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A Passion for Souls

Think Reinhard Bonnke and his ministry are all about the numbers? You better believe it—and here’s why that’s a good thing.

 I was a young journalist attending an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1984 when I saw fliers all over town for a German evangelist named Reinhard Bonnke, who was holding huge crusades throughout Kenya. Knowing Germany wasn’t exactly a hotbed of evangelism, I was curious. African friends told me about this man’s passion to see all of Africa saved. Soon we were covering his ministry in Charisma. One of our first stories was about his massive revival tent that held up to 34,000 people. In 1985, a storm destroyed the tent in South Africa—but in the end, it didn’t seem to matter since it couldn’t have contained the hundreds of thousands who showed up.

I first met Bonnke in Brazil in 1989 when he was there for his daughter’s wedding. My wife and I had flown down to attend a Charles and Frances Hunter crusade in Rio de Janeiro, and we stayed at the same hotel as Bonnke. A friendship developed that continues today. Little did I know he would one day move his international headquarters to Orlando, Fla., which allows us to interact several times a year—most recently when he wanted to introduce me last fall to his successor, Daniel Kolenda. I actually knew Daniel’s family and visited his dad’s church in Port Charlotte, Fla., when Daniel was a little boy. In Charisma’s March issue we covered the incredible story about how after some unsuccessful attempts to find a successor, God supernaturally told Bonnke that the anointed must be appointed.

When I recently began inviting leaders to serve as guest editors for Ministry Today, I never dreamed someone of Bonnke’s worldwide stature would agree. But when we mentioned to him our vision to devote an entire issue to the topic of evangelism—and just how important it is for the church—he jumped at the chance.  Bonnke served as guest editor for the May/June 2011 issue of Ministry Today.  His successor, Daniel Kolenda, was the co-editor. Bonnke can explain better than I how Kolenda is transitioning to fill his huge shoes.

This isn’t just an opportunity to take over a large ministry, but also to win millions to Christ. When discussing people and souls, that word—millions—boggles most of our minds. Yet I believe it. I’ve observed how conservative Bonnke’s ministry is on reporting numbers. Sadly, many evangelists have exaggerated so much that evangelistically speaking has entered our everyday language to mean “exaggeration.”

L to R: Reinhard Bonnke, Anni Bonnke,
Joy Strang, Steve Strang, Frances
Hunter and Charles Hunter

But I’ve seen the multitudes with my own eyes. In 2000, I traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, to attend one of Bonnke’s massive rallies. One of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life was being there the night he ministered the baptism of the Holy Spirit to a crowd estimated at 1.6 million. For at least 20 minutes, waves of power rolled over that crowd as seemingly everyone spoke in tongues at the top of their voices.

On another night, I walked the crowd with one of his staff. I saw how they marked off areas on the ground, actually counted people in the squares and multiplied by the number of squares. I determined their numbers were believable. And during the day I saw firsthand the Fire Conference for 20,000 pastors and how they distributed the decision cards that had been filled out. African leaders told me how Bonnke’s crusades built the local church and how churches cooperated as a result.

It's estimated Bonnke has been instrumental in bringing 60 million souls to Christ and we believe that number is at least close. (Only God knows the exact number.) But the point is not entirely the number. Bonnke uses the number—as do we—not to brag but to give a frame of reference of the absolute enormity of this ministry and to give glory to God. 

 

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Man in the Mirror Celebrates 25 Years

Pat Morley and Man in the Mirror ministry are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They are to be congratulated for outstanding contributions to the lives of many people—including me—and for advancing the kingdom of God.

I’ve known and admired Pat since the late 1970s when he was an up-and-coming real estate mogul in Central Florida. He was well on his way to making his Morley Properties as big as Trammel Crowe in Dallas, which was his goal.

Pat was always known as a strong Christian. He even started a prayer breakfast in Winter Park, Fla., where Charisma began. It has changed and flourished and influenced many. Pat was among those who persuaded Campus Crusade and other major evangelical ministries to relocate their headquarters to Central Florida.

Leading the World From Korea (Video)

Note from Steve Strang: Attending this meeting of leaders was a great honor. Please read my commentary on what I learned.  I took the opportunity to bring home "flip camera" interviews with about half of the participants representing churches and ministries around the world.  Each one is only 2-3 minutes but gives you more information about that ministry.  If you view several or all of them, you'll begin to get a feel for what is happening around the world—and that is my goal.

Leading the World From Korea

What a global network of megachurch pastors can teach us

For more than three decades I’ve been reporting on the move of the Holy Spirit around the world. Much of what’s going on is wonderful. The church is growing, people and churches are being revived, miracles are happening. These are what motivated me as a young journalist to start Charisma.

However, much of what is happening isn’t wonderful. In the American church there’s more scandal and divorce, while a few so-called leaders seem more interested in enjoying a Hollywood lifestyle than in having godly character. There’s persecution around the world and culture wars at home. There’s a growing threat of humanism and militant Islam around the globe.Yet when I’m tempted to get discouraged I am reminded that no matter how bad things may be, God is in control.

Watch videos from leaders who attended the meeting in Korea, here.

This happened recently when I was invited to meet with a small group of Christian leaders in Seoul, South Korea. I’d never heard of their network, which consists mainly of several dozen megachurch pastors outside North America who meet for friendship, fellowship and to work together to fulfill the Great Commission. They have no website, and while they have a name, they’re so low-key I won’t use it here.

To be invited into the network, the churches (or networks of churches from a single church) had to have 20,000 members. Some were much higher. In Korea, 450,000; in Africa, a network with 250,000 members; in India, 80,000; in South America, 20,000.

This year, for the first time, they invited a few megachurch pastors from the U.S. They also invited CEOs of large parachurch ministries such as Campus Crusade, The Navigators, Mercy Ships, Open Doors, Alpha and several others to talk about how we can work together. I was the only one specifically invited from media and was honored to be included.

Because the meeting was below the radar screen, it wasn’t a “news event” to cover. Instead, I decided to write my opinion on the group and what I observed:

First, I came away encouraged at the state of the church worldwide. The pastors seemed full of vision. Even in countries with very difficult circumstances such as poverty in Africa or persecution in the Islamic world, they seemed to be encouraged.

I was impressed with the humility and character of those who attended. Instead of displaying huge egos as we have become accustomed to in the West, these leaders talked about their ministries with humility.

Dealing with Islam was the central theme of the meeting. Yet these pastors didn’t seem alarmed by the threat of Islam, unlike many American pastors who are stunned when they discover there’s a mosque in their town. They shared how thousands of Muslims are coming to Christ through signs and wonders, and through dreams and visions. One Arab pastor shared how his church is dealing with political unrest in his nation, adding that its churches “applaud the overthrow of the regime.”

Watch videos from leaders who attended the meeting in Korea, here.

Yet there are grave dangers and much persecution of Christians in the Islamic world. An Indonesian pastor shared how he and his wife learned to forgive the terrorists who planted a bomb in their car that exploded and left his wife without a leg.

An American attendee named Joshua Lingel has a vision to train the church in apologetics and Muslim ministry. He told us Muslims are trained in Islamic apologetics and most Christians don’t know how to answer them. His ministry, i2, has amazing training materials and a success record in winning Muslims to Christ. Well-known Christian apologist Josh McDowell added that many American evangelicals leave the faith when confronted with anti-Christian ideas because they don’t know what they believe.

Because of this extraordinary meeting I’m motivated to help American Christians understand their faith;  to network more—none of us can do the job alone—to fulfill Christ’s command to share the gospel and make disciples; and to pray for more visionary, humble leaders to lead the church through theses difficult times. We Westerners have a lot we can learn if we would bother to listen.

Steve Strang is the founder and publisher of Charisma. To watch videos from leaders who attended the meeting in Korea, here.

Remembering David Wilkerson

It was early evening yesterday, April 28, when a cell-phone call let me know the devastating news: David Wilkerson had been killed in a tragic traffic accident. Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, had just learned the news and felt I would want to report it. Knowing how important this was, we had a story online within 40 minutes that included a statement from Dr. Wood until we could get more details. The traffic on our website was so great the site temporarily crashed, and the article had more forwards on Facebook than any in the history of Charisma News.

That’s because David Wilkerson was one of the great Christian leaders of our generation, and his passing is a loss to the global church. He was the model of integrity, and he finished strong in a day when some televangelists are photographed in foreign countries with women they aren’t married to while others are exposed for secret gay activity while publicly opposing the gay agenda. Wilkerson was the paragon of virtue and his influence was tremendous.

Support Japan Earthquake Relief Through Christian Life Missions

I was in Korea the day the earthquake occurred in Japan followed by the devastating tsunami. Last time I was in Korea I stopped in Japan on the way home and met with missionary Ken Joseph Jr. This time I'm glad I didn't stop! But I've developed a friendship with Ken who emailed me the day after the earthquake to tell me how horrible it is. As I flew home I knew I had to do what I could to help. That's when I decided to reach out to you. One of the things I have through Charisma Media is influence. I want to encourage you to help in some way—even if it's small. There are many ministries helping. We are publicizing the good works of many of them as we find out what they are doing. Help us or help them, but please do something.

Why we are rebranding Strang Communications as Charisma Media

February 1 is a significant day for our company. It's the day we drop the name "Strang Communications" which we have been using for nearly 30 years and go by our new name: Charisma Media. We've sent out "news releases" so you may have heard about this. But I decided to send this to you because I felt you would be interested.

I shared "my heart" in a column in the February issue of Charisma and told why, as the founder of this company, I feel led to make this change. The easiest way for me is to let you read my actual column below. And then below that is the press release we sent out which has the "who, what, when, where and why" journalistic angle to the story for those of you who are interested.

What’s in a Name?

Why we are rebranding Strang Communications as Charisma Media.

True to the Vision

Anniversaries are times for celebration and reflection. Since 1985 we’ve celebrated Charisma’s anniversary every five years, so I’ve written a column like this five times before! 

God Connections

A few relationships in my life have been so important, I knew God had made the connection. One of these was my friendship with writer and pastor Jamie Buckingham.

The ‘New’ Charisma

Much has happened since Charisma was started in 1975—in the church, in our culture and with technology. Over those 30-plus years I’ve been blessed to be part of many powerful moves of the Holy Spirit. Yet seasons change.

He Was a Spiritual Giant

How Oral Roberts touched Charisma’s publisher

Growing up in the 1950s, I knew there were two Christian leaders who stood head and shoulders above the rest—Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. I never dreamed I would get to know Oral personally, publish one of his books, serve on one of his boards and even visit him “to say goodbye.”

Once Oral told some leaders that if they were ever asked to speak and were unprepared, they should tell their testimony. Now I feel inadequate to pay tribute to a man who did more than probably anyone in the 20th century to bring God’s healing power to the church. So I’ll just tell my testimony of knowing him.

I met Oral through my mentor Jamie Buckingham. I was barely 30 when I was invited to a meeting of about 100 leaders in the newly built City of Faith, on the Oral Roberts University (ORU) campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the meeting Oral walked around the room and prayed for each person. When he came to me he said: “Never doubt the gift that’s within you.”

I had only recently started Charisma. Oral must have sensed I was unsure about God’s call on my life. Yet he saw God’s hand on this fledgling magazine. He told me later he read every issue. And once he recorded a short endorsement that I’m so proud of I put it on the special online tribute we posted (charismamag.com/index.php/oral-roberts-tribute).

Once Oral asked me to serve on ORU’s board of regents. I felt as a journalist I needed to keep my objectivity, so I declined. Now, 25 years later, my son Cameron (who graduated from ORU) is the youngest member of ORU’s new board of trustees. Instead, I served for many years on the International Charismatic Bible Ministries board. It brought me to Tulsa for many years and I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with this great man.

I have met heads of state and titans of industry. But never had I met a man who could humbly walk into a room with such a commanding presence. But Oral wasn’t perfect, and he spoke candidly of his shortcomings.

And while he lived in utmost moral integrity, he sometimes did things he must have regretted. When he was desperate to keep ORU’s medical school afloat in the mid-1980s, he threatened that “God would take him home” if he didn’t raise the money.

I wrote an essay in our local newspaper explaining that many Christians believe after they accomplish all they can, God will call them home. That comment is often made at funerals to provide comfort when someone’s life is cut short. Apparently Oral felt that if he failed to save his medical school he would have nothing more to accomplish and he’d go to heaven.

The money did come in, but it wasn’t enough to save the medical school. ORU suffered a great setback and it left ORU heavily in debt. Yet the university and his vision survived and lives on.

The day of Oral’s funeral on December 21 I looked out my hotel window to the beautiful campus that had once been a farm on the edge of Tulsa. I’d heard Oral tell how he had walked that vacant property, prayed in tongues and then interpreted back to himself direction from the Holy Spirit. I have used that prayer technique many times.

After Oral retired to Southern California, I arranged to visit him “to say goodbye.” I took my friend R.T. Kendall, who wanted to meet him. Oral admired several of Kendall’s books, so he wanted to meet him and I went along to help conduct an interview we published in Ministry Today.

I saw him only one more time—at Mark Rutland’s inauguration as the third president of ORU. After the ceremony others on the platform exited amid great academic pageantry. As Oral was helped off the stage by his caregivers he gave a great wave as if to say goodbye.

Later Mark spent some private time with ORU’s founder. After their conversation, Oral put his feeble arm around Rutland’s shoulder and said, “Now I’m ready to go home.” Rutland assumed he was ready to go back to Southern California. Later he realized Oral meant he was ready to go to heaven.

Oral Roberts inspired millions, including this former newspaper reporter. I’m thankful he saw a gift in me. His legacy of faith makes me want to use that gift to its maximum impact.


Steve Strang conducted several interviews with Oral Roberts, including this one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 1980s.

I'm on a Sabbatical

After publishing Charisma for 34 years, Steve Strang is taking a much-needed sabbatical. He will not be writing The Strang Report, so each week you will receive one of our other e-newsletters. We hope you will enjoy them and decide to subscribe. Of course, they are free, and all you have to do is click here.

Good News for Charismatics

A widely publicized study released in late April about why Americans have given up their faith or changed religions is actually good news for charismatic churches. The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, described as the largest study of its type about why people change their religious affiliation, interviewed 2,800 people. It found that respondents had not become more secular or rejected their religious affiliation because of anger over doctrinal or leadership issues but because they had “just gradually drifted away from their faith.”

Why is that good news? Because it’s an indication that people want something that will meet their needs.

Thirty-five years ago my late mentor, Jamie Buckingham, newly baptized in the Holy Spirit, put this provocative comment on his church’s marquee: “For More than a Sunday Morning Religion.” He knew that people aren’t interested in just hearing a dull sermon and singing the same songs that have been sung for decades. They want a vibrant faith—the living Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is why Pentecostal and charismatic churches around the world are growing.

Like many of the churches noted in the survey, charismatic churches have the problem of people coming in the front door and going out the back door. But I believe the survey results are good news for those of us in the charismatic movement. Here’s why:

People want an exciting worship experience. They don’t want “boring religion.” One thing people say about charismatic churches is that the services are anything but boring.

They want a genuine encounter with God. Often that comes through praise and worship—the subject of this month’s cover story. In fact, the charismatic church has led the way in this area through musicians such as Israel Houghton, Darlene Zschech and others we include in the article.

People want answers to their personal problems. Charismatics pioneered the concept of inner healing, pray for deliverance from life-altering addictions and lay hands on the sick, trusting they will recover, for “by His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5, NKJV). We believe God has answers for our personal problems, and that resonates with people who are searching.

If people want community, they can find it at Spirit-filled churches, which are more ethnically and generationally diverse than other segments of the body of Christ. Are they perfect? Of course not. But when you find a mixed-race church, it’s usually charismatic.

Our churches tend to be independent, if not organizationally, at least in attitude. Independence can sometimes create a lone-ranger mentality. But it also frees up leaders who have a passion and a vision to get outside the box and share the gospel with those who are hurting.

It has also spawned new churches and ministries, including Christian TV, which reaches millions who don’t go to church. Many who watch Christian programming later get active in a church, but even those who don’t are hearing the gospel and being touched.

Sharing the gospel and reaching out to poor and hurting people are values almost universally shared by Pentecostal and charismatic churches. There’s a need for us to do more. But charismatics have grown around the world because they emphasize outreach, both here and overseas.

As a movement we certainly aren’t perfect. Sadly, many of our churches are just as dead and boring as the ones spoken about in the Pew report. Timothy warns against “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). And there is nothing “deader” than a dead Pentecostal or charismatic church.

However, we don’t approve of deadness, and charismatics won’t put up with it for long. They vote with their feet by going where the presence of God brings life.

I’ve been covering the charismatic church for three decades, and I believe we’re continuing to grow at a time when many other churches aren’t. But the Pew report should remind us that people want answers and we have them—all from the Word of God.

To me, that’s good news.


Steve Strang is founder and publisher of Charisma. Read his weekly Strang Report via email or his Twitter updates here.

Right Wing Extremist Classified As Terror Threats

From time to time something is e-mailed to me that I think is worth passing along. The item below by Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, highlights the recent outrageous attack by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) against the rights of Christians. On their DHS Threat Assessment list, they recorded conservatives, veterans, pro-gun people and others as "right-wing extremists," and as possible terror threats. Mat articulates the details about this in the letter below. Read it and let me know what you think.

Stop the 'Pedophile Protection' Bill

Though the hate crimes bill, which could put pastors in jail and protect pedophiles, has already passed in the House, we still have a chance to stop it in the Senate. The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) does a nice job of explaining the bill and sharing how Christians can help stop it. Read their newsletter below and then give your comments about it on our Web site.

The other side is on the run. The Traditional Values Coalition did not let them get away with their lies about their so-called hate crimes bill. We worked to force them to go on record about what this bill really does -- it protects bizarre sexual behaviors, pedophiles and could send pastors to jail.

Calling America Back to God

About two weeks ago the nation celebrated the National Day of Prayer. I had the privilege of being invited to speak to a group of 100 business people in Jacksonville, Fla., as part of an outreach called Christian Professional Resources. The half-hour message was videotaped and put on the Internet. I'm sharing it with you here because I spoke about "Calling America Back to God" and mentioned some things that I've reported on in the Strang Report. I hope you'll watch it, share it with others and then give me your feedback in the comments section.

 

New Hampshire House Opposed a Same-Sex Marriage Bill Because it Protected Religious Liberties

Here is a letter from Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a religious freedoms law firm.

On Wednesday by a vote of 188-186, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted down a same-sex marriage bill because it contained a religious liberty protection clause. The state Senate had previously passed the bill along party lines by a vote of 14-10. Governor George Lynch, who is opposed to same-sex marriage, said he would veto the bill unless it contained a religious liberty protection amendment. The amendment was added to the House version of the bill, and that is where it met opposition by an openly homosexual member of the House, who lobbied against the bill because of the amendment.

Oppose Federal Funds for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

This was sent in a newsletter by Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.

On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that opened the floodgates for funding more human embryonic stem cell experiments. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has drafted guidelines for distributing these funds. These guidelines devote your tax dollars to experiments with embryonic stem cells, from destroyed human embryos. But the only successful treatments and cures come from adult stem cells, taken from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, fat tissue and other body tissues. Thousands of patients have had their health improved and their lives saved with adult stem cells. Dozens of diseases and injuries including cancer, juvenile diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease have already been treated using adult stem cells and more treatments are being developed.

 

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