The Algerian government shut down three churches this week, including the two biggest congregations in the North African country. Authorities forced Christians from their buildings and arrested some who continued to protest the crackdown.
Members of the largest Protestant congregation in Algeria—the 700-member Church of the Full Gospel in Tizi-Ouzou—were warned their church would be sealed by the government this Wednesday. When they met for prayer and worship on Tuesday, the gathering was raided by the national guard.
The crowd at the Church of the Full Gospel panicked as they were ordered to leave. Some refused and were forcibly dragged out. When leaders—including pastor Salah Chalah, head the Protestant churches in Algeria (L’Église Protestante d’Algérie), and pastor Tarek Berki—tried to intervene, they were beaten, Morning Star News (MSN) reported.
The second-largest congregation, the 500-member Source of Life Church in Makouda, was shut down the same day, followed by 100-member Light Church (L’eglise Tafat) in Tizi Ouzou.
At least 15 Protestant churches—out of only about 46 in the country—have been shuttered since January 2018, according to the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern. The country, home to just 125,000 Christians, fewer than 1 percent of the population, ranks 22nd on Open Doors’ World Watch List.
Christian congregations struggle to register with the government agency tasked with regulating non-Muslim worship, per a 2006 law. It never convenes and has not issued a single approval.
When they’re shut down, the congregations are sealed with a wax seal and a notice is posted saying the buildings are not authorized for religious gatherings.
“The police intervened to force us out of our church—a church that exists and has been active legally and in the light since 1996,” Chalah told MSN. “It’s been 23 years that we exist in plain view; why wait until today to do so? May everyone know that we have been beaten and abused, including our sisters too, in our own premises for one reason only—our Christian faith. And because that’s the cause of our pain, we’re proud of it.”
At Source of Life Church in Makouda, the congregation sang praise songs of “hallelujah” as the officials forced them to leave and took pastor Nourredine Benzid out by his arms on Tuesday morning.
“I never thought that one day places of worship could be invaded by the elements of security services with their weapons in front of children, women, old people and young people,” said Benzid, who serves as secretary of the Protestant Churches of Algeria, in a statement published by MSN. “It is unimaginable and unacceptable in the 21st century to see such a scene occur in a place of worship and in front of pacifist people.”
Middle East Concern reports that the latest closures were ordered last week, after Protestants rallied in front a government building in their northern province of Bijaya on October 9.
Christians returned to the site on Thursday to protest further closures, and some were temporarily detained. Mustapha Tout Court Mosse posted on the Algerian Christians Facebook page that he was held for an hour and his phone taken away, and that several young people had been arrested with him.
Open Doors shared this prayer from Chalah:
I ask the worldwide church to pray that the Lord will be with us during this hardship. I hope you will pray like the prayer in Acts 4. I also hope that Christians around the world will ask their governments to ask the Algerian government to stop with what they are doing. I hope they will demonstrate in front of Algerian embassies and ask that the Algerian government will respect the fundamental rights of Algerian Christians.
CT previously reported how Chalah’s organization, the Algerian Protestant Church—consisting mainly of former Muslims and known by its French acronym EPA—was registered officially in 2011. The group has advocated and prayed for democracy and greater freedoms in Algeria, particularly around regime changes earlier this year.
Advocates for persecuted Christians have joined in prayer and applauded the Algerians’ bold resistance to the ongoing government crackdown.
“When you talk to people who are persecuted or have lived through it, they don’t say ‘pray that I escape it.’ They say ‘pray that I am strong,’” said Denise Godwin of International Media Ministries. “I would say let’s pray with the Algerian church, that they stay strong, but let’s also pray for our own culture not to forget the challenges that have been in history for Christians and that we would also remember.”