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."
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