By Brian Stiller on Dispatches from the Global Village
In China, churches are closed, some razed to the ground, pastors charged and imprisoned. Iranian Christians facing religious and political restrictions meet covertly, anchoring their faith in underground fellowships. Nigerians feeling the brutal assault of the Boko Haram strive to protect their churches and families. Indians pressured by new political regulations face a rising tide of religious nationalism. But we seldom hear of a north African country, Algeria.
Algeria, one of the early Arab Spring countries, continues to send its police to rout Christians from services of worship, padlocking their church doors. Even though public protests drove former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power, under its new President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in January of this year the church in Ain El Turk was closed down.
Of the many stories lived out in places many of us never hear of, meet Nord Benzid, an Algerian who today as pastor, is president of the Evangelical Alliance.
First a quick look at Algeria, sitting on the south coast of the Mediterranean, a few miles from Spain.
Algeria, by the 5th century was mostly Christian. In time, the Arab community expanded, becoming its primary people group. Today, of its population of 41 million, 98 percent is Sunni Islamic. Like other Arab countries of the Middle East, their Christian population decreases in times of conflict. During the civil war of the 1970s, 800,000 – many of them Christians – left for France. Now the Christian community – Catholics and Protestant/Evangelicals – is estimated to be close to 300,000. Evangelicals in 1972 formed the Evangelical Alliance of Algeria, called the EPA (l’Église Protestante d’Algérie or Protestant Church of Algeria), which today is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance.
As much as governments, like in Algeria, protest that their constitutions allow for religious freedom, political and religious pressures seem to give governments space in which they harass to the point of persecution. Algeria, dominated by an Islamic government, restricts Christian presence or witness to the extent that in the early 1990s, the Evangelical Alliance was ruled illegal.
Enter pastor Nord Benzid. Raised in a Muslim family, while a history major in university, restless with what he had learned, he asked hard questions about faith and life. One day he picked up a Christian radio station out of France. As he listened, he found that those questions that plagued his university mind really did have answers.
He puts it this way: “I was 22 years old, a student at the University in Algiers. I had a powerful encounter with God and received a specific calling to my country, especially in my region.”
He and Cherifa were married in 1997. While neither had theological training, their lives were changed by a spiritual revival which swept through their region in 2001. During this spiritual encounter they both had a vision for starting a church ministry in Makouda. As they responded to this invitation, their calling and vision circled the entire country. Then in April of 2003, a clear word of faith came so specifically: “Move and I will prove!”
Nord explains: “So we started the Spring of Life Church in Makouda City in April 2003, just with 4 members (as a house church), then 15 members, then 30 . . . and now more than 500 members. In 2009 I [left] my job to serve God [full time as pastor]. All the members of our church came from Islamic background. God is good.”
The government lashes out
Last summer – August 28, 2019, the Minister of Interior of Algeria and also head of the National Security Committee, sent an order directing regional governors and security heads to intensify investigations into the financial activities of leaders of the Evangelical Alliance (the EPA) and two radical Islamic groups.
The Church in Chains translated the order sent by the Minister:
“The activities of religious groups that contradict national religious constants, in particular their destructive/subversive attempts in this period the country is going through. . .”
The minister claimed that the Evangelical Alliance leaders had put together a “vicious plan . . . supported by foreign parties” to spread “destructive ideas,” and he instructed security heads to “strengthen with all harshness activities aiming at investigating the commercial activities of Protestant leaders.”
From hearing a radio message to teaching to pastoring, today he serves a local congregation and is General Secretary to the Evangelical Alliance. The stories of Acts continue.
If interested in praying for or supporting such leadership, please send me your email and I will forward it to Pastor Nord and Cherifa.
Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador
The World Evangelical Alliance