Pastor Bonnke lays claim to miracle cures: Andrew Brown sees a German evangelist conducting one of his four open-air shows in Birmingham this week

A GERMAN evangelist is claiming to have produced miracles of healing at open-air revival meetings in Birmingham this week.

Pastor Reinhard Bonnke said on Thursday night that cancers and epilepsy had been cured while he prayed on stage, sometimes in tongues, through a powerful sound system.

He also announced that people would jump from their wheelchairs. No one did. But one little girl testified that her eczema had stopped itching.

Pastor Bonnke produced a number of people on stage at the end of the meeting who claimed to have been healed of more dramatic ailments than eczema: one from near-blindness, another from breast cancer. The festival organisers said afterwards that they kept no records of the names and addresses of those people.

Any miracles, cautioned the Rev David Woodfield, one of the organisers, would only become apparent in the weeks and months afterwards. 'And we say to people very strongly not to stop taking their medication under any circumstances.'

Morris Cerullo, the American television evangelist, was last month criticised by the Southwark coroner over the death of a 25-year-old woman six days after she visited one of his shows. Convinced she had been cured of epilepsy, she stopped taking the pills that controlled her condition.

There was a certain innocence about the Bonnke show. One of the women who came up said: 'I couldn't have children and I went to see Reinhard in Hereford and I'm coming back pregnant now.' A great shout of joy went up.

Pastor Bonnke is usually active in Africa, where his organisation said he preaches to 3 million people a year. His crowd in Birmingham, where he is giving four shows this week, was put at about 10,000.

The audience, unlike the recent Cerullo shows, was mostly white. They clapped and whooped 'Amen' at the right moments, and waved their outstretched hands as if feeling an invisible waterfall. Taken as entertainment rather than medicine, the show worked very well.

Pastor Bonnke was backed by a rhythm section, two teenage saxophonists, a piano and, at stage- front, a synthesiser played by a statuesque grey-haired woman, which provided atmospheric whooshes and tinkles when the pastor felt the Holy Spirit moving around the crowd.

But for the most part he performed solo. He began stooped over his lectern in a rather scholarly pose quite at odds with his stabbing, powerful delivery as he expounded a text from John's Gospel.

He then dealt with objections to belief: 'People ask why God allows suffering. You could just as well ask the Minister of Transport why he allows accidents on Britain's roads.'

Soon he started moving in time with his voice, stomping around the stage, hunching down to make a point and then rising to punch the air as he had the whole audience shout three times: 'His name is Jee-sus]'

The show was moving to a climax. First came an appeal to backsliders and beginners to come down to the front. Perhaps 200 people did so, though their numbers were thickened by others wearing passes from the organisation identifying them as counsellors, security staff, or both.

Pastor Bonnke led them all in prayer. They were to say after him: 'I now believe with my heart what I confess with my mouth. I am redeemed. I believe it. I receive it in the name of Jesus . . . Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, save me now]'

Then they were given helpful booklets (Now That You Are Saved) and the show moved into its healing section. The keyboards whooshed and noodled as Pastor Bonnke invoked the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes he reported what he heard: 'Someone came here with cancerous growths. The growth will disappear . . . Those back problems from that accident. They will go.'

Sometimes he exhorted the audience: 'Don't say maybe. Say 'surely, surely, surely. Lord I am healed'.

'Thank you Lord for healing from Aids. Be free from that pest,' he cried at last, using the German word for plague, before breaking into the nonsense syllables of tongues. Then he called down healing for rheumatics, and those suffering from gout and allergies. Down at the front a woman fainted. Another wept as she hobbled back to her wheelchair from a short excursion to the foot of the stage.

It was almost completely dark by then. The first of the evening's crop of miracles came to the stage, where Pastor Bonnke would question them, ask the audience whether they had seen a miracle; and, after the audience assented, pray with a hand pressed on the sufferer's head until he or she fell backwards, slain in the spirit.

Journalists were invited to meet one woman who had recovered her sight, but her Sicilian accent was so thick it was impossible to check her story.

(Photograph omitted)

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