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TIZI-OUZOUAlgeria (Morning Star News) – Church leaders didn’t get an explanation for why the seventh worship building to be closed in Algeria since November was sealed last week, but they suspect lack of registration was the pretext.

It is virtually impossible to register a church in Algeria under current restrictions. Although three of the six churches previously closed were allowed to reopen last month, the shuttering on Wednesday (July 11) of the church building in the northeastern town of Riki was taken as a sign that harassment of Christian institutions that began in November is not over.

The church of about 60 people, which began meeting at its building in Riki, near Akbou in Bejaia Province, on Aug. 11, 2017, had not been able to affiliate with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) because the Ministry of Interior recently ordered the once-legally recognized association to freeze all new applications for membership, said Esaid Benamara, pastor of the Riki church.

After the church finished worship on July 7, a Saturday, the congregation was surprised when policemen in two vehicles arrived and asked Pastor Benamara to come to their office. They agreed to his offer to come the next day, and the pastor and his brother went to the office.

“Once there, they let us know that they had been ordered to close the premises of our church and the sealing of the entrance doors,” Pastor Benamara told Morning Star News. “We then asked that they give us the order in question, or at least a copy. ‘We’ll give it to you later,’ one of them told us.”

On July 10, the pastor received a phone call from the police (gendarmerie) asking him to go to their brigade post as soon as possible, and again he went with his brother. They waited there until 7 p.m., when the brigade chief showed up and asked them to leave and return with the building owner because the closure notification was sent to him, the pastor said.

They returned with the building owner the next day.

“They presented a statement to Mahdi Amara [the building owner], asking him to sign it, because the closing order was addressed to him in person,”Pastor Benamara said. “Then they told us that they would go later in the day to execute the order received from the wali [Bejaia provincial chief].”

Near noon on July 11, two vans from the gendarmerie brigade parked at the door of the church, he said.

“Three of the gendarmes entered the church and executed their order. They put the curtain and the front door under seal, which strictly forbids us to open the doors of the church once closed,” Pastor Benamara told Morning Star News. “After execution of the order of the wali of Bejaia to close the premises, the gendarmes left.”

The policemen told them they had sent a notification of closure to the building owner dated Feb. 24, “something we have never received,” the pastor said.

“That’s where we are,” he said. “Thus our church is closed, and our faithful can no longer meet.”

A 2007 executive decree requires all non-Muslim places of worship in Algeria to register with the state, according to the U.S. State Department. Pastor Benamara said the government freeze on new EPA members has kept it from registering.

Laws passed in 2012 required the EPA, which the government had given legal recognition to in 1974, to re-register, but officials have yet to give a response since the EPA applied for re-registration in 2013, leaving the umbrella association itself in legal limbo.

Christian leaders note that the Algerian constitution’s Article 42 guarantees freedom of belief, opinion and worship.

“This is injustice,” Pastor Benamara said. “The authorities who are supposed to respect and enforce the laws of the republic themselves do not respect them. Is it not true that Algerian law and international laws respect and demand respect for all religions as much as Islam? And also their practice? Why are they flouting these laws of the republic?”

On May 26 authorities ordered the closure of a church building in Ait-Mellikeche, also in Bejaia Province, and another church building in Maatkas, in Tizi-Ouzou Province. A church in a village in Azagher, like Riki near Akbou, was closed in March.

At the same time, all churches affiliated with the EPA have been visited by investigators and ordered to comply with requirements for non-Muslim places of worship or face closure.

Church buildings previously closed in Oran city, Ain Turk and El Ayaida, all in Oran Province about 250 miles west of Algiers, were allowed to reopen last month.

Christian Acquitted

Also last week, a court on July 8 dropped charges against a Christian fined 20,000 Algerian dinars (US$172) plus customs expenses for carrying Christian literature and some crucifix-shaped keychains into the country.

Idir Hamdad, a 29-year-old convert from Islam, had been sentenced by a judge at a court in Dar el Beida, on the outskirts of Algiers, who ruled he was guilty of importing unauthorized items without a license.

Notice of a six-month prison sentence and fine had been delivered to his home on March 4 stating that he had been convicted and sentenced en absentia on Sept. 28, 2017, but the prison sentence was withdrawn on May 3.

Algeria ranked 42nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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Dr. Scott Stripling and his team are uncovering what he claims are biblical artifacts in Israel’s City of Shiloh.

"Welcome to ancient Shiloh," Stripling told reporters. "This is the first capital of ancient Israel and it's a sacred spot because the Mishkan was here, the Tabernacle, where people came to connect with God."

Ancient Shiloh was the place where Joshua divided the Promised Land to the 12 tribes. The city is also where the Tabernacle was located for more than 300 years.

"We're dealing with real people, real places, real events," Stripling said. "This is not mythology. The coins that we excavated today – we're talking about coins of Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate, Thestos, Felix, Agrippa the First, Agrippa the Second. The Bible talks about these people. We've got the image right here."

Stripling was referring to a wall built by the Canaanites, where his team found ancient coins and thousands of pieces of pottery.

“You can read the Bible, you can walk the Bible, but the ultimate is to dig the Bible," he said. "You know, when we actually get into the swill, like these students from Lea University.

“They're literally – it's under their fingernails and in their nose and in their mouth and their ears and they're exposing this ancient culture. It becomes one with you. It's sort of like we came out of the soil and as we dig into the soil, we connect with God and with each other, I think, in a very important way," he said.

Abigail Leavitt, a student at the University of Pikesville, said the work is hard, but she is gaining a better understanding of the Bible because of it.

"I read the Bible totally differently than I did before I came here, and I can see when I read the Bible I know the places, I know what's going on,” she said.

“I understand it more deeply, especially where previous archaeologists have claimed the archaeology disproves the Bible. But when we dig here, we find that everything matches. You read it in the Bible. You dig in the dirt and there it is," she said.

Stripling said the work isn’t about “proving” or “disproving” the Bible, but about getting a clearer picture of the background of the Bible.

"For me this is sacred soil. This is where the Mishkan was that answers the most basic of all human questions: 'How do I connect with God?' And I think that's their most basic question," he said.

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

Photo Courtesy: Facebook

Georgia grandparents Bobbie and Richard loyally visited their local Chick-Fil-A restaurant twice a week. But the staff started worrying when the elderly Chick-Fil-A regulars mysteriously stopped showing up. So, they did some detective work and got to the bottom of things.

Married 63 years, Bobbie and Richard dined together twice a week at their local Chick-Fil-A. Staff soon regarded the couple as beloved, elderly Chick-Fil-A regulars.

With their established routine, employees remembered their order and made sure to fix their food just the way they liked it. They set the couple’s table with flowers on special occasions. They even started picking up the tab from time to time.

But then, one week, Bobbie and Richard never showed. And as the weeks passed by, still with no sign of the pair, the staff couldn’t help but wonder and worry over the disappearance of their favorite diners. Sensing “something wasn’t right,” they set to work on finding out the truth.

The employees only knew their favorite couple as Mr. Richard and Mrs. Bobbie. They didn’t know their last name. But the staff knew their grandkids worked in the school system, so they started asking around at churches and schools.

After a while, the employees not only got “the scoop,” but they also found out where Richard and Bobbie lived. Sadly, Richard’s health had been very poor and during his recovery, he was too ill to go to Chick-Fil-A.

“Recently my grandaddy's health hasn't been great,” the couple’s granddaughter, Lindsay Naramore McGuffey, explained on Facebook. “He is overcoming a lot, making tons of progress, and is doing much better, but they haven't been to Chick-Fil-A in months.”

And when the employees heard about Mr. Richard’s health struggles, they decided to keep the couple’s dining tradition alive, even if they couldn’t leave the house.

Timing it to match when the elderly Chick-Fil-A regulars usually arrived at the restaurant, some of the staff made a special delivery. They drove all the way out to the couple’s house with their “usual” order, all the way down to their preferred dressings and how many nuts they liked on their salads!

The real-life act of kindness left a huge impression on Mrs. Bobbie and Mr. Richard. In fact, Mrs. Bobbie insisted on taking a photo, which she sent to her granddaughter, Lindsay.

And Lindsay says the picture left her in tears. Mr. Richard is clearly beaming. And Lindsay later reported it was all he talked about all night.

Lindsay was so blown away, she shared the whole story on Facebook. It touched her heart knowing the staff loved her grandparents so much they would go to such lengths “to see their favorite couple and deliver a meal to them in a time of need.”

“To me my grandparents are saints — but to see that other people love them just as much is so special,” she said.

Lindsay’s post received a ton of attention. And people had nothing but kind words about her grandparents and about Chick-Fil-A’s incredible act of kindness for this precious couple. And as Lindsay points out, it’s proof that plenty of good still exists in the world today.

“There are angels on this earth. Keep your eyes open for the good through all the bad in this world,” she wrote.

What a wonderful way to love thy neighbor!

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons