Originally published on Evangelical Alliance, UK
This lively worship is from the Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou in Algeria. The mood is joyful and the people are rejoicing. It is hard to believe this church is in a majority-Muslim country in north Africa where church leaders need permission from the Algerian government to meet.
In the 1970s, there were just a handful of known evangelical believers in Algeria. Today, there are tens of thousands gathered in dozens of churches. Around 50 churches form the Protestant Church of Algeria, or Eglise Protestante d’Algérie (EPA), a national alliance of churches that became a member of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
The president of the EPA, Salaheddine Chalah, is also pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou, the largest church in Algeria, bringing together 1,200 worshipers during weekly services.
Sadly, on 15 October 2019, the worshipers went silent.
They were replaced with police officers who forced church members out of the building and sealed the church. The church has remained closed ever since. Between November 2017 and April 2022, Algerian authorities have closed down 16 churches. At least 10 additional churches have been ordered to close or have legal proceedings against them for their closure. In addition, at least 12 Christians have faced prosecution in the last 18 months.
The Algerian government carried out church closures and the prosecution of Christians, alleging violation of a 2006 ordinance governing the worship of non-Muslims. This ordinance stipulates that non-Muslim worship can only be conducted in a building approved for that purpose by the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups. However, it has not issued a single licence since 2006.
What is being done to change things?
- The European parliament and the US government are monitoring the situation in Algeria closely.
- Human rights advocates, including our office in Geneva, have worked hard to shed light on the increased violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.
- United Nations experts and the Human Rights Committee appealed for the respect for the right to freedom of religion.
- The US state department included Algeria on its special watch list for states violating the right to freedom of religion.
- In November 2019, the European parliament called on Algerian authorities to end violations of the freedom to worship of Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities, and to reopen the church buildings that were closed down.
We acknowledge that the stories of persecution are but a fraction of God’s story in those regions and that the church is growing even when faced with persecution. Our advocacy is not the source of salvation. Jesus is.
We also acknowledge that the church leaders in Algeria have agency and a margin of manœuvre. Our relationship with them, and our communication with the outside world, should not portray them as helpless victims or portray our efforts as saving the day.
So how do we partner in prayer with the churches in Algeria?
Global advocacy is often an extension of national advocacy, and our global WEA voice is an echo of the local church voice.
- Our first prayer is for unity and wisdom for the local church leaders to understand if, when, and how to speak up against injustice. In Geneva and New York, WEA offices endeavor to come alongside our members, including the EPA, to explain to the Algerian church leaders how we can support them, to listen to their needs and requests, and to design advocacy strategies together.
- Our second prayer is for the WEA’s voice for justice to align with God’s purposes for the local churches. In the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, the judge says, “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice.” Please pray for God to soften the hearts of the rulers so that they deliver justice.
May our prayers and our advocacy for our suffering brothers and sisters be as persistent as those of the Luke 18 widow.
If you want to learn more about the World Evangelical Alliance work in Algeria, please visit worldea.org
Wissam al-Saliby is the advocacy officer of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), a role he has held since January 2018. Based in Geneva, he advocates with the United Nations on behalf of national evangelical alliances in over 130 countries for freedom of religion, rule of law and human rights. Prior to joining the WEA, Wissam was the development and partner relations manager of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and a regional trainer on international humanitarian law with Geneva Call.