Easter crusade canceled after threats

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 13 (UPI) -- Violence erupted after threats from suspected
terrorist Osama bin Laden and other Muslim extremists had forced Christian
leaders to cancel a mass rally celebrating Good Friday in Khartoum.

The Christ For All Nations ministries announced Friday that "hundreds of
thousands of people, mostly Muslims," arrived in the Sudanese capital anyway
to hear German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, 60, who is often described as
Africa's Billy Graham.

"They had brought their sick from far and wide and demanded to know why the
man of God had been chased away," the Frankfurt-based organization reported.
"Police turned them away by force. Truncheons and teargas were used, and
many arrests were made."

Bonnke, a Pentecostal preacher, is considered "an exotic figure in Germany,"
said Wolfgang Polzer, managing editor of IDEA, a Protestant news agency. In
Africa, on the other hand, Bonnke has unprecedented appeal.

He claims to have converted 18 million Africans to Christianity. Last
November, he presided over the largest Christian gathering ever recorded.
Two million people assembled his Great Millennial Crusade in Lagos, Nigeria.

At a previous rally, also last year, 16 men, women and children were crushed
to death when half a million people stood shoulder-to-shoulder on 80 acres
of ground in Benin.

According to Christianity Today, not all Christian leaders in Africa approve
of Bonnke's evangelistic methods. "Come and receive your miracle," Bonnke
often announces. "Paralized people are going to walk, the blind will see."

"We don't believe in wholesaling the supernatural," Dan Corbin, regional
director for Africa on the Assemblies of God told Christianity Today.

However, Sudan's Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox leaders had invited
Bonnke to their country, where an "anti-Christian genocide" has been
underway for 18 years, according to the Washington-based Church Alliance for
a New Sudan. Two million Christians, animists and moderate Moslems are
reported to have died in this holocaust.

Of the 28 million Sudanese, 70 percent are Muslims, 20 percent animists and
10 percent Christians.

Last Easter, Bonnke drew 200,000 to Khartoum's Green Square, where on a
previous occasion Pope John Paul II had spoken. As a result of that first
rally, the church experienced an "unprecedented growth," CFAN said.

This year, an even larger crowd was expected. But then the threats came in.
Radical Islamic groups announced that they would disrupt the gathering by
force. Pastor Steven Mutua, Bonnke's representative in Sudan received
threats by e-mail from bin Laden, reported IDEA, a German-Protestant wire
service.

Bin Laden, who finances major development projects in Sudan and therefore
exercises a significant influence on the country, insisted that the crusade
be stopped.

The Sudanese government obeyed. It revoked the permit to use the Green
Square for the Easter celebration and offered its organizers another
alternative site in the slums outside Khartoum.

When they inspected it they found it far too small to accommodate hundreds
of thousands of worshipers, CFAN related on its Web site Friday. Moreover,
it was flanked on all four sites by mosques, and the headquarters to one of
the most militant Islamic organizations.

At the same time, CFAN related, threats on Bonnke's life came pouring in. He
returned to Germany, vowing he'd be back.

Bonnke leads an average of nine to 10 crusades in Africa every year and has
preached in 46 of the continent's 53 countries. He said that when he was
very young he had a vision of God calling him to Africa. "Night after night
I saw the entire continent washed in the blood of Jesus."

Return to Project Open Book