Algeria (MNN) – There are only so many ways that you can say, ‘There is a crackdown.’
For Algerians, the latest church closures are more of the same. Middle East Concern noted the most recent on October 15, when law enforcement closed three more churches, two of which are the country’s largest.
These closure orders stem from a 2006 ordinance requiring special licenses for buildings used for Christian worship. To date, the government has yet to issue a single permit under this ordinance.
Denise Godwin heads up International Media Ministries, a Christian non-profit looking to create content that puts the Gospel on every screen. She says, “Officially in Algeria and a lot of North Africa, there is no church, according to the officials in these regions. So the fact that they have come to a new level of boldness is a work of God and the Holy Spirit and the times we live in.”
However, the Algerian government denies church closures are discrimination. They point out that their constitution guarantees freedom of religion. For them, the closures happened because churches didn’t have the permits they required to be compliant with the law.
Yet Algeria ranked 22nd on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most challenging to be a Christian, up from 42nd place the previous year. When asked where religious freedom and human rights issues intersect, Godwin observed that this question isn’t new to world history. “The Roman Empire was persecuting people in the same intersection of human rights and religious freedom. You were free as long as you followed their religion. They viewed themselves as very open, and a very just government, and I see history repeating itself.”
As far as today’s Algerian body of Christ goes, she says the harassment hasn’t silenced Christians. Instead, “There is a boldness in the North African church that is new, in the last five, eight years maybe of people saying, ‘I’m not going to hide anymore. I believe this. Jesus Christ is true, and I’m going to stand up for that.'”
Church closures are one way the government oppresses its Christian population. It also uses anti-conversion and blasphemy laws that shut down religious free speech and make it tough to practice a faith different from the majority religion.
It hasn’t always been this way, Godwin says. “There’s a time period where Christianity was quite powerful and vibrant and was a big voice in North Africa from the 1rst to the 5th century. That history has been lost in the shadow of Islam. Yet those people were standing up and influencing culture because of Jesus Christ.”
Defending freedom in Algeria
Philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To remind North Africa of its rich history in Christianity, Godwin says IMM focuses on telling stories of several North Africans in the 1rst through the 5th century.
“Many of us might be surprised …to learn that Augustine was an Algerian. He had to face the same issues back in that time. It’s not a new issue, but I’m so thankful that Christians around the world are hearing about it and are able to start praying with Algerians.”
Although refusing to be silenced, Algeria’s Christians sense the intensifying pressure. Some declare their intent by participating in peaceful protests against church closures. Others continue a bold declaration of the Gospel through a national fasting and prayer campaign.
To that end, Godwin encourages us to join them. “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.’ 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.”
Header photo courtesy of Middle East Concern