by Rabih Hasbany
“All churches in Algeria are at risk of closure,” reports an officer with the World Evangelical Alliance. On October 15 and 16, Algerian authorities shut down three Protestant churches in the province of Tizi Ouzou, home to the country’s Berber people. One of these churches, Plein-Évangile, is known to be the largest Protestant church in the country. A number of videos documenting these closures were posted online, specifically on the Facebook pages “Les Chrétiens en Algérie” (The Christians in Algeria) and “Église protestante d’Algérie” (Protestant Church of Algeria).
At least 15 Protestant churches, out of approximately 46 in the country, have been closed since January 2018, according to the Christian advocacy group, Middle East Concern. While the government says this is because the churches weren’t up to regulation, members of the community say they are being unfairly targeted.
Christian congregations are fighting to register with the government agency tasked with regulating non-Muslim worship (per a 2006 law); however, the government has never issued a single approval.
According to Open Doors USA, there are just 125,000 Christians among a population of over 42 million. In an attempt to shed light on Christ followers suffering in Algeria, while calling the global church to pray for the church in Algeria, Open Doors published a video showing the Algerian police persecuting believers in one of the churches in Tizi Ouzou. The video went viral on Facebook, The Shocking Persecution of Algerian Believers.
Pastor Salah, in an interview to Open Doors, says:
“I think [the Algerian authorities are] afraid of the church; it’s a government [in a Muslim-majority country], so they don’t like us very much because we are mostly Muslim-background Christians.”
In a conversation I had with an Algerian graduate of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary who lives and serves in Algeria, she expressed grief over what the Christians are experiencing in her country. She said that as followers of Christ, we protest against government persecution, but for our voice to reach them we need advocacy and support from our fellow brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
Our graduate expressed her gratefulness to Open Doors for standing up for them and empowering them by making their voice heard by the international community and the global church. However, after the release of the video, she said the Algerian authorities accused the church of being associated with an American empire – worsening the situation. Support from the western church for the Algerian Christian community is a double-edged sword.
Theological Reflections and Missiological Implications
A question that must be raised is: to what extent do we need an alternative way of engagement with the Algerian church?
This question casts the responsibility on the church in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Algeria. The Arab Church in the Middle East is called to take practical steps towards the suffering church in Algeria and all-over North Africa.
One way to engage with the North African church is to equip leaders and send them as missionaries to these countries, where the church is still in a developing stage and requires help in the face of many challenges (such as persecution). Equipping leaders can be on the formal level (such as seminary training), and the informal level which the local churches can do. These ‘equipped leaders’ can be either North African men and women willing to develop their skills and contribute to the advancement of the kingdom in their region, or men and women from the Middle East who are called to be sent to North Africa.
Another method of engagement is to pray for these persecuted believers and financially contribute to support them. This can be done by sharing stories of persecution in newsletters circulated throughout the MENA region and beyond, requesting prayer for the church in North Africa, and seizing the opportunity to financially support the church.
A third way to give a voice to the Algerian church, and other churches in Muslim countries, is to help these churches develop leaders who are well-equipped to engage with Muslim religious leaders. The peacebuilding initiatives lead by The Institute of Middle East Studies and the Middle East Consultation provide good examples of engaging in fruitful and effective dialogues with the religious other.
My prayer is for the Algerian church to remain strong and resilient, and for our churches to effectively engage with the North African church.