An indigenous Arabic Christian television ministry with the potential to reach around 115 million people in the Middle East and North Africa celebrated nine years of serving as voice for the Church there last week.
Since May 31, 1996, Cyprus-based SAT-7 has worked to provide the churches and Christians of the Middle East and North Africa an opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ through inspirational, informative, and educational television services. Although initially, the channel only had sufficient programming and finances to broadcast two hours of programming a week, the network has grown significantly and now airs Christian television programming 24-hours a day every day of the year.
When SAT-7 began broadcasting to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa, the dream of many churches ministries and individual Middle Eastern Christians who desired to see a satellite TV service run by and for the Christians of the Middle East became a reality, said Rev. Dr. Habib Badr, Chairman of the SAT-7 International Board and Senior Pastor-National Evangelical Church of Beirut.
Although the Church has existed in the Middle East and North Africa since the time of Christ, SAT-7 reports that this part of the world is in a state of transformation and that the Church in many Middle Eastern countries is shrinking.
In 1900 Christians represented around 20 percent of the population of the Middle East. That number has fallen to less than 5% today, SAT-7 reported.
According to the ministry, these numbers are even more striking in the Holy Land as the percentage of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza has declined from nearly 20 percent to 1.5 percent today. Meanwhile, the indigenous church in North Africa, home of St. Augustine, is already nearly extinct, it added.
In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa Christians face various difficulties because of their beliefs, SAT-7 stated. SAT-7 is strategically positioned to encourage these, and all Christians who live in the region, by showing them that they are part of Jesus worldwide family and that when any believer suffers, for whatever reason, this family will be there to aid, support and pray for them.
Currently, SAT-7 works with all the denominations of the region "to provide a stage from which Christians can address the needs of their communities," serving not only as a source for Christian information and education, but also "as a voice for the Church for Christian communities across North Africa, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and beyond."
And though more than 80 percent of SAT-7s programs are created by Arab Christians for Arab viewers, SAT-7 also seeks to build bridges between different religions by explaining the Christian faith with gentleness and respect to a wider general audience that has few other sources for accurate information about Christ and His followers.
According to SAT-7, around 115 million people (38% of a total population of 300 million) have satellite television in their homes today, and in some countries the number of homes with satellite television exceeds 90% of all households.
Perhaps the reason why satellite television has been such a phenomenon in the region is that it provides information and entertainment for those who have been deprived of education and, at the same time, bypasses the normal restrictions on information, SAT-7 stated in its website. With so few people functionally literate, people need a simple-to-use, visually based media to get information and, in addition, a way to bypass the controls on access to information. Satellite TV does all this in a way no other media can.
Knowing this, SAT-7s original plan consisted of three goals:
1. Sustain scattered Christian communities in its viewing area and encourage them in their faith, service and witness to Christ.
2. Provide its audience an opportunity to hear a presentation of the Christian message in its own language, without unnecessary foreign cultural or political baggage.
3. Complement other public education and information channels with a balanced Christian worldview which reflects Biblical perspectives on human life and society.
Today, Badr says SAT-7s goal is to continue fulfilling our vision and mission, to serve the Church of the Middle East, and to make the teachings of Christ relevant and understandable to our many millions of viewers.