I grew up near Algiers in a family of practising Muslims, so from a very early age I followed the practices of Islam. My father worked in a factory where all banned books were destroyed. He was illiterate, but he brought a book home every evening for me and my siblings to read. One evening he brought a Bible, although he didn’t know what it was. This was how I came to hold a Bible for the first time.
I was 17 and had many questions about My faith and my life. I began to read this book and couldn’t stop for whole nights at a time! It was the Psalms that touched me most deeply at first. When I read Psalm 32, I started to understand what it meant to be a sinner. Until then, I had no understanding of this concept. I thought I was a good person! “Our God, you bless everyone whose sins you forgive and wipe away … Before I confessed my sins, my bones felt limp, and I groaned all day long … So I confessed my sins and I told them all to you… Then you forgave me and took away my guilt.”
Eventually I reached the New Testament and I found its message of God’s love so overwhelming that it transformed my life. I began to listen to a Christian programme in Arabic on Trans World Radio. I gradually opened my heart to the Lord. I began to correspond with Christians, to obtain Bible study materials, to respond seriously … until the day when I met some Christian missionaries in Algiers. A year later I gave my heart to the Lord.
It was the message of God’s love, of love for your neighbours and for your enemies, that led me to accept Christ. This message was totally opposite to what I had learnt, that of hatred for the former colonists, for Jews. I joined a local church where, at that time, there were only two Algerians! But God was faithful. I began to share the Good News. Several members of my family became Christians and more Algerians began to attend the church. Then, in the early 1980s, a large revival movement started in Algeria, a movement which continues today.
Several members of my family became Christians and more Algerians began to attend the church.
In the 1990s, when I had become a pastor, I had to seek refuge in France with my wife and my sons because we were being threatened by Islamists. This was Algeria’s ‘black decade’. It was against this background that, in 1999, UBS asked me to take up the leadership of the Bible Society, which had closed in 1993. I had been a member of the Bible Society board in the early 1990s and so it was familiar to me. Every time I returned to Algeria, I carried Bibles in my suitcase, as did all the rest of my family. But when I saw people’s thirst for the Word and how difficult it was to obtain Bibles, I became convinced of the need to reopen the Bible Society and to make this ministry my life’s priority. At that time, many churches were using photocopiers to make copies of pages of Scripture. People were photocopying photocopies – it was all they had!
When I look back today, I am so happy that I responded to that call! I even feel rather ‘proud’, because hundreds of thousands of Bibles have entered Algeria since 1999 and they have met the needs of all those thirsty Algerians. I also feel great joy when I see how easy it is now for churches to share God’s Word. You can get hold of a Bible from any church in Algeria today, and that is thanks to the work of the Bible Society.