Reinhard Bonnke: From saving souls in Africa to living large in Vero
Area evangelicals are understandably excited about Reinhard Bonnke’s upcoming gospel crusade at the Vero Beach Airport.
Bonnke is a big name in overseas evangelism circles and, judging from videos of the 72-year-old German-born preacher in action that can be seen on his website, the Feb. 1-2 event will likely be a high-energy affair with frequent references to the “millions of souls” he has “won for Christ” in his African crusades.
But if the collection basket is passed around, crusade participants should be aware that no money contributed will go to feed, cloth, house, educate or provide medical care for the poverty-stricken Africans Bonnke says God has called him to serve as the main focus of his ministry, according to government documents.
Those crowded inside the traditional evangelist’s tent that will be erected in front of the airport terminal should also know that neither Bonnke nor his preaching partner Daniel Kolenda is in want.
In a video filmed in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, Kolenda tells viewers passionately that the country is one of the 10 poorest on earth, “a dry, dusty, desert region where more than half the people live on less than a dollar a day.”
For preaching to these poor Africans several weeks a year, Bonnke in 2011 earned $184,041 in salary along with another $105,505 in deferred compensation and non-taxable benefits, for a total of $289,546 – which amounts to about $800 a day. That was a $35,000 bump from 2010 when he got by on $255,184.
While the average resident of Burkina Faso – where life expectancy is 45 – lives in a one-room shack or tent, Bonnke resides in a luxury oceanfront penthouse at the Carlton, just north of John’s Island, that he and his wife Anna paid $2.15 million for in 2007.
When he returns from one of the half-dozen, four-to-five day events he conducts in Africa each year, he pulls into an air-conditioned garage and takes his private elevator up to a 4,700-square-foot penthouse that includes 1,200 square feet of terrace – large enough, in the words of the Carlton’s promotional brochure, “to comfortably handle any social occasion.”
The private elevator opens into a large foyer that connects with the grand salon, a spacious chamber with wrap-around ocean views and enough room for five or six of the small domed tents where entire Burkina Faso families live.
Bonnke’s Orlando headquarters did not return repeated calls seeking information about his ministry so it is unclear if he receives the so-called parsonage exemption for his luxury condo when he files his personal income tax return. He and his wife do take advantage of the homestead deduction to save on real estate taxes.
The parsonage exemption of the tax code was passed by Congress in 1953 to help penurious clergymen when the average preacher’s salary was only a few thousand dollars a year. It exempts that part of clergy compensation that pays for housing from federal income tax and could be a further windfall for Bonnke if he receives a substantial housing allowance, as seems likely.
In addition to an ample income and opulent terrestrial digs, Bonnke and his associates also enjoy what appears on government forms to be quite a bit of luxury travel.
Christ for All Nations’ 2011 “statement of functional expenses” lists $397,000 for travel, including first-class and charter travel and travel expenses for companions.
“The son of a pastor, Reinhard gave his life to the Lord at age nine, and heard the call to the African mission field before he was even a teenager,” according to his website.
He began preaching in Africa in 1967 and founded Christ for All Nations in 1974. He claims on his website to have preached to as many as 1.6 million people at a time, to have brought about many miraculous healings and to have “seen over 45 million documented salvations in the last five years,” though how you accurately count a crowd of 1.6 million in an open field or “document” a supernatural event such as salvation is not explained.
A host of fellow-Christian critics say Bonnke has never produced any documentation to back up his healing claims.
Christ for All Nations took in took in $12.75 million in 2011, $700,000 more than in 2010.
The organization’s “supplemental information regarding fundraising or gaming activities” form reports the money was raised via mail solicitations, Internet and e-mail solicitations, phone solicitations, in-person solicitations and special fundraising events.
The ministry spent $6.8 million of its $12.75-million income on program expenses; another $2.7 million went to employee salaries, benefits and other compensation, including approximately $800,000 paid to Bonnke, Kolenda and Christ for All Nations Vice President Peter Van Den Berg.
In his opening message on the FireSite section of his website, Bonnke writes, “Jesus didn’t die on the cross to give pastors a well-paid career,” but he has ended up with one just the same.
On a website video, he says “Africa is our priority . . . we are winning millions of souls!” but Christ for All Nations spent only $2.7 million on African crusades in 2011. That figure is part of the $6.8 million in program expanses.
MinistryWatch.com gives Christ for All Nations a mediocre two-star rating out of five possible stars for the way it raises and spends money.