On 19 August Afghanistan will mark a century of independence from British influence. But after 40 years of near continual warfare and insecurity, few Afghans are in a mood to celebrate. But growing numbers are responding to SAT-7 programmes that offer practical help and a counter-cultural message of love and forgiveness.
The dream came twice in quick succession, so Behzad knew it was important. “I dreamt that a hand reached out to me and a voice that was warm and kind said, ‘Come to me my child’.”
Behzad asked several religious teachers in his Afghan town what it could mean but none of their answers convinced him. Then, he came across a SAT-7 programme. The presenter was quoting Jesus in Behzad’s own language, saying, “Come to me all you who labour”.
That made me want to know more about Christianity,” Behzad told SAT-7. “I called your number and left you a message and now I want to give my heart to Jesus Christ and become a child of the Lord.”
Testimonies like Behzad’s are remarkable in a country that ranks second in the world for Christian persecution in the Open Doors World Watch List.
Afghanistan allows no churches and prohibits people from changing their faith. Yet a growing number of Afghans are coming to Christ. After SAT-7 Persian broadcasts launched on the Yahsat satellite in June 2017, the number of viewer contacts from Afghanistan almost doubled last year.
PLAGUED BY CONFLICT
As a landlocked country at the crossroads of powerful empires, conflict has plagued Afghanistan for much of its history. In recent times, the upheaval has been constant. The Soviet invasion of 1979 was followed by civil war in the 90s, then five years of brutality under the Taliban.
Since the fall of the Taliban, UN-backed governments and an international security assistance force restored some normality in areas under government control. But Taliban attacks have continued to wreak havoc and pro-government air strikes have also caused civilian casualties.
An eighth round of talks between the US and Taliban representatives is being held currently to agree a peace deal. Conditions would be a withdrawal of US forces, Taliban agreement not to shelter jihadists, dialogue with the Afghan government, and a ceasefire. Yet a source travelling in the country recently said most Afghans seem “desperate, almost despondent”.
Mikael Tunér, a producer for SAT-7 media partner, Media Mission the Messengers, knows Afghanistan well. He says, “Afghan people are disillusioned. Many are trying to leave the country because they don’t feel they have a future there.”
Amidst such uncertainty, deep poverty, and the legacies of war, Afghans search for hope. Perhaps it’s no wonder that SAT-7 programmes are drawing a growing and eager audience.
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Currently, SAT-7 broadcasts two shows in Dari, the most widely spoken language in the country.
The Secret of Life is the longest-running and the first of two series produced by SAT-7 partner Pamir Ministries. Fronted by Afghan pastor Shoaib Ebadi, the series mixes practical teaching for everyday living with easy-to-understand Bible teaching and exposition. Broadcast live, it invites viewers to call in to comment or ask their own burning questions.
Episodes cover aspects of family relationships, explore how to manage difficult emotions, and many other issues. In its biblical teaching, the series introduces key Bible themes, the life and teaching of Jesus, and sometimes goes deeper, exploring individual Bible books.
Window of Light has a target audience of viewers aged 25–55 and a strong emphasis on strengthening marriages and family life. Drama segments enact everyday dilemmas and the husband and wife hosts, Khalil and Nazira, discuss them. In a society where women often have no say in decisions that affect them and domestic abuse is widely accepted, Window of Light brings a sharply different perspective.
FOCUS ON HEALTH
One in four Afghans are unable to access basic healthcare, so a short series produced in Dari by Mikael Tunér addressed some key medical advice with an Afghan heart surgeon. The first half of each episode helped viewers with their physical concerns, then the second half drew out spiritual parallels.
It’s an approach Mikael hopes to use in a proposed series on mental health. He says that every year, 3,000 Afghans try to commit suicide, and most are women. This series will be in the Tajik dialect of Persian, presented by two women who recovered from mental health problems themselves.
Mikael explains that finding Dari speakers who can go on screen but are not over-committed in other areas of ministry is a big challenge. But Tajiks comprise the second largest people group in Afghanistan and their dialect is widely understood.
Four other Tajik series have already been filmed and some of their presenters have direct experience of ministry in Afghanistan. For example, one of the two women who present the Tajik music and testimony programme Our Salvation is in Him also shares stories and music from Afghanistan from times she spent in the country.
While the future of Afghanistan as a country remains uncertain, one unchanging truth is God’s love for all of its people. SAT-7’s arrival on the Yahsat satellite has opened the door of opportunity to serve them more widely than ever before. Pray that many like Behzad will discover SAT-7’s programmes and find the healing, hope and peace that only Christ can give.