The current flood of refugees into Europe, and Germany’s own commitment to receive an unprecedented 800,000 of them, again reminds us of the hopelessness in the Middle East and the enormous humanitarian and spiritual needs of the region. But there are real signs of HOPE in this seemingly Hopeless situation.
SAT-7: A NEW PARADIGM IN CHRISTIAN TELEVISION BROADCASTING
The civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the rise of the Islamic State (IS, ISIL or ISIS), the beheadings of Egyptian (Coptic) Christians and other Arab nationals in Libya or other parts of the Middle East have resulted in massive movements of people. For example, there are now more than 4 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and another 7.6 million internally displaced persons (IDP’s) in Syria; with another 3.2 million IDP’s in Iraq. These people are of special significance to SAT-7 – a satellite television network broadcasting in the major languages of the region.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF VIOLENCE CONDUCTED IN THE NAME OF RELIGION
With so much violence being conducted in the name of religion, many have begun to question their faith, or any religious faith. How can Sunni Muslims kill other Sunni or Shi’a Muslims in the name of their common God? A recent survey in Iraq showed that 32 percent of the population has lost trust in religion – with some openly declaring themselves to be atheists! This kind of open “apostasy” would have been unthinkable before the recent uprisings across the Middle East!
In Egypt the election of President Morsi in the summer of 2012 raised great hopes for the Muslim Brotherhood and “Political Islam”. But, within 12 months, the President and his party had lost credibility and the trust of the Egyptian electorate – who came out in their tens of millions to demand he step down. Eventually he was removed from office by the military but, instead of going quietly, the Muslim Brotherhood staged massive demonstrations against the military. And, when that failed to bring back their leader, they attempted to create civil disturbances by attacking Christians, churches, Christian businesses and property, orphanages and Bible Society bookshops, etc. This unjustified violence and the contrasting non-violent response from the Coptic community only further undermined the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.
Yet this violence has been followed by a turning away from traditional religious belief, with many searching for a God who makes sense! Consequently, we have seen amazing church growth in Algeria, Sudan, Iran and now Iraq and other countries. God is working in a special way – even when most forms of local Christian witness have been silenced.
It is in this context that SAT-7 has been able to provide a unique voice, introducing a God and a Gospel of Love and reconciliation. SAT-7 has carried the witness of Local Christians who have broken the cycles of violence, who have not gone with the traditional Middle East model of an eye for an eye, an arm for an arm. Instead, they have painted on their burnt out churches the words, “We love you, we forgive you”; instead, they have held televised worship services from their burnt-out churches; instead the brother and mother of two beheaded Coptic Christians has gone live on SAT-7 speaking of forgiveness for those who committed these heinous acts; instead a 12 year old Iraqi girl has gone on air forgiving and praying for those in ISIS who forced her and her family from their home in Qaraqoush last year. SAT-7 has thus become a platform for a radically new message for many in the Middle East – as radical as in the times of Christ’s ministry in Roman occupied Palestine – when Jesus instructed His hearers to turn the other cheek to a hated enemy.
A UNIQUE MODEL
Even approaching its 20th year, SAT-7’s business model remains unique and redefines true partnership. Instead of selling airtime to support its ministry, SAT-7 has been blessed by the generosity of individual Christians, churches and institutional supporters around the world!
This partnership, mostly between Western supporters and Middle Eastern churches, Christian program producers, and media professionals, has not only worked but has also been a special blessing to all involved.
Almost 80 percent of all SAT-7 programming is produced locally: local drama, Christian music, theological education, discipleship and Christian leadership, live call-in programs on current affairs or for youth, special programs for women and children (who are mostly neglected in sponsored program schedules). The partnership has allowed the network to buy quality Christian movies, documentaries and children’s cartoons for dubbing. And it enables SAT-7 to apply its Christian worldview holistically to issues of disability, injustice, refugees, women’s rights, illiteracy, poverty and unemployment and the current uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
For SAT-7, we have clearly seen the hand of God in the expansion of the network. It launched in 1996, with just two hours of broadcasting per week! This has now expanded to more than 800 hours per week, broadcasting five different 24/7 channels to over 15 million viewers in three languages: Arabic, Persian and Turkish.
Astoundingly, 1 in 3 homes in Iraq and 1 in 4 homes in Saudi Arabia are tuning in to SAT-7 KIDS! What a wonderful opportunity to help shape the next generation in this very disturbed part of the world!
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