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“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)
Omair* straightened, shifting slightly as the courtroom stilled, waiting for the judge to pronounce the verdict of his latest appeal. Several years prior, his business had been shut down when he’d been accused—and acquitted—of printing and distributing Christian literature. Last year, he had discovered the renewed charge via a paper slipped under the door of the church he pastored, a few months before it, too, was closed by the Algerian government.
When the judge announced a one-year suspended sentence and a fine, Omair sighed, thankful to be heading home to his wife and two teenage children rather than to prison. With brothers and sisters around the world lifting him up in prayer, Omair will continue to appeal the accusation, but it’s not the first time he’s been in court. Bold in the face of losing his freedom, he understands the cost of actively sharing God’s love in his country: spiritual opposition manifested in physical persecution.
“I have been in courts before the judge more than 14 times with all kinds of accusations,” Omair explained. “God has kept me free to continue the ministry and proclaim His love to many others. Reading the word of God, fasting and praying, memorising Bible verses about fear, and seeing many lives changed and transformed—this how I kept being bold for the sake of Jesus.”
Among the snow-capped mountains of the Kabyle region—the birthplace of the Algerian revival—worshippers at one of the larger churches with well over 1,000 attendees used to arrive an hour early to secure a seat. Rather than buzzing with communal chatter during that time, the church quietly filled with people individually readying themselves to worship God and welcoming the presence of the Holy Spirit. From there, services regularly stretched over three more hours with worship, teaching, and prayer. Afterwards, people still didn’t want to leave, instead spending time together socializing.
From the first outreach into that region in 1981, when about 40 young men decided to follow Jesus during a football tournament, the light of Christ has sparked life into hundreds of thousands of Algerians, igniting countless house groups and churches. Omair himself decided to follow Jesus in his home village in the Kayble. A believer there shared God’s love and the way to heaven with him. Omair, who, at the time, regularly engaged in debates about Islam and Christianity, decided to read the Bible to be better equipped in his arguments. While reading the Word of God, “I was convinced that Jesus is the truth,” he explained.
The fledgling Algerian Church, though acknowledged by the government, has also attracted persecution from its inception. Like Omair, early Algerian believers memorised verses about overcoming fear, inherently understanding the loss of livelihood—and even life—that their decision to follow Jesus might cost. “God is in control, and He is sovereign,” Omair asserted. “None of our hair falls outside of His will. Why should we be afraid or worried?”
In November 2017, several years before government-mandated gathering restrictions, Algerian Jesus followers outside the coastal city of Oran faced a sticky red wax seal covering the lock and dripping down the door handle’s metal plate at the House of Hope, a prominent protestant church and ministry centre. According to an order from the governor of Oran, all activities and meetings were ordered to stop immediately—at the House of Hope and at several other churches scattered across the country.
In September 2018, believers in Algeria, united under the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA), commenced a year of 24/7 prayer and fasting—drawing on divine fortification for what would become an even tougher situation from 2019 through 2021. More church closures, more pressure on landowners renting space to Christians, more persecution for individual believers, including prison sentences for those accused of proselytizing. Instead of initiating church closures, public health restrictions exacerbated them, allowing the Algerian government to continue to suppress the gathering of protestant believers.
Youssef, vice president of the EPA, and his wife, Hie Tee, pioneers and leaders of the missions training and discipleship movement in Algeria as well as founders of the House of Hope, consider the latest form of persecution “sort of normal,” Hie Tee energetically pronounced. “We all carry on because we have to continue to stand firm and let the Lord fight for us.”
The couple have an apartment in Algeria, which, along with the House of Hope, was sealed in the early days of the government-initiated church closures. To continue living there, Hie Tee shared their creative workaround, a testament to their tenacity and perseverance: “We made the window into a door. The Lord gives us the courage and the peace to do what we need to do.”
Once someone has that peace from the Lord, she explained, there is nothing that can stop them—“whether it’s persecution or hardship or battle.”
“The biggest mistake that the Church can do is to give into fear,” Youssef confidently stated.
In standing firm, the Algerian Church has become an example for other Christians in the region, especially those from a Muslim background. Algerian believers are “all Muslim converts, but they’re not afraid; they’re resisting” the forced closures, Youssef described. “They want to keep their churches open, so it has given a lot of hope and also shown to the world that it’s possible: They’re not only willing to believe but they’re also willing to suffer.”
That suffering has also garnered international support. “The reaction of the universal Church was just incredible,” Youssef shared, mentioning influential leaders from the US, France and Switzerland who have intervened on behalf of Algerian believers. Because of the persecution, the Algerian Church has become more “loved, known, and appreciated,” he noted.
And while Christians in Algeria remain prohibited from meeting together in large groups in church buildings, they are still spreading the gospel online through expansive social media ministries and prolific internet TV programs airing in Arabic, Kabyle, and French. “Even in the midst of all of this, people are still coming to faith,” Youssef shared.
A version of this article first appeared in the 2022 Globe Issue of Christianity Today under the title 'The Biggest Mistake the Church Can Make'.