Christian converts from Islam often face the brunt of persecution in the Islamic world. In the eyes of Muslims, they have committed an “unforgivable crime”, having deserted the “light of Islam” to become infidels by following what Muslims believe to be a false religion. Christian converts face immense pressure from their family and neighbors to recant their faith and return to Islam. To refuse often results in verbal and physical abuse from those they love most and may eventually lead to ostracism from their community. Despite these hardships, however, Samia gave her life to Jesus and wants the world to know her Christian persecution stories from the heartland of Algeria.
“I was a Muslim by inheritance, both by culture and obligation,” Samia, whose name has been changed for her own security, told ICC. “I admit now that I was only a hypocrite to follow Islam, because Islam formed no part of my life. But, the discovery of Jesus Christ and the Gospel changed my life forever and gave it meaning. I finally found the God that I can love, worship and serve freely, because Islam was only a form of slavery.”
“I became a Christian in 2007. After I saw the movie ‘Passion of the Christ’ I prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, if you really forgive sins, show me and forgive me.’ That night I had a dream. There was a man dressed in white and another in black who came to meet me. The man in white said, ‘Give yourself as a sacrifice and I will raise you from the dead and give you new life.’ The man in black was standing over a corpse and responded, ‘Look at this dead man. He gave himself as a sacrifice and he has not risen.’ The man in white showed me a lamb and said, ‘Behold, the lamb was sacrificed for your sins. Give yourself as a sacrifice and you will rise again.’ At that moment, I gave myself to Jesus and saw my life as a sacrifice. Immediately after, I opened my eyes and I realized that I was resurrected from the dead, without knowing how.”
“Trouble and persecution began at the time of my marriage to the man I love. When his family found out that I was Christian, they did their best to cancel our marriage. They first asked him to get another wife who is Muslim. When he refused, they told him they would not attend our wedding. We got married and lived five quiet months without any troubles. But this quietness proceeded with a strong storm. My husband’s brother was also a Christian. When he got married to a Christian wife, their parents realized their house was being invaded by Christians! We could feel their fear of seeing everybody converting to Christianity and we endured the rejection of the family for a month.”
“After that, the parents kicked both of us out of their home which was unbearable because we had nowhere to go. But, we found a friend who allowed us to stay in a hen house he had built in another village. We lived for seven months in that hen house, but villagers and his nephew eventually found out that we were Christian. ‘How dare you allow Christians here in our village?’ they said to him. You must know that any person who abandons Islam is an apostate, or an unbeliever, which is a serious crime to Muslims.”
“We quietly stayed another two months in the hen house because we had no money and it was a terrible crisis. Our dear friend tried to help but there was just too much pressure on him. So we eventually went home to see if the family would accept us. But the family members just insulted us, humiliated us, and even blasphemed the name of Christ. Their mouths were like volcanoes, incessantly uttering hurtful and blasphemous words at us. The persecution became harder when they hit us. Even worse, the parents filed a complaint against us with the police. The head of police ordered us to leave the house within 15 days or they would arrest us.”
“The Lord blessed us because we found a Christian couple that allowed us to stay in their house when they were out of the country for training. For us, it was a kindness of the Lord and a great relief. We were finally able to sleep at night without fear, but it was only for a short time. During those three months, we sought the face of God, and we responded in his grace.”
“A few days ago my maternal grandmother died. But before her death, she had told my mother to give her home to my husband and me. Although my mother was reluctant to give us the house, I persisted in my prayers because the Lord gave me this promise in Isaiah 43:4 ‘You are precious and I love you, I give men in exchange for you…’ The Lord is faithful and answered our prayers. We have now lived in my grandmother’s house for two years. When I remember that all of what we faced was simply because we are Christian, it makes me cry. But these are the Christian persecution stories of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Algeria.”
In late May, the president of the Protestant Church Association in Algeria (EPA) received the following notice: “I, Mr. Ben Amar Salma, the High Commissioner of the police in Béjaia, have informed Mr. Mustapha Krim, the President of the EPA… to close down all worship places; the places which are used now and the places which are under construction… The authorities will make sure that the order will be obeyed, otherwise severe consequences and punishments will be applied.”
This notification demanded the permanent closure of the seven Protestant churches in the Béjaia province, located 200 kilometers east of the capital Algiers. The threat came as no surprise to the EPA. Since 2006, Protestants have lived at the mercy of a strict law known as Ordinance 06-03, which has prevented them from worshipping freely or legally. The ordinance regulates the worship of non-Muslims by requiring churches to obtain government permission to hold services. Despite repeated efforts by the EPA to obtain this permission, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have failed to create a clear procedure to register churches and it often takes years before approving registrations.
“We were told we are not in compliance with the 2006 decree, but we have tried to comply,” EPA President Mustapha Krim told the Algerian daily La Dépêche de Kabylie. “We have spoken with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Interior Ministry. We have gone round-and-round with them for years, but nothing gets done.”
Similar notifications, like the one received in Béjaia, have been issued to EPA churches before. “The same thing occurred in Tizi Ouzou when several churches were ordered to close under threats that legal action would be taken against the leaders,” a church leader in Tizi Ouzou told ICC. “Our church also received this order in 2008, but because we resisted, the church continues to this day.”
In a more recent incident, a church in the village of Makouda, near Tizi Ouzou, was given 48 hours to shut its doors on April 23. The pastor presented documents to the local police department that proved his affiliation with the EPA, but the police commissioner said the documents were not sufficient proof to operate the church. Still, the church continues to meet each week.
While EPA churches continue to hold services despite being warned otherwise, they do not take the threat on the Béjaia churches lightly. “According to this decree, if one does not obey the instructions, the authorities are threatening to do the enforcement,” said Krim. “Apparently they want us to disappear from the map.”
Nonetheless, when Sunday morning services rolled around on May 29, the notification was not enough to persuade churches in Béjaia to shut their doors. “Here we are Lord to praise Thy name!” sang a hundred worshippers before Pastor Nordin stepped to the pulpit to read Psalm 23, reminding the congregation of God’s faithfulness even in hardship. “We did not understand the decision of the [governor],” a church member told La Dépêche de Kabylie. “We worship out of conviction. We are not afraid, because we did nothing wrong. We were never forced to choose Jesus, but we did so voluntarily. Whatever the circumstances, we will continue to say: we are here to praise your name Lord.”
At the end of the day, authorities had not interfered and services proceeded as normal. Further indication that the situation was improving soon followed when Minister of Interior Dahou Ould Kablia stated at a June 2 press conference in Algiers that the Protestant Church of Béjaia will be “allowed to continue their activities until they receive the necessary authorization,” Algerian news agency Tout sur l’Algérie reported.
While Christians in Béjaia remain unsure about whether they will be allowed to freely worship in the future, one thing is certain – they will not close quietly. “Pastors and church officials… opted for resistance by continuing to worship instead of obeying the order to close their doors,” said a representative of the EPA. “They continued to meet and celebrate their religion despite the threats. If the authorities decide to close places of worship, Christians will gather in homes or cell group meeting in the open air, which is already being done in some communities. But, we believe the situation will improve.”
The inability to register church buildings has caused many Algerian Christian communities to worship underground, either in the homes of congregants or in the secluded countryside. One community living in a remote village nestled in the beautiful Kabylie mountainside gathered in a shabby garage, their third location that year, when ICC visited them in 2010. They were preparing to move again because the landlord received complaints from neighbors who insisted that Christian worship should not be overheard in a Muslim community. Before designating the garage as a house of worship, the congregants held gatherings near a river on the outskirts of town each week when the weather permitted. Please keep this congregation, the churches in Béjaia, and the EPA in your prayers.