I have always thought I am really blessed to have a job like mine, through which I am able to see firsthand God at work through Bible Society ministry around the world. But my recent trip to Algeria was unique. It was about ‘going back home’ to where a piece of my heart is, even though I have never been there before… and to my delight finding God there, too.
Born in Algeria
I always knew I would go to Algeria one day. My mother and grandmother were ‘pieds-noirs’ (‘black feet’): Europeans who lived in Algeria before its independence. My grandmother moved to North Africa with her parents when she was four. My mother was born and grew up in Algeria until they had to leave, heartbroken, in 1950 because of the increasing violence. My grandmother had miraculously escaped being killed and they realised it would get even worse. I inherited their sadness and fears in relation to Algeria. Could any light ever shine on Algeria? I didn’t think so… I was so wrong!
I thought about this as I attended a church service minutes away from where my mother used to live in Algiers (see video clip below). Many of the church members were away at a conference but there were still about 60 Algerian Christians of all ages and backgrounds worshipping God and singing songs in Arabic, Kabyle and French. A church filled with Algerians right next to ‘rue Michelet’, where my family used to live? I don’t think my mother and grandmother could ever have imagined this at a time when churches in Algeria were filled with Europeans! I cried tears of joy for Algeria that morning.
‘God is my refuge’
As I heard the stories of several of these Christians, I recognised that when they sing the hymn, ‘God is my refuge’, they really mean it. It is their everyday experience. Some lost their jobs when it became known that they were Christians. Others have had their Bibles destroyed by family members, again and again. Others still need to hide their faith in Christ from their spouse or they could be beaten, thrown out of the home… Some family members met at church one day and realised they had been Christians for years but had been hiding it from each other! There are four churches in Algiers today and many more underground house churches where Christians often feel safer, not so exposed.
The following day, Ali, who is in charge of the Bible Society in Algeria, took me to Tizi-Ouzou in Kabylie (East of Algiers). My grandmother had a little farm in the mountains, which I believe was in Kabylie. She talked a lot about it and always said how beautiful the area was, covered with wild flowers in the spring. As I discovered Kabylie for the first time, I could only agree with her. But today it isn’t only beautiful: there is life in these mountains, and thousands of people turning to Christ and being baptised!
There is life in these mountains!
There were hardly any Christians at all in Kabylie in the early 1980s, but it has seen an extraordinary revival. About 1,200 people took part in the service Ali and I attended, and on the way there, as we passed towns and villages, he would point out: “Half of this village is now Christian… There are about 14 Christians now in that village… I sometimes stop on the way in this village to meet with new Christians as they are a bit isolated…”
Today, Kabyles, who had been under the Arabs’ oppression for centuries (Kabyles are Berbers, the first inhabitants of North Africa), go to Arabic-speaking parts of Algeria to share the Gospel. This is truly a sign of God’s healing in Kabyle Christians’ lives and of their desire to see fellow Algerians find the light as well.
No trip for UBS is ever the same. No trip is ever discouraging when you see God at work in one way or another. But this trip to Algeria moved me deeply. God is at work in this country in amazing ways I could never have believed!