Image: Pastors and church leaders from North Africa praying for each other at a training seminar
“When that car started again, after they prayed in church, something happened in my heart. ‘Thoughts like: ‘the prayers of Christians are heard’ and ‘their God answers prayers’ came to my mind.” From that moment on 17-year-old Muslih* knew that he wanted to come closer to these Christians. It led him to a journey with God. God who would call him to become a pastor.
“Nothing can separate us from Christ.” In this place, far from the capital of Algeria, Muslih has been persecuted since the first day he arrived. But who really knows this man; knows him for his smile, his humor and his solid faith in his Lord Jesus?
What were the consequences of your conversion?
“My brother was very opposed to my conversion, also my cousins. I was the first Christian in my village. It was something new for everyone, and there were a lot of Muslim fanatics in that place. They threatened to kick me out the village. They said they would isolate me. At a certain moment in 1993 terrorists came to our village, some of the Salafists came to debate with me.”
You planted a church, can you us tell about that?
“Still in the first half of the 90s I was able to share the gospel with some other people in the village. We started with a group of five or six converts in small, secret gatherings in our village. We used all kind of locations. As soon as we were discovered, we moved to another location.”
How big was the church of believers from a Muslim background in Algeria at that time?
“There were less than 1,000 believers at that time all over the country. That number has now grown to about 35,000 in the visible church and I believe even more than that number in the still secret and not-visible church.”
Why such a growth?
“There are some fundamental reasons. The first is that terrorism in the 1990s showed a face of Islam that made people doubt this religion. A second reason is that people, especially the Kabyle people (the Berbers), have a history of being oppressed by the government. They searched for something else. The church preaches that Jesus accepts you as you are, and so they felt welcome in church. The third reason is that there have been some protestant missionaries in the Kabyle region. They and many other people never stopped praying for our country.”
What is your biggest challenge to stay faithful?
“I struggle a lot with the divisions in the church. Division is weakening us. We’re weakened not by external events, but by the internal elements. When I went back to my village, we were a young church; of course we’re still a young church. We were immature, not formed, untrained, and that led to divisions. Before I got married, I even had a burn out, a depression, because of the problems in the church. The church is now stronger; we have trained leaders. Another difficult thing was the finances. For many years I earned no salary from working in the church. So I had to do all kind of jobs and spend the rest of the time serving the church.”
We hear that the government is putting more pressure on the church. Is that a challenge?
“Yes, the government is now the big giant in front of us. The authorities close churches – that is their new tactic – and they put a lot of pressure on leaders and elders. I believe the government invested a lot in the South [the Arab part of Algeria], to make that region stronger. That also made Islam stronger. They want us to leave. We are well organized in prayer, we pray from 6pm till midnight. We see signs of a new revival. Muslims are coming to us; they are tired, and some clearly and openly say ‘we want to know Christ’.”
Is the church in these circumstances still growing?
“Yes, the church is growing. There are some 30,000 to 35,000 protestant Christians in Algeria who meet in one of the churches. I am sure that the number of secret believers is even higher than this number. There are many believers who don’t go to a church, but instead watch Christian TV. Sometimes we meet them in a coffee shop. The Church in Algeria wouldn’t have space to receive all those people.”
But do you never have conversations with your wife about stopping?
“We’ve had conversations in the past about this. But, you know, I love American war movies. I know, movies are not true, but they give you a certain image of the Marines. What I understood from these movies is that when you are in a war, when you run, you turn your back on the enemy and they shoot you. We’re in a battle and it’s better to keep the weapons and go to the front, maybe we can reach our goal. For sure we will have less chances when we retreat. And, like with real soldiers, you get used to the battle. This spiritual battle is part of our life. To keep on going, we sometimes allow ourselves to rest, and we go to another place for some days where there is no pressure.”
How does Open Doors support you?
“You have a great quality that I never saw with others: that is your fidelity. You fulfill all your promises. For me, you feel like a family, I feel good about you. We can even have fun with each other. You’re supporting us as a family and the church in general. This helped us a lot, it helped us to answer the needs of our church. Your spiritual support is formidable, especially all those people who are praying for us. It makes me proud to know that when I am in the battlefield, there are people behind us. Knowing that makes us strong.”
*Pseudonym used for security reasons
In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Algeria through:
- Christian literature distribution
- Biblical training
- Socio-economic development