My first visit to Algeria was in the summer of 1974, part of a tour through North Africa. I was looking for people groups without a Bible in their language throughout the Middle East and North Africa. My trip report at that time had this entry: “The number of believers in North Africa is so small you can fit them all in one room.”
Another entry reads: “The believers have to gather in the forests for fear of exposure.”
There was not one known believer in Mauritania. In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia I found very few believers. Typically they met in the forest to avoid visibility in the city.
In the last few years I have revisited Morocco and Tunisia where the church has grown from a few handfuls to hundreds.
Algeria is different.
For the last two decades I have been hearing reports of great revival in Algeria. This trip was beyond what I have heard or even imagined.
First Missions Conference:
Early this year an Algerian leader invited me to speak at the first Missions conference in Algeria. With hesitation I asked him why was he inviting me. He
said: “Come and challenge the Algerian church to become a sending missions base.” That did it for me. I decided to go.
I am glad I went.
The conference was held in a church building fully dedicated to the Lord’s work by its owner who was a member of the local church. It drew 140 Algerian men and women zealous to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The worship was heavenly.
Every speaker stressed the need to get out of Algeria and go to the unreached areas of the Arab world. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard some of the speakers say with excitement: “In a short time, Algeria will be Christian again.” Another pointed out that the Algerian Church is now the third largest after Egypt and Sudan.
Before and after the 3 day conference I traveled vast distances visiting churches in the hills and valleys of Kabylia, the Berber homeland. Every day I was speaking to large groups, small groups, and individuals. My main message was about maintaining a disciplined life of discipleship. Here are exciting highlights from this trip:
The movement is larger than I had heard or anticipated:
In the last 30 years over 100,000 have flocked into the churches, large and small. Most meet in homes. The movement is almost totally indigenous. Although pioneering missionaries have lived in these mountains since the latter part of the 19th century, the current movement is almost entirely led by nationals.
The churches are larger than I had expected:
In nine days I visited four churches that have between 200 and 700 members each. I also heard that the largest church has 1200 members. In the entire Arab world only Egypt and Sudan have larger churches. The churches are largely self-supported. It is the norm for churches in the Arab world to be dependent on the West for financial support. Algerian believers are generous. Some who own buildings have donated a ground floor to the church. Land owners have donated land for building churches.
The churches are visible:
It was a big surprise that the churches have crosses on the buildings and the signs with the church name. Some of these are on public roads.
There are churches in all 48 districts of Algeria:
I was amazed to hear one of the leaders report this to me. One pastor stood with me overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys and pointed to the spread of villages and said: “There is a church in every one of these communities.” I could not believe my eyes.
The believers are bold and courageous:
Islamic and political parties and the Algerian authorities have tried to shut down churches and suppress the movement. Thanks to bold leadership, the believers have defied persecution and gained their freedom.
The churches are legally registered:
After two decades of legal battles, the churches have gained legal status and most of the visible churches have been registered. This gives them police protection.
There is a registered Bible school:
Timothy School of the Bible has graduated 160 leaders, most of whom are now serving as pastors and evangelists. It has two campuses and is planning to open other chapters in various parts of the vast country. The program ranges from 3 to 9 months.
A few Algerian leaders have been trained in the Arab Baptist Seminary in Lebanon which provides a 3 year pastor’s training program and offers degrees in theology and ministry.
Dreams, Visions and Media:
A typical Algerian testimony speaks of special visitations by Jesus through dreams and visions. Christian Arabic TV Channels are penetrating walls and are being watched all over the country. Some have subscribed to up to 20 Arabic Christian channels. Programming ranges from straightforward preaching of the Gospel to Christian-Muslim Apologetics.
Weaknesses to deal with:
The fast and wide growth of the church brings the difficult task of grounding the believers in the word of God. Many have limited knowledge of the Bible, though they are highly committed. Many are no longer attending church for many reasons that need to be addressed. I recognized that the greatest weakness is lack of depth of understanding of the word of God. Many of the leaders are self-made and lack experience. They have never been discipled or been shown a model of how to lead a church.
Trajectory into the Future:
The future of the church in Algeria can go in one of two directions. Either the church will lose its fervor and most Christians would return to Islam or leave religion altogether, or it will grow beyond our imagination. Today is the time to act. The biggest need is discipleship and training of leaders.
My prediction is that the Algerian Church will become a sending base to other Arab countries. Here are some reasons why I think so:
The boldness of the believers is exceptional. They are proud to call themselves Christians publicly. The community acknowledges the presence of Christians. Most Algerians in the Berber regions seem to view Christianity as the hope for their future. They are tired of Islam and are distancing themselves from it. Christians seem confident that Kabylia will become Christian again. They are becoming aware that before Islam came Kabylia was Christian. Many believers are gainfully employed and are contributing significantly to the needs of the church. Some have given properties and land for the construction of church buildings.
Algeria is a phenomenon of its own. It is truly amazing what the Lord has done in this country in the last 40 years. We must pray and act to encourage the movement of God and see it spread throughout the Middle East.
Re-posted from BIBLICAL MISSIOLOGY – Editorial