The work of Methodism in North Africa was started in 1908 by missionaries from the USA. Before Algeria became independent in 1962, there were no restrictions on church work in this country. Open evangelization was allowed. The Methodist Church owned church buildings, children’s homes and clinics. At that time, the Church in Northern Africa was organized as an annual conference, to which local pastors, lay preachers, and evangelists belonged. Then the country dissolved its ties to France. This was a historic juncture that had serious – and for many, painful – consequences. Many local Christians left the country, believing that there was no place for a Christian Church in an independent Algeria. Finally, eight years later, events followed which were to define the next period: half of the Methodist missionaries were deported, children’s homes and boarding schools were forced to close, and Church property was taken over by the state.
In 1972, the Methodist Church fused with most of the other Protestant denominations to form the Protestant Church of Algeria, and Methodist work in Northern Africa was reorganized as a district of the annual conference of Switzerland/France. This work also includes the cooperation of various churches in Tunis, Tunisia, with its emphasis on social services (delivering food, clothing and medicines), on assistance for immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, and on the organization of ecumenical worship services and university Bible groups.
Today, the Christian Church is a tiny minority in Algeria, where Islam is now the state religion. Fairly recently, it was possible to run a congregation in an organized manner, in spite of state-ordered limitations (prohibition of public evangelization, prohibition of all activities not directly related to church work, prohibition of all services to Moslem children, youth and students). The political and religious developments of the past few years have not exactly made Methodist work any easier in this country.
However, there are worship services, Bible studies, weddings and baptisms. In Algiers and Oran, especially, these take place through ecumenical cooperation. More and more people are expressing their interest in the Christian faith. Through the social services supported by the UMC in Switzerland, a sewing school for deaf women in Constantine is run, which means that some young women are receiving a chance for a better future.
The training of local staff is a major priority of Church life today, because although leaders in the Methodist congregations in Algeria continue to maintain existing relations, they also hope to increase the level of local responsibility.
Structurally, the Protestant Church of Algeria is now constituted as a federation of Protestant congregations, in which Methodist personalities continue to carry out important leadership functions. However, this has no effect on the cooperation in personnel and financial matters between the Methodist congregations in Algeria and the Annual Conference in of Switzerland/France.
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