Reinhard Bonnke was born on 19 April 1940 in Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany. He was born again at the age of nine after his mother spoke with him about the punishment for a sin he committed, unless Jesus saved him. He felt a call to preach the gospel in Africa at the age of 10 and says that he had the experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. He is the son of a pastor and ex-serviceman in the German Army who initially did not take Bonnke’s call to preach the gospel seriously.
Bonnke studied at The Bible College of Wales in Swansea, where he was inspired by the director Samuel Rees Howells. In one meeting after Howells spoke of answered prayer, Bonnke prayed, “Lord, I also want to be a man of faith. I want to see your way of providing for needs.” After graduation, he pastored in Germany for seven years. He began his ministry in Africa, with which he is principally identified, preaching in Lesotho in 1967. He has subsequently held evangelical meetings across the continent.
Encountering poor results from his evangelistic efforts and frustrated at the pace of his ministry, Bonnke entered a state of heavy depression. He had a dream with a picture of the map of Africa being spread with red and heard the voice of God crying “Africa Shall Be Saved”. This dream recurred four nights in a row and led him to adopt large scale evangelism, rather than the traditional small scale missionary approach. He rented a stadium in Gaborone, and preached with little cooperation from local churches. Beginning with only 100 people, the stadium meetings grew.
Bonnke began his ministry holding tent meetings that accommodated large crowds. According to an account published by the Christian Broadcasting Network, in 1984 he commissioned the construction of what was claimed to be the world’s largest mobile structure – a tent capable of seating 34,000; this was destroyed in a wind storm just before a major meeting and therefore the team decided to hold the event in the open air instead. According to this account, the event was subsequently attended by over 100,000 people which is far greater than the 34,000 seating capacity the tents could contain.
In 1991, during Bonnke’s visit to Kano in Nigeria, there were riots in the city as Muslims protested over remarks he had reportedly made about Islam in the city of Kaduna on his way to Kano. A rumor was spread that Bonnke was planning to “lead an invasion” into Kano. Muslim youths gathered at the Kofar Mata Eide-ground where they were addressed by several clerics who claimed that Bonnke was going to blaspheme Islam. About 8,000 youths gathered at the Emir’s palace and after noon prayers the riots ensued, during which Christians were killed and several churches were burned down. After nine years he returned to Nigeria to preach.
In the early 1990s Bonnke, who had prophesied a major world revival which would start in the United Kingdom, was involved in an initiative to reverse the decline in church attendance there. This involved the distribution of millions of copies of a booklet he had written called Minus to Plus to homes throughout the country, which was hoped to win 250,000 converts. However, only 20,000 were claimed to have been ‘won over’, and these were mostly those returning to the faith rather than coming to it for the first time. Church attendance in the United Kingdom continued to decline.
After graduating from the Bible College of Wales and returning to Germany, Bonnke led a series of crusade meetings in Rendsburg. He began receiving speaking invitations from all around Germany and the rest of the world. Bonnke met Anni Schulze at a gospel music festival, and admired the grace with which she recovered from a wrongly pitched music performance at the expense of losing the competition. He offered to preach at the church she attended one Sunday and fell in love with her.