I had scheduled an outreach to Kano, Nigeria and the crusades were to begin two days after we landed. As we arrived, John Darku, the crusade director, looked worried. He took me to one side. “Reinhard,” he said, “you cannot go into the terminal. There are snipers who have sworn to kill you.” I looked at the terminal and could see armed soldiers standing by the windows. “You are sure of this?” I asked. “Yes.” He replied gravely.
Death threats and snipers
I thought John might have been overreacting. I had preached under death threats before, but I felt terribly responsible for the guests joining us from America and Europe. They were coming to witness the largest crowds in history at a Christ for all Nations Crusade. What had I brought them into?
“The snipers will have to get past soldiers,” I suggested.
“It can be done, but some of the soldiers are Muslim and they might have radical sympathies.” John replied. “The government has arranged to process your passport confidentially; airport authorities want you to leave through a secret entrance.” The three of us were quickly put into separate vehicles. We left the airport property and began driving an erratic route through the back streets. It was nearly dark when we arrived at our rented house. By telephone and two-way radio, my team monitored the arrivals of all our American and European guests. Group by group, they found their way to their accommodation without incident.
An angry Muslim mob
I listened to local radio news of Muslim unrest concerning our visit. I thought that underneath all the arguments, they were really upset that many Muslims would turn to Christ in our meetings, as they had done a year earlier in Kaduna. We prayed about it, committing ourselves and everyone associated with the crusade into the hands of God.
I laid down in the darkness, but sleep would not come. “Lord, has my zeal for reaching Nigeria blinded me? Have I been unwise? I’ve brought these innocent people into danger. Protect them, Lord,” I prayed.
A blood-washed Africa
I had been zealous for Nigeria. It was home to more people than any other African nation and is one of the ten most populated countries on the planet. Half the population are Muslim and are concentrated in the North. Christian evangelism among Muslims there is forbidden, but in order to follow God’s vision of blood-washed Africa, I knew that sooner or later Christ for All Nations would have to penetrate Muslim strongholds in the Northern part of Africa, including Sudan, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Chad and Egypt.
For that reason, the Northern part of Nigeria represented a test case for us. It was home to the kind of fanatical Muslim resistance we would eventually meet as we pushed further north.
A test of faith
It is my belief that God arranged for the boy David to face a lion and a bear before he took on Goliath. In that spirit, we held our first Nigerian crusade in 1985 in the Southern city. It was a wonderful crusade, and we followed up in the four years with a series of meetings in several other Nigerian cities. Near the end of 1989, we ventured onto the country’s great central plateau to the city of Jos.
Religious tension in a holy city
The meeting went well. But we could feel the religious tension rising as our team stood poised, looking northward toward the city of Kano. It was a Muslim holy city, a walled fortress in ancient times, built by slaves. We would go forward with caution. My team members were in agreement that we should test the waters once more. We would first try a crusade in a lesser Muslim stronghold before entering Kano; in 1990, we scheduled a crusade in Kaduna.
A breakthrough in Kaduna
The population of Kaduna was nearly 70% Muslim. This was a huge step of faith that resulted in the greatest breakthrough we had ever seen! The size of the crowd that greeted us in Kaduna took our breath away. For the first time in my life I looked upon a crowd of a half-million souls. All of my earlier thinking about using the world’s largest tent, seating 34 000, was made completely useless by this mass of humanity.
Hundreds of thousands saved
It seemed significant to me that we first saw this happen on disputed Muslim ground. Our team felt a huge responsibility to deliver a clear message to every lost soul in attendance. Our technicians had already put strategies in place to bring my voice effectively to such a crowd. We brought generators and even set up a small weather station to monitor humidity, wind, pollen, ozone and any atmospheric conditions that might affect the hearing of the Word.
This information was constantly updated into a computer that would adjust the speaker relay system across the 25 acre crusade field. Everything worked fantastically. God broke through. We saw miracles of healing to verify the preaching. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims came to the Lord! I told my staff to schedule a meeting for the coming year in Kano. As planning went forward, I enthusiastically invited partners and friends from Europe and America to join us.
Kano: a city enraged
The next morning in Kano, after devotions, I told the men that I would like to drive through the city as I normally do. I wanted to see the people of Kano for myself. When I preach in a new place I need to smell the air. I need to see local activities. It helps me to get a feel for the city. We got a car and Peter and Brent went with me. As we drove, I noticed many more mosques than churches in Kano. During our tour we drove past the local Emir’s place (a Muslim political leader of a specific region).
Outside of his palace we saw a crowd of thousands of young men dressed in white robes. They had blocked the road, but as we drove slowly up to them, they parted like the Red Sea to let us pass through. Many of them bent down and looked intently into the car as we moved through the crowd. I noticed that all the young men seemed to be very angry, but we passed through without incident. At noon we arrived back at our house. Our host met us, wringing his hands. “Kano is burning,” he said. “A Muslim mob has gone on a rampage.” We looked back toward the city and could see columns of smoke rising. Reports came to us that the young men we had seen at the Emir’s palace had just come from a mosque where a mullah had told them, “Bonnke must not be allowed to preach in the holy city of Kano.”
A Divine intervention
How had they missed us? Had the Holy Spirit simply blinded their eyes? If one of those young men had recognised my face, we would have been dragged from the car and killed on the spot. The city was covered with our crusade posters. The next morning, John Darku arrived at our house with a senior Air Force officer. The officer said, “The governor has declared a state of emergency. You must pack your things and leave now.” “Where will we go?” we asked. “I have arranged to take you to another place,” John said. “The airport is teeming with rioters. They are trying to cut off your escape route. You have been seen in this neighbourhood. It won’t be safe.” We arrived at the home of a local businessman who must have been a brave fellow to allow us to stay that night.
Cancelling the crusade
From the roof of the house, we could see the reflection of fires flickering across the night sky. Explosions could be heard as petrol stations were set on fire. Occasional gunfire rattled through the darkness. The entire city was being ransacked in a mad search for me. That night on the news we heard that the government had closed the airspace over Kano. I ordered that the crusade for the next day would not go on.
The officer from the Air Force base came to the compound. He told us that the army was clearing the airport, trying to secure it so that we could leave. They would provide for an emergency air evacuation. “They are like ants,” he said. “They are swarming wherever they go. If they find this location they will soon come pouring over the property.” I asked that all of our guests from America and Europe be allowed to leave first. The military officer disagreed. He persuaded me that since I was the target of this violence, I needed to go. If it became known that I had gone, the mob might calm down.
As we waited for word from the airport, I took a walk around the grounds. A feeling of grief came over me. All of the events in Kano became glaringly real. Christians were dying because I had come to town. Yet, it was much more than that - Kano was burning, because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “If the world hates you,” Jesus said in John 15:18, “know that it hated Me before it hated you.”
Willing to die
“Peter,” I said, “if that mob shows up before they get the airport secure, I will give myself up to them. I want you to know that. I will identify myself, Reinhard Bonnke, an evangelist for the Lord Jesus Christ, and go out to them. That might save the others. My life is His.”
At this time, Winfred Wentland, the foreman of my crusade facilities crew, approached me. His wife, Gabrielle stood beside him. Winfred is a focused and intense man, a former German soldier and Gaby, is his match. If ever two people could see through the smoke of Kano to the real fire – the mission of saving souls – it was this pair.
A brave couple
They had been with me for 12 years in Africa. “Gaby and I believe we are supposed to stay here and bring the equipment home,” Winfred said. His words hit me like bullets. Given the way events had spiralled out of control, it was out of the question. I looked at Gaby, in her ninth month of pregnancy. I simply could not believe my ears. “Equipment can be replaced, Winfred,” I said. “You and your family cannot be replaced..” “Reinhard,” he continued, “Gaby and I and the children have prayed together about this. We have heard from God and He has given us perfect peace. Look at us; we are in peace. Whether we live or die, God is going to see us through.” I began to pray, “Lord, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. But right now, I don’t want to believe that.”
At this time, at the home where my team waited, the Air Force officer arrived to tell us that buses were approaching to take us to the airport. I had known from the start that I would not ask Winfred to disobey anything he had heard from God. I called the two of them to join me for a time of prayer. I laid my hands on them and prayed for God’s protection to surround them. I specially prayed for Gaby and the child in her womb. I asked God to assign His angels to guide and protect them until they arrived again at their home in Lagos.
A call to martyrdom
As I finished the prayer, I felt saddened. I truly feared that I had seen them for the last time. Christians were being hunted down and killed in the streets of Kano. Winfred would now travel those streets pulling a large red trailer with J-E-S-U-S spelled out in block letters on the enemy’s flag. To me, it seemed to be a call to martyrdom.
That day, in order to begin to control the city again, the local police and military announced a ‘shoot on site’ curfew from 6pm until 6am. When the curfew was in place that evening, our evacuation began. Soon we were flying away, breathing easier aboard those rescue jets. I thought of Winfred and his family left behind.
How would they face the outcome of their decision to obey the Lord? They would face Kano the way any of us would have – one moment at a time. Borrowing no anxiety from the future, they would simply put one foot in front of the other until they arrived – either at their earthly or Heavenly home. At 6am the next day, the curfew was lifted, and the worst violence of all erupted. Apparently my leaving the city had not appeased anyone. Their blood lust was not yet satisfied. On Friday morning, five soldiers came to the hotel to escort Winfred through the streets. As Winfred gave them their assignments, they began the process of dismantling the platform and sound stations. Suddenly, a huge explosion rocked the area. The mob was approaching. They forced Winfred into his car and ordered him to take them to their barracks to get more soldiers.
A journey of imminent death
The next morning, a military vehicle led the way as Winfred’s blood red trailer bearing Jesus’ Name began its journey through the smoke and debris of Kano. To their right and left as they passed, they saw dead bodies in the streets. Hundreds had been killed.
In spite of the ‘shoot on site’ curfew, crowds of zealots could be seen roaming the streets; apparently the curfew had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people willing to violate it. The soldiers were too afraid to try to enforce it. But to Winfred, it was as if the crowd had been made blind. No one cried out with recognition, or, if they did recognise it, like the lions in the den with Daniel, their mouths had been miraculously shut.
A miraculous escape
They came to a military roadblock. After a few words, the barriers were lifted. They came to another with the same results. Every few blocks they found a barricade. They travelled on and on like people for whom the rough way had been made smooth. To them it seemed as if the waters of the Red Sea were parting so they could pass through on dry ground!
When they arrived back home in Lagos, they were received by an emotional staff that had assumed they were dead.
In the history of Christ for all Nations, Kano became our greatest setback. According to popular belief, Bonnke had brought violence to Kano. Did he truly serve the Prince of Peace? Our tremendous momentum in Nigeria was stopped in its tracks.
Millions saved as a result
For years, it appeared that satan had won in Kano. But, how could anyone have guessed that the eight long years of our banishment would build an irresistible appetite among the people for our return? Who would have anticipated that through the violence of Kano, God would gather in 2000, 1.6 million souls to hear the Gospel in a single meeting? And that 3.5 million would accept Jesus in the six days of preaching?
The Kano seed is still bearing fruit, and not only in Nigeria. We have documented more than 34 million salvations worldwide in the last three and a half years. By the time you read this article, that number will be totally out of date!