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Algeria: Government seals shut another church building

The area that today comprises the nation of Algeria was once a thriving center of Orthodox Christianity. The holy martyr St. Cyprian of Carthage, Blessed Augustine of Hippo, and many other saints hailed from North Africa. But in 647, the first Arab invaders arrived, and the Islamization of the area began. While Christianity survived this, albeit while suffering greatly, in Egypt and Syria, in North Africa it was completely wiped out. This partially because many Christians in North Africa fled to Europe, particularly after Carthage fell to the invaders in 698. There was, however, still an Orthodox Christian presence in what is today Algeria into the tenth century. In the eleventh century, further Islamic advances led to a second mass emigration of Christians to Europe. A third followed in the twelfth century.

Orthodox England notes: “Without monastic centres and writers, the Christians of the Maghreb faced assimilation. Unlike in the Middle East, where there were great figures like St John Damascene, there was no-one to argue the Orthodox cause with understanding of Islam, its culture and its language. There are no literary monuments, no Patristic figures, writing in either Latin or Arabic, from this period. The old Orthodox culture of North-West Africa was disappearing. True, even after the eleventh century, isolated survivals continued. Thus a Christian community is recorded in 1114 in Qal’a in central Algeria. In the mid-twelfth century an Africanized Latin was still being spoken by Orthodox in Gafsa in the south of Tunisia – at a time when Latin was nowhere spoken in Western Europe. And in 1194 a church and community dedicated to the Mother of God is recorded in Nefta, in the south of Tunisia….In about 1400, after 700 years of faithfulness, the lamp of Orthodoxy in North-West Africa went out through lack of oil. It left vestiges only in folklore and language. For example, to this day the Touareg word for ‘sacrifice’ is ‘tafaske’, derived from the Latin word for Easter ‘Pascha’.”

Orthodox England draws a key lesson from this: “Firstly, we can learn of the need for Christians of different nationalities to work together in justice, without treating each other as second-class citizens. Whether they are Roman or Berber, Greek or African, Ukrainian or Romanian, Russian or English, they must treat one another as Orthodox Christians, avoiding divisions, putting their Faith, and not their ethnicity, first.” See that site for more of the history of Orthodoxy in North Africa, and lessons for today.

Today, it is Evangelical Protestants who are bringing Christianity back to that ancient Christian land. The government makes life quite difficult for them. Please keep these Christians in this impossible situation in your prayers, and pray also to Almighty God for the revival of Holy Orthodoxy in this region where it so long ago flourished.

“Another Church Building Sealed Shut in Algeria,” Morning Star News, October 18, 2018:

TIZI-OUZOU, Algeria (Morning Star News) – Authorities in Algeria sealed shut a church site on Tuesday (Oct. 16) even after Christian leaders complied with orders to meet building codes, sources said.

In Azaghar village near Akbou, about 185 kilometers (114 miles) east of Algiers in Bejaia Province, Kabylie Region, eight policemen sealed shut the doors of the Church of Jesus Christ, pastor Ali Benkhelat told Morning Star News.

Government officials had ordered the closure in February after local administrators visited the 300-member church’s worship site in December 2017 and January, he said.

“After their visit to our place of worship, they asked us to provide another emergency exit door and fire extinguishers, which we have done,” Pastor Benkhelat said. “We even had to close the premises for three weeks for different development work. If they let us work until today, it’s because they had nothing to reproach us for.”

The five-year-old church is a legal entity by virtue of its affiliation with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), but the government order stated that its building was originally meant to be used for a poultry business. Christian leaders said it was clean and never had chickens in it.

Police first went to the building owner, Da Amar, at 4 p.m. on Monday (Oct. 15) and asked him to go to the police station at 5 p.m., which he did, Pastor Benkhelat said. The officer on duty told Amar, who makes the building available to the church free of charge, that police would close the building the next day on orders from Bejaia provincial officials.

“This after having reminded him of a notification which had been delivered to him on Feb. 18, 2018, and in which he had been informed of the closure of the premises for reasons of nonconformity,” Pastor Benkhelat said.

Besides citing lack of an emergency exit and fire extinguishers, the Feb. 18 order mentions use of the building to receive foreign pastors as being against Law No. 11-08 of July 25, 2008 as a reason to stop using the building, “under pain of making a decision to close the premises within 15 days.”

After Amar called Pastor Benkhelat on Monday (Oct. 15), the church leader immediately made contact with EPA President Salah Chalah, who arrived from about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away with EPA Vice President Youcef Ourahmane on Tuesday (Oct. 16).

The owner, pastor and EPA representatives went to the Akbou police station to try to get the closure order reversed.

“We presented the necessary documents, including the affiliation of the church to the EPA, but unfortunately their decision only obeyed an order issued by the head of Bejaia Province,” the EPA’s Pastor Ourahmane said.

The closure order this week was issued by a new Bejaia Province head who took office on Oct. 1, the Christian leaders said.

“It was ordered to proceed with the closing of the premises of the church with the sealing of the main entrance door,” Pastor Benkhelat said. “A brigade of eight gendarmes thus appeared around 11:30 and proceeded to execute the established order.”

The sealing of the church building comes amid a rash of church closures in the past year in Algeria. Three churches closed in Oran have since been allowed to re-open, but church buildings closed in Maatkas, Tizi-Ouzou Province, in May, and in Riki on July 11 remain shut, Christian leaders said. The Riki church, near Akbou, continues to hold worship services in the open air outside their closed premises.

On May 26 authorities ordered the closure of a church building in Ait-Mellikeche, also in Bejaia Province.

In addition to orders to close Protestant places of worship, Algerian authorities are trying to block evangelical activity in the country, Christian leaders said. In Oran Province, pastor Rachid Segheir visits provincial offices weekly to appeal for the reopening of his bookstore, which was closed and sealed by police in Oran city.

All churches affiliated with the EPA have been visited by investigators and ordered to comply with requirements for non-Muslim places of worship or face closure.

A 2007 executive decree requires all non-Muslim places of worship in Algeria to register with the state, according to the U.S. State Department, but a government freeze on new EPA members has kept churches from registering….

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