Marcia Dixon reviews the latest BBC documentary on Christianity - Life and Death the Pentecostal Way
The evangelical charismatic Church is growing exponentially in Latin America. Justin Brierley speaks to Argentinian evangelist Carlos Annacondia about what he's been seeing
When Christians talk about the Church in Argentina, they frequently speak of ‘before and after Annacondia’. Although relatively unknown in the West, Carlos Annacondia has been the figure behind decades of ongoing charismatic revival in Argentina since his conversion in 1979, up to the present.
Annacondia came to a living faith in his mid-30s. Having already made his fortune as a businessman, a radical encounter with Christ would see him embark on a remarkable healing and evangelism ministry which shows no signs of slowing down now he’s in his 70s.
Relaxed and jovial as he converses through an interpreter, Annacondia still strikes me as a humble man, given the reputation he has on his own continent.
The evangelist says that he received a message from God in 1981 saying: “Soon, soon, soon. There will be a great revival in Argentina. Argentina will be mine, says the Lord.” Since then, his large-scale rallies, held in cooperation with local churches in towns and cities across the country, have drawn millions of people and seen thousands of new churches planted.
In spiritual terms, the evangelistic events themselves are highly charged. Much fervent prayer precedes each rally, and Annacondia frequently begins on stage by challenging any unclean spirits to make themselves known. Many demonic manifestations invariably occur in the crowd, with intercessors on hand to provide deliverance ministry in a nearby tent. After this, says Annacondia, the atmosphere is cleared for the Holy Spirit to work. Testimonies abound of healing, miracles and conversions, often including gang members and drug addicts.
Poverty, corruption, drug abuse and gang warfare are endemic to many countries in South America, especially in its city favelas. Yet Latin America has undergone remarkable growth in Pentecostal Christianity in recent decades (see info on p27) and Annacondia sees himself as part of a wider work of God to transform the continent. The prophecy given in 1981 has been proved true in the intervening years, though Annacondia still insists, “We still have not seen all that God has prepared for this country.”
In 1979 you were a successful businessman with a nominal kind of faith. What changed?
We often think that having money and acquiring many things widens the possibilities we have in life. At age 35 I had a wife, four children, a good family, but I got to a point where I was afraid of having more children. The fears of life and death; the fears of perhaps eventually losing what we have acquired and achieved. I thought that being a successful businessman and being wealthy was going to pay my way to happiness, and it wasn’t so. I started to question many things in my life.
One day this Panamanian diplomat – who happened to be a Christian and a preacher – visited our country. He would speak about the power of God; there were people that were oppressed or depressed – suddenly they were set free. And I thought to myself: “Well, I’m going to go and see what’s going on there.”
So I entered into a hall full of worship and adoration, accompanied by my wife and my children. I started to hear a voice talking to me. “Carlos, you’re so worried about life – for your children’s future, for your businesses – you are unhappy. Give me your heart, I will give you life.” It was the voice of the Lord Jesus. And I started to cry – and it wasn’t easy for me to cry, because I believed if you cry, you are not a man, and that’s what I told my wife as well: men do not cry. But that day I just broke down in tears.
My wife was next to me and crying, I asked her, “Maria, would you like to receive the Lord Jesus as your saviour with me?” And she replied, “Yes, I’ve been in need of this for a very long time.”
That day we received Jesus as our saviour. No more fears, no more away the pack of cigarettes I had in my pocket, the bottles of alcohol that we kept at home we emptied in the sink – I didn’t need those crutches anymore: Jesus had reached my heart.
Ten days after that experience, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I remember having my hands up to heaven and suddenly I just felt this warmth, this fire that I could not control, and my whole body started to shake and I started to speak in a language that I’d never spoken before.
Did your ministry as an evangelist involved in deliverance and healing start soon after you became a Christian?
Things started to happen to me: I’d just be shaking hands with somebody, and the person would say, “Let go, I feel like electricity is in your hands!” I’d just visit somebody I knew, and encounter demonic manifestations with several members of the family that I was visiting. I didn’t yet know what that was, and I had to learn.
When I experienced that power from heaven, I just felt the happiest man on the surface of this earth. When I started to look at people, I saw them as I used to look – sad, hopeless, seeking a way out. God put this anguish in my heart, and I would cry for the people I saw in the street, even if I didn’t know them. God filled my heart with compassion for people.
I started to go to the public hospitals to pray for people, and they started to be healed. We continue to see the same thing. I haven’t stopped for a minute.
What effect has your ministry had on the parts of the country you’ve ministered in?
We always see thousands of people being set free from sickness. Local ministries have been greatly inspired by what God does through us, and this also resulted in the planting of incredible amounts of churches all over the world.
But the main thing is that the church continues the work that we established; believing that what Jesus commanded us evangelists to do is real. This is not the work of one man or one ministry, it is the work and the ministry of the Church: “Go throughout the world, preach the gospel to every creature, and again these signs will follow.” And what are the signs for? To attract people to God.
When you’re at a big revival rally with 50,000 attending, how do you ensure everyone who needs prayer and deliverance is able to be seen?
You know, to do God’s work we must fully dedicate our lives. I have run crusades for up to 60 days uninterrupted, without going home. And here is the importance of my wife’s ministry. My wife was guarding my back. I was at peace being away from home, because I knew my wife was leading the family. And I would dedicate all my time to people. I would finish preaching, and afterwards pray for the sick, and then take testimonies. And whenever people manifested, they were kindly and respectfully taken to a deliverance tent to be ministered to.
If I had to pray individually for the 50,000, I’d do it, one by one. We have pastors that team up with us, so we’d pray together.
I firmly believe in the ministry of Jesus; Jesus was with people all the time. People were able to touch him, they could see him. That means that is our own example: he has to give us the strength, and also we have a team – there is a reason why I shouldn’t do it on my own. This is what we’ve been doing since we started our ministry at age 36. Today I am 73, and this is what we’ve done – no changes.
When you first began healing people in the hospital, what did the doctors think of it?
Traditionally speaking, Argentina is a Roman Catholic country, and Catholic people happen to believe in miracles. So they would see a miracle taking place and they would attribute it to God. I never had any problems.
We’ve even seen a number of doctors becoming Christians as a result of their patients receiving a miracle.
If I am ill, I have a doctor friend of mine, and I allow him to diagnose – I’m not superman. I do believe in science, because God created science. We are imperfect preachers of God, and we also suffer; we have our own needs. We do not come against science, we actually partner with this.
You’ve really seen the church grow in Argentina with many people becoming Christians from the 1980s onwards…
Churches have grown incredibly, and we can say that millions of people have become Christians, but we haven’t finished yet. We go to small villages and towns; villages and towns where no other preacher has ever visited in the past, or towns in which there’s just a handful of Christians. There are thousands of small places that we haven’t impacted with the gospel yet.
Do you see this also happening across the rest of South America?
The whole of Latin America has been under a wave of the Holy Spirit. The greater the wickedness, the greater his grace. We see the same wherever we go, when we take the message of Jesus. I have been to almost every country in this world: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas.
Do you find that you see similar kinds of miracles and manifestations when you come to the UK?
We were in Ashburnham Place with the Ichthus Fellowship at their annual conference, and we had testimonies of people with hearing aids not needing them anymore; with scoliosis that were able to bend and to move. People leaving their walking sticks behind, wheelchairs – for those who believe, everything is possible.
I’ve heard sometimes people say, “This is not the time or the era of miracles anymore – that’s over.” And then what – Jesus lied to us? Because he said: “These signs will follow those who believe. The same thing I did, you will do. Even greater things.”
Some say that alongside the church growth in South America, there’s also been prosperity gospel teaching where wealth is the ultimate aim. Does that concern you?
Yes, this brings a great contamination to the Church. Every minister of the gospel is to emulate Jesus. He was with people; people would touch him, people would squeeze him.
So you disapprove of the ‘superstar’ pastor who flies in and flies out?
When ministers like that ask me to visit them, I respectfully decline. If I see that that is the intention, I just excuse myself.
What is needed for us to see revival again in this country?
Just to imitate him. What would John Wesley do for England? He would cry for the souls. Revival is in our tears, and to imitate Jesus. What the Bible says is the truth.
I’ve read the biographies of Evan Roberts from the Welsh Revival and John Wesley, obviously! The biographies inspire me greatly. The United Kingdom must remember that those things happened here. The roots of this nation are Christian. So if we look backwards, what I’m saying is nothing new. You have lived it in many, many generations in the past. And at the very bottom of the heart of the United Kingdom, there is a tiny flame that is still burning. We know that Jesus is real.
Hear the interview in full on Premier Christian Radio, Saturday 10th June at 4pm. Listen again at premierchristianradio.com/theprofile or download The Profile podcast