Tuesday, December 3, 2019

RLPB 531. Advent in Algeria: Persecution, Protests and Promise

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 531 | 04 Dec 2019
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'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

plus Urgent Update on Burkina Faso
By Elizabeth Kendal

'Something is happening,' writes researcher David Garrison, 'something unprecedented. A wind [the Holy Spirit] is blowing through the House of Islam.' [A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison (WIGTake Resources, Monument, CO, USA, 2014) p18.] Indeed, as Garrison notes, more Muslims have chosen to follow Christ in the past two to three decades than in all previous 1400 years of Muslim-Christian interaction. God is doing something new!

 Algeria's Kabylie region 
In no Arab country is this more evident than in the North African state of Algeria, which is 70 percent Arab, 23 percent Berber, 97 percent Muslim and 0.3 percent Christian. [Note: the Church is growing 7.5 percent annually, some 6-7 times the annual population growth rate.] The Algerian Church comprises primarily converts from Islam; in particular, Berber converts from the Kabylie region. Most growth occurred during the horrific years of civil war (Dec 1991 to Feb 2002) as the government and the jihadists filled the land with blood and terror. Disillusioned by the violence inflicted on them in the name of Islam (both sides claiming Allah's mandate), many Algerians were seeking answers just as Arab-language radio and satellite Gospel ministries were becoming established. Today, the Christian community - Catholic and Protestant - is estimated to comprise more than 300,000 believers. The Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA: l’Église Protestante d’Algérie) was founded in 1972. Today, it represents 46 affiliated Protestant congregations/churches but is facing a new wave of repression.

In February 2006 the Algerian government passed President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which saw more than 10,000 Islamic jihadists imprisoned during Algeria's civil war granted amnesty in exchange for peace. Weeks later, in March 2006, the government enacted Presidential Order 06/03 which 'fixed the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim'. Not only did Ordinance 06/03 increase the penalties for 'proselytising', it mandated that all churches had to be registered to be legal. Presumably one of the jihadists' conditions for peace was that the government act to halt the growth of Christianity. [For more details see Religious Liberty Monitoring, 24 March 2006].

Pastor Salah Challah, the President of
the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) and
senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou,
leads prayer on the staircase outside the locked church.
(SAT-7, 4 Nov 2019)
Over the past two years the ruling National Liberation Front - which has held power since independence (1962) - has escalated its persecution of Protestant Christianity, eager to demonstrate its Islamic credentials ahead of elections originally slated for April 2019. Since November 2017 the government has closed around 15 Protestant churches; eight since May 2019. In August Algeria's Minister of Interior issued an order instructing regional governors and security heads to escalate their investigations into Protestant Christianity which it deemed subversive [see RLPB 521 (25 Sep 2019)]. The largest church to be closed to date is the 1200-member Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou, which was sealed shut on 15 October [see Morning Star News: Algeria]. The government has also halted live television broadcasts of the weekly services by Christian broadcaster SAT-7. [SAT-7 video item on the situation in Algeria.] Groups to have criticised the church closures include Human Rights Watch (HWR, 24 Oct) and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF, 30 Oct).

Algerian woman raises a placard, 'No to the military regime,'
at protest in Algiers, Friday 10 May 2019. (AFP)
The cry of the 'Arab Spring' was a cry for 'dignity' (as distinct from 'democracy'). [After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East includes a chapter on the Arab Spring, one of the most misunderstood movements of our era.] Unemployed, hungry, vulnerable and helpless - Arab citizens are sick and tired of the systemic corruption of their arrogant military-backed ruling elites. Unfortunately for them, their movement was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood which in turn was crushed as national armies regained control. However, the longing for dignity remains. Indeed, this yearning for dignity is at the root of protests shaking the Middle East today from Algiers to Tehran. In Algeria, protests erupted on 22 February after the ruling party announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika - who is 82 and disabled by stroke - would run for a fifth term. Every Friday since, the streets have filled with protesters. By April the military had switched sides, opting to sacrifice the president (i.e., 'the tip of the iceberg') while keeping the deep state in place. By 2 April Bouteflika was gone. Refusing to be fooled, Algeria's protesters continued to insist that the entire military regime apparatus be dismantled.

Civil rights lawyer and head of the
'Union for Change and Progress' party Zoubida Assoul
brandishes a 'No to the Vote' placard at protest in Algiers,
Friday 22 November 2019 (AFP Photo/RYAD KRAMDI)
The elections - originally slated for 18 April - were rescheduled for 4 July, and then postponed to 12 December. On 2 November the election authority announced the names of the approved candidates; all five are affiliated with the ruling establishment that the protesters insist must be dismantled. Consequently, the protesters - who have been as peaceful as they have been persistent - have vowed to continue their weekly protests and not participate in elections while the military regime remains in power. As Robert Zaretsky notes in Foreign Affairs (26 Nov): 'The election risks ending as an exercise in absurdity: nearly all Algerian political and civil organisations have refused to endorse the five official candidates and have called upon Algerians to refrain from voting. The failure of this election will, paradoxically, mark the success of the country's democratic aspirations.'

 '[They] can seal our churches but not our hearts.'
  Come Lord Jesus! (SAT-7, 4 Nov 2019)
Of course, the dignity the people yearn for - a dignity rooted in equity, justice and respect - is a dignity that can only be realised through observance of God's law and acceptance of God grace. Islam cannot deliver it; neither can secular humanism. And so we pray: 'Come Lord Jesus!' May the Lord continue to build his Church in Algeria as the Holy Spirit continues to blow through the House of Islam.


* pour out his Holy Spirit on Algeria's growing Church, so that wisdom, courage, grace and unity will abound despite escalating repression and social turmoil; may the Lord give all pastors, evangelists and Christian leaders great wisdom as they navigate these difficult days. 'My grace is sufficient for you ...' (the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

* bless Algerian families with awakening, insight and revelation so that they come to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. (Genesis 12:3)

* bless and supply the needs of Arab-language Gospel ministry, multiplying and magnifying its witness. 'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (the promised of Philippians 4:19 ESV).

* redeem the turmoil in Algerian society to bring about awakening this Advent season as Christians, churches and various Gospel ministries testify to the birth of the Saviour, Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:1-14).


Algerians were supposed to go to the polls in April, but protests erupted after the ruling military-backed regime announced that President Bouteflika (82 and disabled by stroke) would run for a fifth term. Bouteflika resigned, but the protests continued with the protesters insisting the entire corrupt military regime (in power since 1962) be dismantled. Though scheduled to go ahead on 12 December, the polls will be boycotted by people demanding systemic change. The regime has spent the last two years escalating its persecution of Protestant Christianity, presumably to establish its Islamic credentials and appease the Islamists ahead of the elections. Not to be deterred, the Spirit of God is on the move, 'blowing through the House of Islam' and building his Algerian Church. Please pray for Algeria and her Church.



On Sunday 1 December unidentified gunmen stormed a Protestant church worship service in the village of Hantoukoura near the border with Niger in Burkina Faso's volatile Eastern region. They targeted the men, killing 14 of the 15 men present in a congregation of 80 mostly women and children. Most of eastern Burkina Faso has fallen under the control of armed Islamic groups; as in Central African Republic, they fight each other for control of mineral resources, in particular, gold. Schools are closed; in some places armed groups enforce strict Islamic observance. Churches in the north were targeted in the months after Easter, but this is the first attack to target the Church in Eastern Province. Please pray for the Church in Burkina Faso.

[For more on the crisis looming over Burkina Faso, see Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 May 2019.]


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com