By Rita El-Mounayer
Right now, thousands of Christians across the Middle East – my native region – and North Africa are completely cut off from other believers. Many have never been to church, don’t own a Bible and have never even met another follower of Jesus.
Can you imagine that?
And now these believers face even greater isolation because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As CEO of Christian satellite television broadcaster SAT-7 (www.sat7usa.org), I visited the North African country of Morocco where I found small clusters of believers gathered around television sets, watching our shows with local presenters speaking Arabic. They were riveted to the screen, hanging on every word, with pen and paper in hand to take notes and jot down the words of the worship songs.
This was an emotional moment for me as I humbly witnessed how these broadcasts are truly a lifeline for isolated believers in Morocco, and thousands more like them across this entire region, home to less than 1% of the world’s Christians.
Believers in the Western world are privileged to be able to attend different churches and choose what time and place they go to worship. And while many professing Christians in the U.S. and U.K. are leaving the church, believers in the Middle East and North Africa are willing to sacrifice everything – even their own lives – to have fellowship with other Christians whenever possible.
‘Don’t take away our crown of suffering’
In Algeria, a nation where Christians often face hostility, I asked our local presenter: “Are you sure you want to show your face to millions of people?” She replied: “Rita, what are you afraid of? Suffering is a crown we wear every single day … don’t take it away from us. Yes, we’re ready to show our faces.”
Another time, when I was worried about their safety, one of our presenters looked at me with a calm smile on his face: “Rita, don’t worry. … God is good all the time.”
Bolstered by such courage, our presenters press on because of the many isolated believers who have no one else to encourage them.
“It’s not easy to be a Christian in a country where everyone is a (non-Christian) by default,” says SAT-7 presenter Samia in Algeria, where churches have been closed by the government during the pandemic and believers fear they might never re-open. “Many believers here feel lost,” she says.
Their only connection now is through our live programs in Arabic and one-on-one counseling via phone and social media chat.
One Algerian pastor puts it like this: “They’ve sealed our church doors, but they cannot seal the doors of our hearts.”
Confessing Jesus a death sentence?
In Iran, where churches are banned and Christians meet in secret, confessing Jesus publicly could be a death sentence. Yet one Iranian viewer prayed on air: “What would we do if we did not have Jesus Christ?!”
Young people in Iran are so open to Jesus right now. They’re asking, “What is this message of the Gospel? And who is this Jesus?”
Our mission at SAT-7 is to support the growing church in Iran and across the Middle East and North Africa – helping isolated believers feel connected to, and supported by, their global Christian family. That includes you and me!
In many places where satellite dishes spring up like mushrooms, our shows featuring local presenters and guests – “living epistles” of the faith – make the love of Jesus “visible” to people in their own living rooms, completely free of charge. But that’s not the only arrow in our quiver. We’re also using the latest digital and social media channels – including video-on-demand, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram – to connect with millions more across the region on their phones and other devices.
Believers across the region might be isolated – but they are not alone! Remember the words of Christ: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
“When you pray on the screen, I pray with you,” an Iranian viewer told us. “When you worship on the screen, I worship with you. And I pray one day that I will pray and worship with you in person. And not just that – when I see you, I will kneel down and wash your feet and say, ‘thank you’ for what you did for the church in Iran.”
Let’s hold our isolated brothers and sisters in prayer – and fellowship with other believers in our own churches with a new spirit of gratitude.
A native of Lebanon, Rita El-Mounayer is the CEO of SAT-7 (www.sat7usa.org), making God’s love visible to more than 25 million viewers across the Middle East and North Africa through Christian satellite television and online services in three regional languages. She is based in the Middle East.
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