Christ comes by satellite
For centuries, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Christians have been isolated, the image of Christianity distorted and the gospel silenced.
Over the course of the 20th century, the Middle Eastern church shrank from 20% of the population to less than 5%. Most of us are aware that many Christians throughout this region suffer daily for their faith, from low level harassment and abuse, job discrimination and ostracism, to rejection by family and friends, deliberate violence and even death.
For believers and seekers, access to Christian teaching and resources is limited in many parts of the Arab world. A creative approach is needed to deliver Christian information to those who seek it and to support the struggling church.
* Half a billion people live in North Africa and the Middle East.
* Average literacy rates hover around 60%.
* Over 50%, and in some countries up to 95%, of the population has access to satellite TV.
* There are over 300 Arabic language satellite TV channels, almost all of them secular, some propagating extreme versions of Islam.
There is no doubt that satellite television has become the most effective means of communicating with people in the MENA region on a broad scale. With many being unable to read even a newspaper headline, and the world’s lowest levels of social, religious and political freedom, Middle Easterners are hungry for a form of entertainment that is visually based, informative and uncensored.
Giving Christianity a voice
The exponential growth of satellite television over the last decade or more has presented Christians with a highly strategic way of encouraging the church, giving Christianity a voice, and making the gospel available to millions. SAT-7 is a Middle Eastern satellite TV network that has been broadcasting locally made Christian programming across this region for 13 years. Recent surveys estimate audience figures of over ten million (with over two million watching regularly in Iraq alone).
100s of responses
So what impact is this modern technology having on those who watch? The hundreds of responses SAT-7 receives each month from those who have seen the programmes all testify that television is a powerful tool for bringing change in people’s lives.
A mother in Syria wrote of ‘the significant role that TV plays today in shaping the soul and the spirit of people, especially the children’. In a region where this influence is used by extremist channels to promote martyrdom through cartoons, it is a wonderful thing that instead she writes ‘my son gets acquainted with Christ Jesus through your entertaining, amusing, and beautiful programmes’.
Abdul (not his real name) is a young man from Morocco who wrote to tell SAT-7 his story. He began watching SAT-7 when he was 12 years old, until his mother found out and forbade him. Undeterred, he watched secretly and entered a competition for which the prize was a Gospel of John. He won and in due course the prize arrived, only to be confiscated by his furious mother. Abdul said: ‘Secretly, I kept searching until I found it and eagerly read it. The first thing I read was, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…” Suddenly all was clear to me, it needed no more explanation. He who appeared to me when I was praying at a younger age is Jesus Christ and he is the Way’. Since that time and despite continued opposition from his family, Abdul grew in his faith and today is involved in Christian media himself.
In October this year, SAT-7 seized the opportunity of broadcasting its two Arabic language channels on a new satellite, Atlantic Bird 4. This is a satellite platform whose channels can be viewed by anyone with a satellite dish aimed at Nilesat. According to independent research by Intermedia and the AC Nielson company, Nilesat is one of the most popular satellite TV platforms in the Middle East. The new broadcasts on the AB4 satellite have enabled SAT-7 to reach millions of new viewers overnight!
Some viewers have already found the new channels. From a woman in Iraq: ‘Praise the Lord! Thanks be to God and to all the efforts you have made to make SAT-7 available to Nilesat viewers. God bless you and give you strength to glorify his holy name’. From a viewer in Algeria: ‘In Algeria we are so happy that SAT-7 is now transmitting on Nilesat. Now every family in the Arab world will be able to watch SAT-7. The word of God will spread in the Arab world!’
The Rev. Dr. Samah Maurice, senior pastor of the Kasr El Dobara Church in Cairo, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, commented: ‘Most of the cities in the Arab world now, even homes in the poorest areas, have satellite dishes and they are even more common than refrigerators or ovens! Satellite TV is everywhere. SAT-7, from the beginning, has done its best to be a partner to the local church, not to be separate from the local church. The local church cannot do what the satellite can do these days. So I praise God and I think this is the door God has given us to reach the multitudes’.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘A great and effective door to the gospel has been opened up to me’ (1 Corinthians 16.9). The same is true today for those of us who are using modern technologies such as satellite television to win the multitudes for Christ — we see its effectiveness, and so do the millions of viewers who are tuning in.
For more information about SAT-7, please visit http://www.sat7trust.org or email email@example.com