'God bless your credit card'

News 24, South Africa/July 20, 2008

Johannesburg - God's blessing would last only two minutes and it would create 500 churchgoing millionaires or even billionaires - all they had to do was use their credit cards to pay $1 000 in offerings to televangelist Benny Hinn.

Pastor Tommie Ferreira of the AGS Church in Johannesburg was so upset about the "blessing" that, after a week, he wanted to know who of the donors actually had become millionaires.

Ferreira told Rapport he did not mean to bring about Hinn's downfall.

He merely wanted to know if any of the hundreds of churchgoers who donated amounts of up to $1 000 (about R7 500) to Hinn's Miracle Crusade last week Saturday had now become millionaires.

About 18 000 people streamed to the Coca-Cola Dome in Randburg to hear Hinn's message of healing and miracles.

Ferreira, who is a keen choir singer, voluntarily sang in the Miracle Crusade's choir.

He said one of Hinn's American guest speakers, Pastor Todd Koontz, spoke about financial burdens and said 500 audience members would receive "an exceptional blessing".

"He said the service would yield millionaires and billionaires within 24 hours.

"Everyone had to donate $1 000 because an exceptional blessing rested on $1 000."

Koontz apparently really had the congregation scrambling when he said, "This blessing will be poured out for only two minutes."

Had credit-card machines

Ferreira said: "People stormed to the front - poor people, rich people, people from all sections of our society."

Hinn's co-pastors apparently had credit-card machines ready with which they could take donations.

"He (Koontz) said God would bless the people's credit cards and they would be able to rule over South Africa with their money.

"Eventually there were no fewer than 1 000 people who made such donations."

According to Ferreira's calculations, Hinn must have collected millions of rands with these donations - perhaps more than R7m if each of the 1 000 church-goers donated $1 000 in the hope of becoming millionaires.

Furthermore, after Koontz's collection of the $1 000 donations, Hinn collected general donations.

Ferreira said: "It makes my hair stand on end."

He said he could not live with his conscience if he did not speak to others about this possible trickery.

Still collecting money

"I'm not attacking them (Hinn and Koontz). It just really gets my goat when people make unfounded claims and then they're off with these people's money."

Dr Sarel Smit of the AGS church Lofstad in Hursthill, Johannesburg, who supported Ferreira as he spoke to Rapport, was equally worried about the method by which Hinn collected donations.

"Especially at a time like this when there is dire need, people run the risk of losing their faith in the Lord in this way. God will provide for your needs, but not your greed."

Rapport spoke to an employee in Hinn's South African office in Durban who said on Friday morning that they were still busy collecting money.

"We've had a very good reaction from last weekend," said the employee, who asked not to be named.

He said that before the collection of the $1 000 donations, Koontz had delivered a message about "you reap what you sow".

"Americans always talk in dollars. If some of the churchgoers believed that they would not be blessed, then they should not have given their money.

"The church-goers did not have to give $1 000. If they couldn't afford it, then they could've given less. And, some of them did.

Will build an orphanage

"Pastor Todd (Koontz) spoke of good seeds. If you don't actually sow them, you'll never have a good harvest."

The employee told Rapport that Hinn's congregation soon would build an orphanage in South Africa.

Hinn's South African office feeds about 1 000 children in Durban daily.

Rapport asked for a recording of Koontz's sermon, but Hinn's office said they could only provide one in four to six weeks.

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