From Syria to Iran, Palestine to Egypt, spreading the gospel is difficult. Many Middle Eastern countries refuse to admit Christian missionaries. Many who do get in face grave dangers. In many places, converting to Christianity is against the law. Even within families, showing an interest in a religion other than Islam can result in banishment or worse.
Free will might not be a reality on the ground in the Arab world, but religious pluralism is in the air…on satellite TV.
Since the mid-’90s a host of Christian television programmers have been beaming the gospel into the Arab world from outer space. And it’s getting a reaction.
In 2009, Leading The Way‘s satellite television channel, Kingdom Sat, started broadcasting into the Muslim world. It boasts 256,058 responses this year alone from viewers in the Middle East. For security reasons, LTW does not reveal the names of the viewers who contact them. Here is how their follow-up team described their interactions.
“U” from Egypt has many questions about Christianity and the Bible. He has been texting us but is afraid to meet the follow-up team. Please pray that he will see God’s love for him.”
“A” from Algeria is a convert who has been contacting us for a while. He feels lonely after his family left him because of his faith. He requested prayers for his wife to know Christ and for his protection. He wants to get baptized soon.”
“M” is a convert from Jordan who has been discipled by our follow-up teams and was baptized. She has been under pressure from her family and requested prayers to find a job outside of Jordan. Her mother has been threatening to kill her and is carefully watching her. Please lift her up in prayer.”
They also get email from those brave enough to reach out.
From Morocco – “I was a radical Muslim and I believed in jihad and killing anyone who does not follow the laws of Islam. After watching THE KINGDOM SAT…I wanted to tell you that I have decided to follow Jesus.”
From Algeria – “I accepted Christ as my Savior but I’ve never met another Christian nor attended a church… I’m so thankful I got the chance to finally talk to a Christian through your channel.”
From Iraq – “My uncle brought sheikhs to convince me to turn back to Islam, but they couldn’t win the discussion. I knew my Bible and your programs enabled me to answer their questions.”
During Easter, Kingdom Sat carried live church services and streamed them on Facebook. The programs raised questions from Muslim viewers about the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, according to Farid Garas of Kingdom Sat TV.
The ministry follows up with daily contact to provide encouragement and biblical counsel to those who have questions about the Christian faith or are dealing with personal problems.
SAT-7 Arabic has been beaming Christian programming into the Middle East and North Africa since 1996 and now reaches 21 Arab-speaking countries. At least 300 million Arabic-speaking people in the region have access to satellite TV and SAT-7 says it reaches 95 percent of them.
The programming ranges from teaching programs to documentaries and films, church services, live discussion shows and children’s programs.
One of the newer offerings on the network is educational programs. There are over 13 million children unable to attend school and an additional 13 million children at risk of losing their schooling. The SAT-7 Arabic programs help displaced children continue their education through a daily on-air school.
It also gets thousands of responses.
From Sudan: “It’s so wonderful, my beloved ones in the Lord, to see you proclaiming the Word of God. I feel proud, and this gives me courage and strength to do so the same. I pray that I will be able to proclaim God’s love. Sometimes finances are an obstacle, but I am really encouraged, and I hope I can be part of your family. God bless you.”
From the Holy Land: “Your program is wonderful, and with every subject you talk about and analyze there is a deep spiritual word, which calms storms and waves for many people who go forward from glory to glory in Jesus.”
An Arabic viewer: “I very much enjoyed watching the message on The Evangelical Christmas Celebration. Although I am a follower of another religion, I believe God’s promise to us is true—when you plant good seeds, you will reap the benefit and so will your children. And if you fear God, He fills your life with His love and forgiveness. Those who plant evil, whether among those close to them or among people they don’t know, are deceiving humanity and betraying their promise to God. Thank you very much for this message, and may God reward you, my believing brother.”
Arabs spend more and more of their time sitting in front of a TV screen watching wall-to-wall news coverage, music videos, reality shows, comedy, drama and religion. Previously taboo subjects on TV are now being shown throughout the region. While some programs have been removed amidst various speculations ranging from death threats made to the producers by Islamic militants to governments’ pressures to financial and technical problems, each year, new programs keep pushing the envelope. Many of those new programs are about Christianity.
Those heading up Christian ministries targeting the Arab world via satellite say the constantly growing response fuels their commitment.
Dr. Michael Youssef, the executive president of Leading the Way, the parent company of Kingdom Sat, says, “Hundreds of thousands of Muslims who claim to have seen a vision or a dream of Jesus tune in to our teaching channel. And there they hear about the very One whom they saw in a dream telling them that He loves them and died for them.”
Elam, a ministry that provides satellite programming to Iran, says its follow-up ministry team regularly leads callers to Christ, helps them access a copy of the Bible and plugs them into a Christian community. They also hold Internet church gatherings for those who are unable to meet for face-to-face fellowship with other believers.
There is little question that the impact of the satellite dish across the Arab world has been profound, but it can be argued that the longest lasting imprint is on those who have discovered the gospel because of it.