Producers Samia (pictured left) and Salah Kessai are no strangers to adversity – the church they attend recently reopened after months of enforced closure. But the couple, who film high-impact SAT-7 programs on the ground in Algeria, refuses to lose heart. Their work is a vital support for those choosing to follow Christ in this country dominated by another religion.
Like many Christian leaders in Algeria, Samia and Salah have witnessed amazing church growth in recent years. “Every three months, the church holds baptisms, sometimes for more than 100 people. In June, 67 people were baptized,” says Salah. But as political tensions have increased, churches have been subject to greater interference from governmental and local authorities.
“They refuse to grant permission for churches to operate, and then they close them down because they don’t have official permission,” Salah explains.
Eleven churches have been closed, including Salah and Samia’s in Aïn Turk, near Oran. It was shut down for seven months before thankfully reopening in June. Undeterred, Salah simply says, “The more problems the Church faces, the stronger it grows.”
NEW BELIEVERS OVERCOME REJECTION
North Africa is a difficult place to be a Christian. Believers mostly come from a non-Christian background, and often face pressure from those around them. “Believers need to be freed from the fear of being rejected by society and their families for their faith,” Salah says. “We try to encourage them to be a light and a testimony to others.”
Discipleship is a further challenge, as there is a lack of leaders with theological training. There is also a lack of Christian resources available in the dialects spoken by locals. “The believers are increasing, but the servants are not enough to satisfy the need,” he says. As a result, new believers may start to fall away.* “Many people come, but how to keep them in the faith is a challenge.”
MANY PEOPLE EXPERIENCE GOD
In these tenuous stages of early faith, new believers are finding crucial resources through programs in the local dialect on SAT-7 – lively church services, Christian teaching programs, and talk shows.
Salah says, “Many people experience a personal relationship with God through watching the programs.”
He describes meeting a group of Christians from Morocco, saying, “They told me that they meet in a home for their prayer meeting and watch My Church in Algeria. They pray that one day they will have a church like this in Morocco.”
Samia encourages believers to learn from the example and heritage of Christians in the region’s past. “Algeria has a well-known history of Christianity,” she says. “It is the birthplace of Saint Augustine in the Fourth Century! We have a historical Christian heritage and identity. We want them to embrace this.”
*Without biblically based discipleship, new believers can more easily yield to social pressure to walk away from their new faith, or through lack of theological knowledge they can fall victim to “syncretism,” meaning a kind of meshing of their old beliefs with their underdeveloped Christian understanding, resulting in confusion and a weak faith. These possibilities undermine both the new Christian and the Church.