his informercial for his upcoming gospel crusade, to be held in the BBVA Compass stadium with a capacity of just over 22,000 and more used to legions of Dynamo fans, Houston’s soccer team, Bonnke (pronounced ‘bonky’) tells us, “I can feel already in my heart, God is going to shake the Houston area.” This no doubt is because, according to Bonnke the day of the sickle is past, and as Houston is ripe for the picking, “God needs a combine harvester to bring the harvest in.”
Struggling to save a small land-locked African nation, the Kingdom of Lesotho, more than 40 years ago, the young Bonnke had a dream. In it he saw a map of Africa being covered in red and the voice of God telling him, “Africa shall be saved.” Now those of you with a cynical bent might say the red was the blood of inter-tribal differences, but Bonnke interpreted his dream as the spreading blood of Christ. And so was born Christ For All Nations (CFAN).
In the intervening years, according to the word of Bonnke, and his chosen successor, Daniel Kolenda, 406 gospel crusades in 91 countries have touched, and documented 74 million souls. I have to query just how people have been documented when still shots show multitudes in open fields, but am assured upon further listening that each has filled in a little card. Part of the discipleship training program requires reading one of the 95,500,000 copies of his book Minus to Plus.
Freedom of speech is ingrained in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which means that anyone can start a church, start preaching, register with the Internal Revenue Service as a religious entity which allows tax exemption and start passing the money bowl. And you don’t even need to have a building sanctified as a church. You can merely set up a studio and start preaching over the airwaves. Christian Broadcast Network, Trinity Broadcasting and Daystar Television Network are worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars.
Christ For All Nations, in 2010, took in $12.75 million, of that only $2.7 million was spent on Africa, and most of that on program expenses. Strange really when according to Bonnke, “Africa is the CFAN’s priority.” It is very easy to donate, just go to the website and make a one-time donation of a minimum of $35 or you could choose to become a Monthly OneSoul Sponsor, but before you do, be aware MinistryWatch.com affords his organization only 2 stars out of 5 for transparency in how and on what the funds are spent.
Reinhard Bonnke at least has some seminary training, being a graduate of The Bible College of Wales, founded by Samuel Rees Howells in 1924. Some of the Welshman’s fire and brimstone doctrine must have rubbed off on Bonnke, because his online study course is called The School of Fire. Evangelism has made him a very wealthy man. He and his wife Anni live in a swanky penthouse in Vero Beach, Florida. Because he is a pastor, he qualifies for the ‘Parsonage Allowance’ passed by Congress in 1953, which exempts from federal income tax “that part of a clergyman’s compensation that pays for housing”. In 1953 many clergy lived on a few thousand a year. There are probably some who still do, so in theory this is a fair tax exemption.
I suppose the question is ethical rather than legal? When we see so little of the vast amounts garnered by these mega-churches actually going to those who need it, with no evangelical strings attached, a village in Lesotho say or to those riven by internecine conflicts, I lose what little faith I have. It brings to mind the quote, either from Jomo Kenyatta or Bishop Desmond Tutu depending on where you read it, “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes shut. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”
Let’s hope Houston welcomes Reinhard Bonnke with their eyes open.