Originally published in Mission News Network
Several events in the last few months indicate that Christians in Algeria are facing growing pressure from the government and society.
At the end of last year, a long-term resident of Algeria was denied re-entry into the United States. This Christian worker, a French national, managed a private French-language school in-country. Middle East Concern believes these types of deportations are a tactic to ensure that outside groups are not able to work with Algerian Christians.
Around that same time, three Christians were arrested in Chlef and accused of luring Muslims into conversion through promises of travel and financial benefits. A local newspaper described the event as a “foiled evangelism attempt”.
Earlier this month, a pastor who was accused of evangelism had his prison sentence lengthened and was charged a hefty fine.
And the pressure isn’t just focused on individuals, either. There’s been a string of church closings as well. On March 2, another church was shut down — the fourth church to be closed in the past four months. More and more churches have been inspected and threatened with demands to meet safety regulations.
Why the increased pressure?
We spoke to Greg Musselman of the Voice of the Martyrs Canada regarding recent religious freedom issues in Algeria. He says there’s a very good reason why the opposition is increasing — to keep up with Church growth:
“You’ve had issues where there is a fear amongst the Islamic leaders there, and I guess even the population to some extent, of the way that Christianity is growing in that part of the world. So you have a situation where there is growth — we’ve seen that in other places around the world. And then what starts to happen is pressure is then applied on the government and those that are more militant in their Islam [faith] get very concerned about the growth of Christianity.”
And so, even though many of these churches have been registered, approved, and operating for years, the government is finding ways to shut them down. This also means no one has been allowed to plant new churches, Musselman says. So they gather in house churches to stay under the radar. But there’s pressure to shut these meetings down, too.
“Again you see these things happening because of the growth of the Gospel. That then causes you know, some … real soul-searching from the Christian leaders. Are they going to abide by what the government’s telling them, or are they going to continue to spread the Gospel?”
And yet, as Christians face adversity, they begin to grapple with questions about what it means to live out their faith and what it means to take up their cross to follow Jesus. This leads to a deepening of their faith.
Pressure from society
However, it’s not just the government who is giving Christians a hard time. Musselman explains that conversion from Islam to Christianity creates a lot of heat among families and communities.
“That becomes engrained within the culture. Again, you’re dealing with various levels of militancy when it comes to Islam. I mean, we know many Muslims that are very peaceful. They are fine with having Christians in their neighbourhoods, and even churches. Where it does get a little bit tricky is when family members start to convert to Christianity.
“And all through the Muslim world, including Algeria, North Africa, the Middle East, and many Muslim nations, there has never been a time in history where more Muslims are converting to Christianity.”
He says there are many stories of Muslims having dreams or visions, or coming to Christ because of a message they heard on a radio or television broadcast. There are also cases of one-on-one evangelism and Bible distributions being the key to Muslims hearing about Jesus.
“Where it starts to get tense is when people are leaving Islam and becoming followers of Jesus. And again, that’s one of the issues that’s happening in Algeria which is why Islamists start to take note of this and say ‘Nope. This is a Muslim country.’”
Another reason why Christianity might be looked down upon from both a societal and governmental level is because it is often viewed as a Western religion. Musselman says that many within this nation want to see Sharia law upheld, and Christianity is a big threat to that.
Some Christians will have to leave their home in order to escape violence from their friends and family.
Prayers for Algeria
Voice of the Martyrs Canada supports persecuted believers by advocating for them to the government. They also surround believers and encourage them with truths from Scripture and provide for their needs.
Another way they help is to tell the stories of the persecuted to people like you, and ask you to pray. Musselman says we need to consider Hebrews 13:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:26 when we think of believers facing trials like this.
And while persecution in Algeria isn’t always violent in nature, it has potential to do great harm:
“The reality is is that when there’s this kind of pressure on, it intimidates the Church and it causes people to become more inward in their faith and not to share it. And again, we need to be wise. The Bible does tell us that. But on the other hand, we also want to be praying for our brothers and sisters that they would not be intimidated.”