Iran’s mix of political instability and harsh enforcement of Sharia law are combining to produce an unexpected result–increased interest in the gospel message–reports a broadcasting ministry operated by and for Christian in the Middle East.
Persian-language broadcasting by SAT-7, an international Christian satellite network has grown tremendously since being launched five years ago, SAT-7’s Debbie Brink told Mission News Network.
“We’re hearing fantastic stories of people coming to Christ in those Farsi speaking countries,” Brink said.
On the air since 1996, SAT-7 began broadcasting in Farsi, a Persian language used by 40 million people mostly in Iran and Afghanistan, in 2002. In 2006 it launched SAT-7 PARS as a second channel available 24 hours a day in areas where Farsi is widely spoken. The channel takes its name, “Pars,” from the Farsi word that embodies the Persian culture.
SAT-7’s David Harder said Iran’s “public security plan,” intended to enforce Islamic dress code and other provisions of Sharia law in Iran’s capital, may be having an opposite effect on the nation’s young people.
“There’s a great amount of disillusionment with what people see around them,” Harder said. “They’re dissatisfied with the economy, with the government, with the religious system.”
SAT-7’s staff observed that many young people “seem to be drawn either toward a completely secular view of things or to sort of a negative and hopeless look.”
“In between that, people are thirsty, and they are watching SAT-7 PARS,” they said. “We’re getting tremendous responses from people who are coming to know the Lord, who are so appreciative of the programs that are training them.”
Brinks said SAT-7 PARS deliberately avoids political issues, focusing instead on programming about hope and peace. “I think we attract viewers in these times, because they’re looking for an alternative message,” she said. “They’re tired of all the conflict and the war, and they do see opportunities for learning more about God’s love, His forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.”
SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television station run by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa. Last year the ministry launched a third channel for children–in addition to SAT-7, which broadcasts mostly in Arabic, and SAT-76 PARS–named SAT-7 KIDS.
The ministry’s mission is to provide churches and Christians in the Middle East and North Africa an opportunity for Christian witness through inspirational, informative and educational television programming.
Some people are surprised to learn that Christians can broadcast openly in a Muslim-majority country like Iran, a country of more than 70 million people under a narrow form Sharia law imposed since Iran’s Shi’ite Islamic revolution in 1979, with a Christian population numbering fewer than 500,000 people.
SAT-7 does it the same way as minority Christians who live in the region–by seeking to be a good neighbor. By working with local Christians and avoiding programming that is political or attacks other faiths, SAT-7 says it has developed a good reputation.
By allowing local Christians a platform for clearly communicating the gospel, SAT-7 seeks to correct commonly held misperceptions and untruths about Christianity in a part of the world where it is widely misunderstood.
While avoiding politics, SAT-7 programming tackles often-overlooked social issues that can be controversial such as treatment of women, drug use, AIDS and human rights. They are done in a way to help viewers understand more about either Christ or the Bible and help them to improve their lives.
“This sensitive and respectful approach helps the local Christian minority be recognized as a valuable segment of local society,” SAT-7 says. It also has allowed the network to maintain registered offices in Egypt and Lebanon and hopefully to open additional offices in other countries in the near future.
“In the Middle East and North Africa, local churches are struggling to survive, and many Christians are emigrating to other parts of the world,” an FAQ page on the SAT-7 Web site explains. “Those that remain often lack economic and educational opportunities and have very limited access to Christian training material. In addition, without Christian satellite television, millions of people in the region would never have another opportunity to hear the Gospel of Christ.”
In that context: “SAT-7 provides a broadcast platform from which local Christians can give a clear and effective presentation of their faith to their fellow countrymen and people of nearby countries. SAT-7 has a unique ethos that enables it to serve the local Christian community and also help others in the viewing area understand the Gospel and Christian teaching in a contextually appropriate manner.”
Supported by donations, SAT-7 does not solicit funds on the air or sell advertising. It is governed by an international board of directors, a majority of which must be Christians from the Middle East and North Africa.
International partners include International Ministries of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and Baptist Mission Society (BMS) in the United Kingdom.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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