The Algerian people are trying to move beyond a bloody 15-year Islamic insurgency that has claimed as many as 200,000 lives there. While the government continues its fight against al Qaeda and other Islamists, another battle is being waged- -this one for the hearts and souls of Algerians.
Muslims are coming to Christ there as never before–mostly in mountain villages among berber ethnic groups.
Youssef Ourahmane is an Algerian pastor.
“The church is still growing fast, I have no doubt about it. The TV has a tremendous impact on the lives of the people there–especially Arabic language stations where for the first time many Algerians of course watch and see and hear Muslim converts who are preaching, who are teaching and telling them stories and also getting some facts about Islam and their faith in the Koran,” he said.
Christianity existed in Algeria long before Islam, but disappeared in the 12th century. Today, Islam is the dominant faith, but Christianity is making a comeback.
The Algerian church has grown to about 70,000 adherents. Seventy percent of the Chirstians are under the age of thirty. Hundreds stand in line for more than an hour just to attend services in one church building.
Prosyletizing Muslims is against the law in Algeria. Regardless, one evangelist–a former Muslim–travels on trains playing a guitar, singing Christian songs and telling passengers about Christ. The train ride lasts about five to six hours, so he says he has a captive audience–passengers can’t leave.
He added that overcoming fear of Muslims has been crucial to church growth.
“That has been the key and I think the church really is a missionary minded church now. They want to see more churches planted and they want to see the Algerian church become an impact not just for Algeria, but for other countries.”
Countries like neighboring Morocco.
Just ask Ashraf (his identity hidden and name changed for protection). He left the Islamic faith for Christianity and began ministering to Muslims in remote mountain villages in Morocco. He showed many the Jesus film. Ahsraf said he wanted to introduce the berbers to a loving God who forgives them.
“He forgives the sinner who makes him suffer,” he said. This is most important that the people see that. They will not think of vengeance or something like this.”
But Ashraf has paid a high price for sharing Christ in Morocco. He was arrested and sent to a mental hospital where he was injected with mind altering narcotics.
Before he accepted Christ, Ashraf was arrested for associating with believers. He says national security police tortured him with electricity to get him to provide information about his Christian friends.
Algerians have also faced persecution in their country. Last year, government officials shut down at least five house churches and several Christians were arrested.
“We expect (2008) will be (a) tougher situation because now there are complaints from the religious leaders. Imams in Algeria…they complain against what is happening, the evangelization of the Algerians,” explained Paster Youssef.
Their pressure has already led to a new, tougher law–a hefty fine and imprisonment for those found guilty of shaking the faith of a muslim. the law has yet to be implemented.
But Pastor Youssef suggested laws cannot stop the amazing move of God in North Africa.
“There’s no doubt with what is happening today–with God arising men and women who are gifted in preaching, church planting, worship and other things as well. It’s an amazing sign of hope,” he said.
As for Ashraf the Moroccan evangelist– he knows the risks he faces sharing Christ in an Islamic country, yet he remains unafraid.
“I will always trust God who gives me new life,” he said. “Always God is with me everywhere.”