A growing church in Kabylia, north-west Algeria, was to begin meeting in their new premises on 26 December 2009. But when the believers arrived at the Tizi Ouzou church, they found around 50 Muslim protesters barring the doors.
This growing church in Tizi Ouzou built their premises to accommodate 350 people. They had disregarded a letter from the authorities saying the church was illegal, as they had received such letters before. They chose to continue because they are a member of the Eglise Protestante d’Algerie (EPA), which (according to Middle East Concern) is registered with the authorities.
Church leaders contacted the authorities, who responded by sending four police cars. The police did not intervene, although they did monitor the situation. The protesters threatened the Christians, saying that if they continued to meet in this building, then they would slaughter the pastor and his family.
This church has seen incredible growth in the last few years. Many hopeless families and young people have found hope in Jesus Christ. Church leaders were not afraid or discouraged. So, when they returned to their premises the next day to discover twenty protesters, they shared the gospel with them and gave out New Testaments.
The next day (28 December 2009) the church was broken into. A week later, a mob threatened worshippers and pushed around the pastor. Calm was restored, but a group later broke into the building and vandalised it before the police came.
Others broke in during the night and destroyed its contents by fire, although the building remained intact. The congregation refused to be intimidated and the following week held their service as normal in the charred building, without chairs or furniture.
The protest incident was reported in the national newspaper El Watan on 27 December (so did not include details about the vandalism). According to El Watan, the protesters were local residents upset that a church building was opening near their houses.
The article highlighted the misconceptions that Muslims have about church growth in Algeria, stating that they were afraid their youth would be lured into the church with promises of money or cell phones.
The newspaper tried to play down the influence of Muslim fundamentalist groups, but it is likely the latter will use this unrest as an opportunity to hinder the Lord’s work in Algeria.
Some weeks later, a colleague in Arab World Ministries (AWM) met the EPA chairman and heard that the local authorities had apologised for their inaction, stating that the group who attacked the church was organised from outside town.
The church’s decision to continue meeting for worship has sent out two messages. One to the militants, that the believers will continue to meet in public and not be intimidated by violent tactics; the second to believers, to be bold and of good courage.
These are testing times for the Algerian church, as it continues to grow. Its leaders have asked us to pray too about discipleship and theological training needed by many Algerian church leaders.
There are two full-time Bible training institutes in Algeria, one in Oran and the other in Algiers. The new academic year has just started but both are struggling to find experienced teachers.
Most of these have come from Egypt but tensions resulting from Algerian-Egyptian football matches have ruptured diplomatic relations, making it dangerous for Egyptians to be in Algeria and vice-versa, with visas hard to come by.
There are, however, other forms of Bible training, such as AWM’s training programme for Arab church leaders and lay people. Pray that the right teachers will be employed, even if they are only part-time.