The Algerian government shut down three churches this week, including the two biggest congregations in the North African country. Authorities forced Christians from their buildings and arrested some who continued to protest the crackdown.
Members of the largest Protestant congregation in Algeria—the 700-member Church of the Full Gospel in Tizi-Ouzou—were warned their church would be sealed by the government this Wednesday. When they met for prayer and worship on Tuesday, the gathering was raided by the national guard.
The crowd at the Church of the Full Gospel panicked as they were ordered to leave. Some refused and were forcibly dragged out. When leaders—including pastor Salah Chalah, head the Protestant churches in Algeria (L’Église Protestante d’Algérie), and pastor Tarek Berki—tried to intervene, they were beaten, Morning Star News (MSN) reported.
The second-largest congregation, the 500-member Source of Life Church in Makouda, was shut down the same day, followed by 100-member Light Church (L’eglise Tafat) in Tizi Ouzou.
At least 15 Protestant churches—out of only about 46 in the country—have been shuttered since January 2018, according to the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern. The country, home to just 125,000 Christians, fewer than 1 percent of the population, ranks 22nd on Open Doors’ World Watch List.
Christian congregations struggle to register with the government agency tasked with regulating non-Muslim worship, per a 2006 law. It never convenes and has not issued a single approval.
When they’re shut down, the congregations are sealed with a wax seal and a notice is posted saying the buildings are not authorized for religious gatherings.
“The police intervened to force us out of our church—a church that exists and has been active legally and in the light since 1996,” Chalah told MSN. “It’s been 23 years that we exist in plain view; why wait until today to do so? May everyone know that we have been beaten and abused, including our sisters too, in our own premises for one reason only—our Christian faith. And because that’s the cause of our pain, we’re proud of it.”
At Source of Life Church in Makouda, the congregation sang praise songs of “hallelujah” as the officials forced them to leave and took pastor Nourredine Benzid out by his arms on Tuesday morning.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today