EASTON, Md. (ABP) – While many are celebrating pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa known collectively as Arab Spring, a Christian broadcasting ministry celebrates 15 years of wholesome family programming.
SAT-7, a Christian satellite television station run by and for people in the Middle East and North Africa, aired its first program in Arabic on a single channel May 31, 1996. Today the ministry has three different channels — including one for children and another in Farsi, the most widely spoken Persian language in Iran and Afghanistan.
The success of SAT-7 surprises even its founders — a group of ministries already active in the area that were seeking to support and bolster the witness of minority indigenous Christian communities in the region. Satellite television was just becoming popular, sparked by the desire for uncensored news coverage during the first Gulf War.
Research indicated that despite its cost, satellite TV was the most effective way to reach large numbers of people in the area. Founders established a broadcasting ethos that includes commitments to never attack those of another faith or denomination but rather seek to build bridges of understanding between Christians and their neighbors.
Rita El Mounayer, executive director for SAT-7's channels, was there for the first broadcast. Fifteen years later, she said she sees a continuing hunger in the Middle East and North Africa for SAT-7's holistic and uplifting programming.
"We're very excited about our shows and the people making them — people who want to make a real difference in the lives of our viewers," she said in a press release. "And we can see how much our programs are impacting people, especially those caught up in the current crisis."
While recent unrest has been difficult for many people, SAT-7 has viewed recent events as an opportunity to help Arab Christians to share their faith, debate the future of their countries and encourage one another.
"I was recently very touched to see how Iraqis were, on-air, encouraging Egyptians during the recent unrest there," El Mounayer said. "Iraqis are going through so much themselves, and yet they are calling in to our shows to pray for and encourage others. It's beautiful."
SAT-7 is governed by an international board of directors, the majority of whom must be local Christian leaders living in the Middle East or North Africa.
The network has about 140 Middle Eastern Christians working in ministry offices and studios in Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt. The Lebanon office is next door to Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. Fund-raising offices are located in Europe, the UK, Canada and the United States.
International SAT-7 partners include BMS World Mission in the UK and American Baptist Churches USA in North America.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.