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What people use WhatsApp, Telegram for in Iran, Afghanistan might surprise you

Unsplash/Adem AY
Unsplash/Adem AY

In my homeland of Iran, Amir says he “finally mustered the courage” to explore the Christian faith on social media.

Straight away, fear gripped him. Was this a real social media channel — or a trap set by the Iranian secret police to identify and arrest “apostates” to the official state religion?

“In all honesty, I was afraid your (social media) channel would not be genuine,” Amir told SAT-7 PARS, where I am a program presenter.

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Our Christian multimedia ministry reaches tens of thousands across the Middle East and North Africa via Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram. From Algeria to Afghanistan, Turkey to Egypt, non-Christians like Amir, as well as Christians who have to practice their faith in secret, are turning to social media to learn more about Jesus and connect with others.

In the Middle East, 97% are non-Christian, and generations have been raised to despise religion. Like Safia, a young woman in Egypt, many dare not risk watching Christian programs on satellite television for fear they might be “discovered” by family or neighbors. Social media, though, offers them a safe channel to watch programs and engage in live conversations anywhere, any time, in private, on their phones and hand-held devices.

Social media is a lifeline for isolated believers 

For isolated believers across the Middle East and North Africa — the birthplace of Christianity — social media is a lifeline. And it’s arguably the world’s most powerful evangelism and discipleship tool, engaging people who’d otherwise never hear about God’s love for them.

Toofan, a 27-year-old father-of-five living in Afghanistan, says he “met Jesus in a dream.” He didn’t know where to turn for support, or how to meet another believer. When he found SAT-7’s social media channel in his native Dari language, it became his church.

“I am full of joy,” he told us. “Via WhatsApp and Telegram, I came to understand Christianity.”

Others in Afghanistan, like Nisha, tell us they’re caught in a desperate situation. “People are terrified of the Taliban,” she says. “I am only 16 years old and cannot take what is happening around me. I’m crying out to God right now.” Ahmed (real name withheld for his safety) told us on social media he’s receiving death threats after trying to share his faith in Christ with relatives and friends. These fragile believers need the encouragement and fellowship of the Church.

Toofan, Nisha, Ahmed, and others like them are the reason SAT-7 ( launched a “digital church” on social media in Afghanistan. We’re engaging directly with isolated believers, and also reaching out to inquisitive minds that pepper us with questions on social media.

Hostility due to lack of understanding  

At first, I was shocked at the lack of understanding about Christianity and the hostility toward Christians. But then I realized these people are desperate to be freed from the troubles in their hearts and minds. They’re thirsty, but they have no real idea who Jesus is. As soon as they understand he offers them love and freedom, they really open up and the Holy Spirit touches their hearts.

Apart from the few state-approved churches, there is no physical Sunday School in Iran for kids. So we started one on satellite television and social media. Teenagers are more sophisticated and curious, so we give them space to ask difficult questions about God, Christianity, and other topics.

Of course, this ministry faces challenges. Since the recent violent protests in Iran, Instagram is censored. So we have to be creative and find new ways to get around censorship. It’s like a “cat and mouse” game, but we are everywhere, using all the technology available to us.

This I know … God is using social media to draw the hurting and confused people of the Middle East and North Africa to Himself.

Reza Jafari is a presenter and multimedia senior manager with SAT-7 PARS (, making God’s love visible across the Middle East and North Africa in local languages.

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