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Algerian Berbers responding to gospel despite civil war

ALGIERS, Algeria (BP)–Church groups are sprouting and spreading in Algeria as Berber tribesmen respond to the gospel, despite seven years of civil war that has killed as many as 100,000 people in the North African country.
The new congregations may be one of the first signs of a church-planting movement that Southern Baptists pray will spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The region is home to many “Last Frontier” people groups with little or no access to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
News of the church growth came from an elated Southern Baptist worker who spent a week visiting churches and leaders in Algeria. “Sam” (not his real name) cannot be identified for security reasons.
The Berber people group numbers 25 million across several North African countries, including Algeria. Christian workers began seeing church growth among Algerian Berbers during the early 1990s, before the nation sank into an ugly civil war in 1992.
Tens of thousands of people, including women and children, have been shot or hacked to death in the conflict. But the new churches have moved forward in outreach despite living amid the daily horrors of war.
Sam described one service during 1998 in which gunshots rang out and tear gas, smoke and screams filled the streets around a church meeting place. “Prayers were sent up to heaven to the Lord, asking him that no one would be either shot or have their throat slit on that day,” he said.
Today murders continue to occur weekly, but the pace has abated in recent months as the country prepared for national elections. Sam told of risky travel during his visit. He passed through one checkpoint manned by police where two soldiers were killed earlier by Muslim terrorists. “The violence is continuing. It is still a dangerous place,” he said.
But the worker declined to dwell on the nation’s bloody strife, preferring instead to talk of the joy he experienced when he baptized 10 new believers in a bathtub during his visit. “To have worked for years to get the gospel for this country and now to be baptizing people …,” his voice trailed off in emotion.
“And the larger churches are having baptisms almost every week,” he declared.
Sam visited several churches which have grown steadily since he last visited before the war began. He also told of a growing network of house churches that promise another facet of growth.
Sam declined to give details, numbers or locations of the budding churches for security reasons. While evangelical believers appear to have avoided most of the war’s bloodshed, more than a dozen Roman Catholic priests and nuns have been killed, he said.
Sam said Southern Baptists have been working closely with Algerian believers and other Christian sending agencies to make the gospel more available to isolated Algerians.
Vast quantities of gospel tracts, copies of the “Jesus” film and Bibles have been distributed to many thousands of Algerians when they travel into Europe each year. And radio programs in the Berber language also have been steadily sharing the gospel for years.
“The radio programs have had a big effect. A lot of people are listening and the results have been very positive,” Sam said. “A big plus is that more people have the New Testament in their language. Not as many copies as we would like, but more than before.”
Although Arabic is the official language of Algeria, there are many non-Arabic “heart” languages spoken. The Bible still has not been translated for many of these; for others, only partial translations are available. Algeria does not permit Bibles in local languages to be imported. Bible translation continues to be a major need within the country.
Sam also asked Southern Baptists to pray for the dire economic situation in Algeria that has left millions in poverty. Seven years of war have driven a poor country even deeper into poverty. There is a severe housing shortage. Christians suffer from these conditions just like their countrymen.
Sam hopes that if the country can move toward democracy there will be more freedom for churches to share the gospel and reach out.
Southern Baptists have prayed and given money through their International Mission Board for exactly the church growth results Sam described. He pleaded for his denomination to continue praying more than ever in coming months as Algeria lurches toward an uncertain future.