Coronavirus: An unlikely ‘apostle’ to the Middle East?
I’ve been involved in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Middle East and North Africa for more than a decade – and, until now, thought I’d seen it all.
Then along came the coronavirus.
I never imagined that such a sudden and fast-moving crisis could cause a spiritual explosion in this volatile region – and leave millions of people so hungry to see and hear what real Christianity is about.
Even before COVID-19, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was engulfed by complex crises – oppressive governments, lack of personal freedoms, rampant unemployment, grinding poverty, protracted wars, massive refugee populations, religious persecution, and human rights violation.
The people of this region have suffered intensely, over and over again. Now coronavirus has infiltrated their lives. And millions are asking: “Why us? Why more suffering? Where is God in all this?”
With a struggling and suppressed Church in much of the region – and now strict lockdown measures in place – it’s illegal for committed Christians to get the gospel out to the multitudes that are desperate for honest answers and real hope at a time like this.
But there is a way! Technology is at this very moment turning the coronavirus into an unlikely “apostle” for the Lord Jesus Christ in the very cradle of Christianity. Across the Middle East and North Africa, Christian satellite television and social media channels have seen a huge surge in viewer numbers and online engagement since the lockdowns started in March.
Stuck at home, people in countries like Iran and Turkey – generally not regarded in America as being receptive to the Christian faith – are clamoring to know why their Christian neighbors have hope and peace amid this current crisis.
In coronavirus hotspot Turkey, where 99 percent of the population is non-Christian, more viewers have contacted our SAT-7 TURK television channel each day in the past few weeks than any day in the previous five years since Turkish-language broadcasts began. SAT-7 TURK is the only Christian channel broadcasting throughout the entire nation.
In Iran, another virus hotspot, viewers’ calls and messages to the live, Farsi-language Signal show – beamed into millions of homes across the nation – jumped to seven times the usual number last month, as Iranians rattled by the pandemic turned to our hosts for reassurance and practical advice.
One viewer shared how God was looking after her family, even though “we don’t even have any loose change.” She told other Signal viewers: “We’re living in faith, and we’re praying for everyone else.”
Across the Middle East and North Africa, SAT-7 KIDS Facebook audience has soared more than 500 percent as children stream videos offering encouragement and hope based on Bible passages.
On social media, 160,000 people watched God, Fear, and the Coronavirus, one of our mental health programs, featuring a well-known church leader and psychiatrist.
On the air 24/7, SAT-7’s programs are a lifeline for those who have no hope in countries like Lebanon, where a quarter of the population are refugees fleeing turmoil and bloodshed in neighboring Iraq, Syria, and Palestine.
Suffering people, those Jesus called “the least of these,” don’t just need to hear the gospel – but they need to also see real faith lived out in the lives of genuine followers of Christ. That’s why SAT-7 connects people through live programs, meeting people where they are in life and offering practical support for right now as well as eternal hope through a Christian worldview.
When viewers and social media users ask: ‘How can I protect my family from the coronavirus?’ we provide current advice from recognized health experts. We show fearful viewers that the Christian faith is both practical and relevant for today’s crises – and that the Bible is a “living love letter” from God to all peoples everywhere.
I know this part of the world can seem distant, and many of you reading this will have difficulties and burdens of your own. But this is a crucial hour for the Middle East and North Africa – a time like no other when millions of scared, hurting people are locked inside yet openhearted to the gospel. Please, will you pray for them?
The coronavirus could be the “apostle” God uses to end this region’s spiritual lockdown and set its people free.
Dr. Rex Rogers is president of SAT-7 USA (https://www.sat7usa.org), making God's love visible to more than 30 million viewers across the Middle East and North Africa through Christian satellite television and online services in four regional languages.