Algeria (MNN) — On the day after Christmas, a congregation
of nearly 350 people gathered for a church service and Christmas celebration at their new building in Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria. They found almost 50 of their Muslim neighbors barring the doors to
block them from holding their service.
"The local Muslims were unhappy
to have a church so close to their homes," said Todd Nettleton of Voice of the
Martyrs. "The Christians called the
police, and instead of allowing them to meet, the police sent the Christians
home to try to negotiate with those who were protesting. In the end, the church was not allowed to hold
Nettleton said the police may have had sympathies with the
protestors. Although separating the two
groups can be an appropriate step in some situations, the end result on this
occasion was that the Christians were unable to hold their church
"In the end, their religious freedom was definitely not
protected," Nettleton concluded.
According to Compass Direct News, the protestors stayed
outside the church until December 28 when they broke into the building and
stole microphones and speakers; the
police did not remove them from the premises. In the course of the protest, the Muslims also threatened to kill church
pastor Mustafa Krireche.
percent of Algeria's population is Muslim, persecution this serious is
"This particular incident is
pretty unusual," Nettleton explained. "Some
of the believers who were interviewed by Compass Direct talked about how
surprising that this would happen."
The church had met in a small
rented building until it opened a new building at a new location in
November. Local residents opposed the
building prior to the incident on December 26, but the church has permission to
exist and to meet as a registered member of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). VOM is watching the situation to see whether Algeria's
government will respect the church's rights.
Popular opinion in Algeria
accuses Christians of offering bribes such as money, food, and cell phones to
win converts. According to Compass
Direct, the protestors in Tizi-Ouzou were concerned about this issue.
"One of the challenges for the
church is to help people understand the idea of free will," Nettleton
explained. "'We're giving you a chance to
meet Jesus; we're giving you an opportunity to hear the message of
salvation. It's free, and we're not paying
you to take it, and you don't have to pay us for us to give it to you.' I think, as
the church grows, that perception is defeated just with the growth of the
church and the ongoing dialogue between people of different faiths."
The church is growing, and much
of its growth comes from Muslim converts to Christianity. Nettleton said that fact "creates an
animosity among the Muslims."
"There's evangelism going on," said Nettleton. "Muslims are coming to know Jesus
and joining the church. Of course that
is also one of the things that is causing anger, and it's causing frustration
among the Muslims, as they see Muslims leaving Islam to follow Jesus… That means
there will likely be more [persecution] in the months and years to come, because
one of the things that often happens as Muslims choose to follow Christ is they
face intense persecution — sometimes from their government, sometimes from
their own families."
Pray for Algerian Christians as
they seek to respond wisely and lovingly to the opposition of their
"Pray…that they will not be
intimidated by this…but that there really will be a bold desire to follow
Christ and to witness for Him, in spite of persecution," Nettleton said. "Pray for the Muslims…to see the faith of the
believers, to hear the Gospel and respond. This could be a way that they meet Jesus, as
they are persecuting Christians."