FROM FLYING KITES IN KABUL TO BEAMING THE GOSPEL IN PERSIAN
Mikael Tunér, Director of many SAT-7 PARS programs, had more adventures while growing up than most have in a lifetime. Here, he shares with SAT-7 staffer Lindsay Shaw how his eventful childhood in Afghanistan helped shape his heart for sharing the Good News in the Persian-speaking world.
When Mikael was five years old, a family day out turned to danger. During a picnic by the river, members of the Mujahideen, a guerilla group opposing Russian soldiers, burst out of the bullrushes bearing Kalashnikovs. The fighters frog-marched Mikael, his parents, and two fellow aid workers at gunpoint to the group’s camp. Thankfully, when after 24 hours they had convinced their kidnappers that they were not Russian, the captives were released.
This memory of real danger stands out amid Mikael’s many fond childhood recollections. By eighteen months old, he had already spent a year travelling along the coasts of Europe and East and West Africa with his Swedish-Finnish parents, who served on an Operation Mobilisation mission ship. After that, the family moved to Kabul, where they lived for ten-and-a-half years while Mikael’s parents worked in aid and development.
In his free time, Mikael would fly kites, play football, and chat in Dari with his friends. Russian soldiers patrolled the streets, and Mikael and his family became used to hostile jibes from locals who thought, like the guerilla fighters, that they were Russian, too. But by replying in Persian, Mikael’s family learnt to turn suspicion to friendship – and invitations to drink tea quickly followed. Afghans have one of the world’s most hospitable cultures, Mikael says with a smile.
Mikael’s family moved to Finland when he was 12, but he always felt a pull back to Afghanistan. After graduating from secondary school, Mikael spent six months in the country as a volunteer with a development agency. Later, at universities in Scandinavia, Mikael would learn to read and write Persian as well as speak it. He also trained in all aspects of media production and launched a career in this field.
But after six years working as a director for Finland’s state-run TV broadcaster, he was growing impatient. “I was wondering how I could combine my Persian and media skills,” he remembers. “I was becoming more and more frustrated at the news desk that I was spreading bad news. I wanted to spread the Good News!”
A message arrived from a friend in Cyprus. “Hi Mike. Did you know that a Christian satellite channel for the Persian world has launched? I wanted to tell you because I know you speak Persian and you are a TV director.” So it was that in 2008, Mikael, his wife and two daughters moved to Cyprus. He helped develop SAT-7 PARS’ first studio and upgrade the technical and creative qualities of the programming. While Iranian Christians prepared messages to touch hearts and minds, Mikael drew on his technical expertise and creativity to deliver them as high-quality, compelling television.
FOCUS ON TAJIKISTAN
Since 2011, the Tunérs have been back in Finland. There, Mikael works with SAT-7 Partner agency Media Mission the Messengers, with whom he has arranged and directed scores of series for SAT-7 PARS. Presenters travel for filming in studios in Finland, Sweden and elsewhere. Most series have been delivered in Farsi (Iranian Persian), but Mikael’s main focus in the past few years has been on a different Persian dialect: Tajik.
Tajikistan is one of the poorest former Soviet republics. Christians there face government restrictions and family opposition. And in a formerly atheistic state there are few resources to teach a small but growing Church. To serve this audience, Mikael identifies potential Tajik program hosts and arranges all the logistics for the series, from booking studios and commissioning sets to directing and editing the series. One of the first was on Christian discipleship, followed by another on family relationships. Currently planned are a Bible teaching series, Life-Giving Message, two women’s shows entitled Mental and Spiritual Health and In the World of Women’s Thoughts, and a youth discipleship program, Christian Youth in Modern Life.
Sadly, COVID-19 travel restrictions have forced the postponement of all of these for now. “I hope and pray that next year’s studio weeks won’t need to be cancelled too,” Mikael says. “Please pray that productions planned for 2021 may be able to go ahead, so we can provide more support to those thirsty for biblical truth and guidance in Tajikistan, and across the Persian World.”