A long time ago the Christian church was massive and vibrant throughout the North Africa region. Simon, the cross-carrier for Jesus, hailed from what is now Libya. Local martyrs contributed the seed from which the church took root and multiplied. St Augustine studied in what is now Tunisia and ended his life as a bishop in what is now Algeria. Christianity (or at least some of its most serious theological expressions) found a route to Europe through ancient Carthage, especially after the barbarians arrived to the gates of Rome. Christianity has, within North Africa, remained largely an expatriate-based, Latinised faith. Indigenous expressions were suspected and eventually squashed. There was not much left of a vibrant, contextualized Christianity to provide an attractive alternative to, or defense against, Islam as it rode westward out of Arabia.
Anglican churches in North Africa date to the presence in the region of European traders and diplomats, and then missionaries. They have remained faithful hubs for the celebration of Christian faith in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria after the dominant European presence in the region diminished and disappeared. In 1976 the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East was formed, with the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa as one of its constituent dioceses. The emergence of Egyptian bishops as diocesans has helped give Anglicanism in North Africa a more locally grounded feeling: our diocesan bishop is an African and he is an Arabic-speaker!
Each of the Anglican churches in Tripoli, Libya, in Tunis, Tunisia and in Algiers, Algeria is situated in a wonderfully strategic location. We often provide the only Protestant services in English or in one of the major Indian languages. We enjoy healthy ecumenical relations with Orthodox and Roman Catholic friends, on the one hand, and more independent, Protestant, (even Pentecostal or charismatic) friends on the other. We are small enough not to be a threat to anyone, but we are passionate about trusting God – and working towards – the development of indigenous, national congregations of Anglican Christians throughout the region.
Tunisia is a tiny country with a big reputation, at the moment. The Tunisian people threw off a long-established, tyrannical regime through a non-violent revolution and set the example for other nations in the region to follow.
Libya is a big country, with lots of a certain kind of wealth, where no one ever thought that the Colonel could be stood against. He was stood against, though with outside involvement and with lots of bloody fighting. The result was freedom, but freedom for what?
Algeria had its own brush with awful internecine bloodshed in the 1990s. The government has since spent lots of its vast petro-chemical wealth on security, has allowed a certain easing of restrictions on individuals, groups and peoples and is seeking to diversify the job market to provide employment, especially for the younger generation.