When the ailing former president of Algeria, Houari Boumédienne, quietly left for Moscow last September to receive medical treatment, his personally run regime quickly ground to a halt. The taciturn, iron-willed Boumédienne had acted as his own party chief, premier, and defense minister while systematically weeding out potential rivals.

When Boumédienne lapsed into a six-week coma in November and died at year’s end, the remnants of the Council of the Revolution, formed during Algeria’s 1954–1962 war for independence, gingerly began to put together a new collective leadership. The eight men shelved their differences, postponed basic changes, and closed ranks behind army colonel Benjedid Chadli of Oran as a new compromise president.

They were not the only ones to put off change during a traumatic national transition. An embryonic Christian church, on the verge of steps toward visible, organized status, put its plans on ice.

Christian influence is almost nil among Algeria’s 18 million citizens, of whom about 99 percent are Muslim (and 60 percent under 18 years of age). There are no self-sustaining churches. Observers estimate there are about 200 open believers and perhaps the same number of secret, isolated believers. There are at least three worshiping groups.

These believers are largely the fruit of the efforts of the North Africa Mission (NAM), which opened its work in Algeria in 1881. The United Methodist Church entered a couple of decades later, but concentrated on the French colonials. In subsequent years missionaries traveled and evangelized widely but gave little attention to church development. The success of NAM-sponsored Bible correspondence courses, begun in 1961, and radio broadcasts aroused resistance. The ministries ...

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