LEBANON, Pa. (Mennonite Mission Network) - Fresh news from those who work with the growing church in Algeria encouraged a group of 40 former mission workers and their spouses, who gathered for a reunion at Kenbrook Bible Camp near Lebanon, Pa. from Sept. 19-21.
Mennonites served in Algeria from 1955-1978 with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, and with Mennonite Central Committee, but most have not been able to re-visit the country or friends there due to decades of political unrest.
“We all have treasured memories, and a continued interest in this land which was home to us for a while,” said Marian Hostetler of Elkhart, Ind., who taught school in Algeria with MBM from 1961-1970.
Miller Stayrook worked as an administrator for MBM’s PAX program in Algeria from 1957-59 and now lives in Goshen, Ind. He was intrigued by Christian witness through prayer meetings as described by the presenters who regularly travel to this North African country.
“Muslims are not accustomed to sermons, but they are used to praying. They do it five times every day,” Stayrook said. “It is helpful for Muslims to see people of their own culture living the Christian life rather than identifying faith in Jesus only with Western people.”
Mennonites began rebuilding homes in Algeria after a 1954 earthquake and continued to repair ravages caused by the war of independence from France that was fought from 1954-1962.
While Mennonite workers served in Algeria, the national Christian population was estimated at several hundred. In recent years, the number has risen to more than 10,000, perhaps as many as 40,000, even though the country discourages promotion of any non-Muslim faith. Islam is the state religion of Algeria.
In reaction to the church’s growth, the government has enacted increasingly repressive laws against certain church practices. Several church leaders have been tried in court. Tighter restrictions in meeting together require that Christians gather only in buildings recognized by the government.
Presenters at the September retreat underlined the Algerian church’s urgent mandate to redefine its identity and structure.