Overcoming barriers to sharing the Gospel in the Middle East and North Africa

Against a backdrop of conflict, political unrest, economic turmoil, grinding poverty, and forced displacement, the people of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are crying out for a message of hope and peace. There are many challenges to and restrictions on sharing the Gospel in the region, but SAT-7 is using the power of satellite TV and digital media to break through these barriers.

The MENA is home to some 678 million people, [1] and the vast majority of these are not Christians. The Christian presence in the region has diminished to only around 4%, and in some places it is well under 1%. [2] While the churches are faithful and courageous, and long to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with their friends and neighbours, they lack the numbers to reach out personally to much of the surrounding population.

Restrictions on religious freedom in many countries also limit Christian activity. Christian worship and witness are banned in some places; the distribution of Bibles and Christian resources is difficult or even illegal, and for many people illiteracy remains a barrier to reading Christian materials. Even in contexts where people can access the Christian message, they may lack a Christian community to support and disciple them, and they are likely to face pressure from their families or communities to remain in their current faith.

Specific challenges

Specific conditions and recent developments in various places are further restricting Christian activity and thereby access to the Gospel.

In the Persian World, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 increased the already severe dangers faced by the endangered Christian minority and drove them even further underground to minimise the risk of attacks. [3] Arman, an Afghan Christian who had been dismissed from his job, told SAT-7, “An atmosphere of fear and intimidation rules society. Every moment we live with the
possibility of physical violence, arrest, humiliating and insulting treatment, and even summary executions.”

In Iran, the officially recognised churches are effectively forbidden to use the Farsi language in their services, preventing them from sharing their message effectively outside their own communities. Members of unrecognised churches who speak about their faith are often arrested. Protests in 2022 over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for wearing the hijab incorrectly have contributed to a sharp deterioration in religious freedom conditions, [4] while changes to the penal code in 2021 further restricted Christians’ liberty to pass on the Good News. [5]

In Türkiye, the churches are sometimes unable freely to manage their internal affairs, to open places of worship, or to train their pastors. They also cannot always choose their own leaders, and new restrictions have recently been introduced on the procedures for electing the leadership of minority religious groups. Meanwhile intimidation, violence, and attacks on religious sites continue sporadically.[6] There are also few opportunities for Christian education in the country.

In some parts of the Arab World, Christians suffer violent attacks by family or wider society that hinder their public witness to Christ. Legal penalties and limitations may also be imposed. For instance, various Christians in Algeria have been convicted on faith-related charges and sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment; in Saudi Arabia no church buildings are allowed, and elsewhere these are subject to stricter regulations than those for the majority faith. Since the outbreak of war in the Holy Land the future of the oldest Christian community in the world has been in jeopardy.

Overcoming barriers

More than 40 years ago, SAT-7’s founder Dr Terence Ascott saw a family in Egypt living on the edge of destitution but huddled around a small television screen. As he reflected on this experience, he realised that television would be an excellent medium for sharing the Gospel with families who might otherwise never have the opportunity to hear it or access the message through more traditional means.

SAT-7’s ability to reach people’s homes and hearts through satellite television and digital media has enabled it to introduce people across the MENA to the Gospel for nearly three decades, and  countless lives have been impacted. Our team, made up almost entirely of people from the region, produce a varied schedule of dynamic Christian programs, from teaching and talk shows, to prayer and praise programs, and dedicated children and youth content, in the main languages and variants of the region.

But what happens off screen is just as important as what happens on it. Each of our satellite TV channels has a Viewer Support team made up of Persian, Turkish, or Arab believers, who are ready to respond to our viewers’ comments, concerns, questions, prayer requests, and testimonies. They can be contacted through phone calls during live programs, comments on our social media pages, and direct messages through apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram. They engage viewers in one-to-one follow-up conversations and activities to support and encourage them as they grow in their understanding of the Christian faith.

Some viewers contact us desperate to know more about Jesus. But others like Sonya, a teenage girl from Egypt, contact us to share their burdens and end up encountering God in the process.

“I lock myself up in my room to avoid [my parents’] harsh words,” she said in one of her first messages. “I pray to God, but I feel He does not want to hear from me, nor does He want me! I have lost all self-confidence.”

After much discussion and prayer, Sonya committed herself to following Jesus and joined SAT-7 ARABIC’s Daily Bread social media discipleship group. “I’m grateful for you and for your love,” Sonya said. “I thank God for leading me to you.”

 

[1] The World Population Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau 2023, https://2023-wpds.prb.org/ (accessed 14 March 2024).

[2] World Christian database, Center for the Study of Global Christianity, https://worldchristiandatabase.org (accessed 14 March 2024).

[3] “Afghanistan”, Open Doors UK, https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/world-watch-list/afghanistan/?ref=wwmap (accessed 10 April 2024).

[4] “Iran”, 2023 USCIRF Annual Report, https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2023-05/Iran.pdf (accessed 10 April 2024).

[5] “Iran”, Middle East Concern, https://www.meconcern.org/countries/iran/ (accessed 10 April 2024).

[6] “Turkey”, 2023 USCIRF Annual Report, https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2023-05/Turkey.pdf (accessed 10 April 2024); https://www.gerceknews.com/article/turkeys-new-minority-foundations-regulation-perpetuates-state-control-215926 (no longer accessible).

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