Broadcasting throughout the 25 countries of the Middle East and North Africa is possible today due to several developments not present in other regions of the world.
Technology, Timing, and Theology
- Arabic, the official language of most countries in this region of some 420 million people, varies from country to country, yet a pan-Arabic language accessible to most is available in part because Egyptian television has helped to popularize this vocabulary since the 1960s. While these Arabic speaking countries are as different as Germany and France, and indeed at times work counter to one another, still, the language makes possible communication to an extent not feasible in, for example, Southeast Asia, or even within China or India. Adding Farsi and Turkish language channels expanded SAT-7’s potential exposure by another approximately 85 million in each country, and now Afghans can also watch programming in Farsi and periodically in Dari as well.
- Satellite broadcasting became available and affordable in the mid-1990s to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations and has since expanded into hundreds of channels. Unlike terrestrial communication or even the Internet, satellite broadcasts are virtually uncensorable, a distinct advantage in a region in which religion, rulers, and regimes often attempt to control access to information.
- Satellite channels are free-to-air, making them accessible to anyone with a television set and satellite dish, which are available and affordable, must-have appliances for even the poorest of the poor. Illiteracy, while still a significant problem in most countries in the region, is not a barrier to television viewing.
- Founded in 1995, SAT-7 launched on air in 1996, the first and still the largest (most comprehensive) Christian satellite network working in the region. SAT-7 is distinctive in several key ways:
a. Headquartered and produced in the region
b. Avowedly and openly Christian but nondenominational
c. Nonpartisan and nonpolitical
d. Culturally sensitive, i.e., it does not attack other religions
e. Indigenous, operating by and for the people of the Middle East
with 80%+ of aired programs originating within the region
f. Holistic in its Christian presentation, i.e. evangelism, edification
or discipleship, education, information, inspiration, entertainment,
speaking to spiritual, mental and emotional, physical, and
- SAT-7 continues to increase in viewership even as social or new media and on-demand access is expanding exponentially. TV, considered an aging technology by some, is not going anywhere soon but is morphing with live interactive programming and is otherwise converging with emerging communications technologies.
After more than two decades of on-air ministry, SAT-7’s “brand” has become widely known, recognized, and trusted. Viewers know they will receive quality content, truthful statements not couched in political bias, and clear and positive teaching of the principles of the Word of God.
SAT-7 knows from experience that it need not criticize other ideologies or theologies with which a Christian channel disagrees, but simply trust: one, the spirit of God who promised that His Word would not return unto Him void, and two, the viewer who can make comparisons with what they have been led to believe and what the Bible says. Then, the Holy Spirit does the rest and in His providence people learn and respond.
SAT-7 is also distinctive in that it does not ask for funds on the air, nor does it sell airtime to various programs. While there is nothing wrong with this model, it never has been SAT-7’s approach. SAT-7 does not press viewers for support, though some respond when they can. Instead, SAT-7 is underwritten by fund development offices in Europe, the UK, Canada, Brazil, and the United States. Faithful Christian people in these countries give to investing in spiritually changing lives in the Middle East and North Africa. SAT-7’s partners are a critical part of the ongoing ministry.
Ministry in Pandemic for Such a Time as This
SAT-7 is broadcasting practical health counsel provided by medical professionals and spiritual counsel shared by pastors and other Middle Eastern Christian leaders. Some 42 programs have been developed or adapted to date that engage the questions viewers are asking about COVID-19: Is God there? Does He Care? Is this disease a punishment from God? If I am a Christian covered by the blood of Christ am I immune to the virus?
Christians like those around us also express anxiety, but we have a source of solace, peace, and hope in the sovereign God who knows and loves us.
For counties like Syria, Yemen, or Lebanon, COVI:D-19 is just another problem, albeit a serious one, layered on top of significant ongoing economic and political problems. SAT-7’s mission is the same; to minister to people directly and help the Church grow in its ability to bless others with God’s grace.
Dr. Rex Rogers, President, SAT-7 USA