Despite government opposition, Algeria’s Church is experiencing rapid growth in numbers and whole life change. Samia Kessai, who produces SAT-7 programmes in Algeria, says it’s like living in the days of the Early Church. She updates us on new series that are resourcing the country’s believers.
Samy grew up in a small village in the Kabyle region of the Atlas mountains in Algeria. Life was hard and the values set by his father, a religious leader, were conservative and fixed. Although close to him, Samy says, “I never dared to ask my dad about the God we adore and worship.”
That was until the day he watched the SAT-7 programme My Church in Algeria. “I contacted a Christian leader who welcomed me to the church, and there I gave my life to the God of life,” Samy explains.
“My story didn’t end there as my family heard that I became a follower of Christ. My father kicked me out of his house for more than a year. I’m thankful to God who used my mother to convince him that everyone is free to choose his religion.”
Samy is one of thousands of new believers who have joined the Church in recent decades. Most, like Samy, are drawn from the Amazigh or Berber peoples in the country’s north-east. Church growth here is among the fastest in the world.
Acts in Algeria
Over the last seven years, SAT-7 producers Salah and Samia Kessai, have filmed the stories of over 120 of these new Christians for a dedicated Algerian testimony programme, Free Souls. And Samia, who also presents the Free Souls programme, says the Church constantly reminds her of the Book of Acts.
“The Church is like the Early Church”, she enthuses. “It’s full of love. People here have open hearts and open hands. When the Berber people accept the Lord, they give everything to God. They live day by day. They believe God will provide and have no worries about tomorrow. They are waiting and prepared for Jesus’ second coming at any time.”
While her husband is Algerian, Samia is from Tunisia. But the faith and warmth of the Algerian church makes her feel Algeria is her home. “I’m rooted here,” she says.
Just as watching SAT-7 triggered Samy’s journey, it was watching The Jesus Film on SAT-7 over 20 years ago that brought Samia to Christ when she was still living in Tunisia. So her passion for using television to strengthen and encourage the Algerian Church is easy to understand.
My Church in Algeria was the first series Salah and Samia were involved in filming. Some 52 worship and teaching services were recorded from two of the country’s largest congregations, with the aim of airing one for every week of the year. Typically, several services would be arranged and shot in one day, so there would always be recordings in reserve. Those 52 services became many more and were broadcast weekly right to the end of 2020, long after the authorities began a campaign of church closures in 2017.
The latest repression of the Protestant churches closed the doors to 13 of the largest congregations and orders to close were sent to 49 others. Coronavirus restrictions completed the shutdown and none have been allowed to reopen, despite restrictions being lifted on the country’s mosques.
Bibles and other Christian materials are also in short supply because Algeria tightly restricts the numbers that can be imported. Illiteracy is a big challenge too, especially in more remote areas.
With believers hungry to grow in their new-found faith, Samia says SAT-7’s television programmes are an essential resource. She mentions a woman she knows in her late 60s who is illiterate and in poor health. “She said ‘My TV is always on SAT-7 and SAT-7 KIDS. I never went to school, but I’m learning many things from SAT-7. Even when someone calls by I never change the channel because I want to be a light for others.”
Two new programmes Samia and Salah are developing are aimed at equipping new and relatively new believers in the faith. Between Us and You Will Know are both designed to help them understand and grow in their relationship with Christ.
And although churches cannot currently meet, since the end of last year, SAT-7 has been able to film services from a small venue with just the preacher and worship group present.
“When church doors are closed, the need for these broadcasts is huge,” Samia says. “The Christians here are young in faith. They are thirsty. They always want to learn more, to know they are not forgotten.”
They especially want to hear teaching in their own Kabyle dialect, she adds. “It’s special for them when they hear from their own pastors, from local people.”
Just as there is a New Testament vitality about the Algerian Church, there are similar challenges. The interviews recorded for Free Souls highlighted many of these – child marriage, polygamy, stigma around infertility, hardship faced because of divorce or being widowed.
So Despite All, a new series for women, is taking an in-depth look at these issues. The show mixes interviews with women who share from personal experience with insight from a counsellor, legal advice from a lawyer, and biblical perspectives.
Prayer, too, is integral to bringing about change. A series of short prayer programmes, filmed in different locations, is focusing prayer on pressing needs – from church closures to issues of poverty, youth unemployment, terrorism, and practices such as fortune-telling.
“We go as a team and record with local Christians and pastors, praying with them,” Samia explains. “Where there is magic and fortune-tellers, we go to pray and break its power.”
Above all, Samia prays that God will touch the hearts of the authorities so that believers are allowed to meet again. The personal contact that Christians in the West have missed so much during COVID-19 is even more important in North Africa, she says. “The North African mentality is to live side by side, speak face to face, be in touch with one another, take time, to share, to listen and to pray.”
Samia and Salah are no exception. “When we visit the pastors and the people to film and record, they welcome us as family,” Samia says. “When I hear their testimonies, I cry a lot and I’m very encouraged and blessed. We have a wonderful relationship with our church family in Algeria.”