An Algerian pastor in Israel

Martin Garib is a minister who travels widely to speak about his faith, the truth about Islam, and also about his burning love for Israel.

Martin Garib 521 (photo credit: ICEJ/Emanuel Mfoukou)
Martin Garib 521
(photo credit: ICEJ/Emanuel Mfoukou)
In response to the modern rebirth of Israel in 1948, surrounding Arab states expelled an estimated 800,000 Jews from their lands. This included some 400,000 North African Jews forced to flee their homes and turned into refugees.
According to noted British historian Martin Gilbert, these Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa dated back over two thousand years. For instance, Jews were known to be present in Libya in 312 BCE. Inscriptions from the coastal city of Benghazi show proof of a wellestablished Jewish community around 150 BCE.
When the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the Romans drove scores of Jews into exile in North Africa. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, boatloads of Jews were also sent to Libya in 135 CE, shortly after the Bar Kochba rebellion. As many as half a million Jews called Libya home in that day.
During a rebellion in 115 CE, the Roman army killed over 3,000 of the wealthiest Jews of Libya, while hundreds of thousands of other Jews were forced to flee deep into the Sahara, where some intermarried with local Berber tribes.
Some made their way to Algeria. According to some historians, Jews can even trace their history in Algeria back to the First Temple period, over 1,000 years before the birth of Islam.
Sadly, there is a long history of persecution of Jews in Algeria, which has continued into modern times. In 1963, a new Algerian law granted citizenship only to Muslims, leading to increased persecution and forced exile for both Jews and Christians. It is estimated that around 155,000 Algerian Jews have been forced to leave Algeria since 1948, of which 25,000 have resettled in Israel.
As a young Muslim boy, Garib [family name withheld] remembers the hostility toward Jews that was prevalent in his native Algeria. From his childhood, he, too, had been schooled in the teachings of Islam, including certain anti-Semitic views.
“I am from a family that are descendants of the prophet Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. I was raised as a Muslim, and as a child I learned all the different Muslim prayers,” Garib recently told The Christian Edition during a visit to Israel. Garib’s family later moved to France, where he grew up with anger and disdain for non-Muslims.
“I was very hard, and expected people to look down if I looked them in the eyes. I was filled with hate and wanted to hurt people,” he recalled.
But at the age of 26, Garib followed two of his brothers and his mother in converting to Christianity. He found in his new faith a totally different revelation of the true nature of God.
“If you study the Koran, you will soon discover that the God of Islam disapproves of both Jews and Christians,” Garib explained.
“Muhammad’s last words to the people before he died were to fight the Jews and Christians. When I saw such a God telling the people to massacre the Jews, I concluded that it’s not the same God as in the Bible.
“The God of the Bible is not a God that He should lie. When He said that ‘Israel is My people,’ He would never change that. The Jewish people are therefore always God’s chosen people.”
Today, Garib is a minister who travels widely to speak about his faith, the truth about Islam, and also about his burning love for Israel. He was in Israel in October for a series of meetings with Jewish as well as Arab audiences. This included speaking to churches and other groups in Bethlehem and Ramallah about the importance of accepting Israel.
He was accompanied by his wife, Kahina, who is also a Muslim convert to Christianity and a native of Algeria. Kahina’s entry into Israel was something of a miracle – Garib has a French passport, but she was granted an Israeli entry visa despite holding only an Algerian passport.
Garib and his wife came to Israel with the vision of spreading a message of reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael – between Jews and Arabs. He also aspires to one day help open official ties between Israel and Algeria.
“God opened up this door for us to come to Israel,” Garib related. “So far, we have been visiting several churches to testify about Jesus in our lives and to tell fellow Arabs about the dangers of Replacement theology. Because there is no replacement in the Bible. Israel is Israel and the Jews are God’s chosen people.
“What really struck me in the churches in Ramallah and Bethlehem was to see that some of the Christians in Palestine were surprised to see a Muslim who has converted to Christianity. Before I arrived, I thought that the Palestinian church was made up of converts, but I realized that they have actually been Christians for centuries. So they have no idea how it is to go from Islam to the Good News.”
One message that Garib conveyed to the Arab congregations was that when Palestinian Christians feel imprisoned, they have to remember the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment and sufferings.
“Despite being a prisoner, Paul praised God and did not complain. Even if he was a prisoner, he still felt free, free to love the savior, and free to worship,” said Garib.
Garib also has a heavy burden in his heart for his native Algeria. He recounted how Algeria used to be a Christian land and was also once home to a large Jewish community. Despite the persecution of Christians, he insists there are an increasing number of Algerian Muslims now wanting to serve the God of Israel. He estimated that out of Algeria’s 35 million Muslims, over 200,000 have converted to Christianity in recent years.
“Today, there are a total of 40 churches in Algeria, versus 32,000 mosques. Of these churches only two are owned by Christians, while the rest are rented from Muslim owners. Recently, some of these Muslim owners have started to close the churches because of the number of people leaving Islam. Persecution has increased, and a new law ratified in 2006 forbids Muslims to convert to Christianity. Yet it has only stirred wider curiosity in the Christian faith as well as a new openness to Israel.
“I am often asked to come to Algeria in order to fortify my brethren, but it is actually me who is fortified, because I see their strength in the Lord,” said Garib. “The Christians in Algeria have a euphoric happiness which reminds me of what happened in the Bible when the people of Israel met to sing and dance. When a Muslim embraces Jesus, he automatically develops an extraordinary love for Israel. And when people see me wearing the Star of David, they directly ask me if I am able to give them one.”
Commenting on the “Arab Spring,” Garib said it is important to pray for Western governments who naively believe that democracy will be the outcome of the ongoing political turmoil while ignoring the dangers posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He believes the reason why Algeria has not been fully impacted by the regional unrest is rooted in the fact that the country already had experienced 15 years of terrorism with over 200,000 people dead in a civil war waged by radical Muslim insurgents.
“After all those years of terror, the Algerian people are very reluctant to reignite what potentially could develop into a new civil war. In addition, the leadership in Algeria has adopted certain mechanisms meant to create jobs for the people.”
Despite the turmoil currently rocking the region, Garib is hopeful that Algeria will become friends with Israel one day.
“I would like to tell both Jews and Arabs living in Israel that I love them with all of my heart. God is a God of love, and if He lives in us, we cannot hold hate towards either Jew or Arab.”