When armed authorities came to close down Riki Church in north-eastern Algeria, they were met with the peace of Christ. In a new SAT-7 documentary, Riki Church’s leader and other Algerian pastors speak out, sharing their stories of injustice and how believers are standing for their rights while remaining peacemakers in their communities.
“Three cars showed up here with men carrying Kalashnikovs, as if they were ready to carry out an ambush attack,” says Pastor Ibn Aymara Saeed. “But they found we were unarmed. We greeted them and talked to them about Christ. We told them we’re Algerians, and we want peace. And that the Bible teaches us to respect the rulers of our country.”
Pastor Saeed is the first of three church leaders interviewed in a new SAT-7 ARABIC documentary “Why?” A Report on Algerian Church Closures. Filmed on location, the programme spotlights a systematic campaign by authorities to close Protestant churches in the Kabyle region, which began in November 2017 and escalated last year.
Despite the church members’ assertion of their constitutional rights to worship and the fact that their building met all legal requirements, gendarmes sealed Riki Church in the town of Akbou on that same day in July 2018. Since then, the church members have worshipped outside, clinging to their faith and to their love and respect for their country even amid injustice.
“We’ll keep meeting in the courtyard until we’re arrested or beaten,” the pastor says. “This is our expression of protest against the closure of the church. During summer, despite the extreme heat and sweating, the believers held onto their fervour and faith. But it is still difficult. We know that the state and the Algerian people and Muslims are not our enemy. The only thing we want from the government is to recognise us globally, to allow freedom of religion, and to let us practise our faith within the law.”
“We sow peace… I don’t know why they deprived us of our right”
The documentary then visits Ighzer Amokrane Church. Also in the north-eastern province of Bejaia, this church was sealed shut on 2 September last year. Kamal, a volunteer who has been a believer for 14 years, says, “We sow the peace and love of God to those who don’t know it. I don’t know why the authorities deprived us of our right, granted in Article 42 of the constitution, to have freedom of religious worship.”
Kamal shows viewers around the outside of the church, pointing out the amenities that ensure it fulfils legal requirements. The building can be opened without breaking the seal, he says, but the congregation will not worship out of respect for the closure order. “We have loving relationships with our neighbours, and we thank God for that,” he says.
Viewers also heard from Pastor Ibrahim, a board member for the National Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) whose building, Akbou Church, was also sealed last year. “They didn’t give us a reason for the closing that we could pursue through legal measures. They pressured the property owner strongly until he surrendered at the end,” he says. The pastor describes similar measures taken against other churches, saying, “After all these measures, currently they have sealed 13 churches in the tribal region.”
The benefits of freedom of religion
“Why?” A Report on Algerian Church Closures is one of several SAT-7 ARABIC programmes to highlight the situation of Christians in Algeria. Also planned is a second documentary with a broader scope, which will hear from senior church leaders across the Middle East and other parts of North Africa, as well as Algeria, and explore in detail why upholding freedom of religion is beneficial for all members of society.
“As Christians, we are not called to accept or to serve only those who follow our own faith,” says SAT-7 ARABIC Programming Manager George Makeen. “We are called to be salt and light for all. Our work to support the Algerian Church is good for all in Algeria. When a country accepts diversity, and accepts freedom, it flourishes.”