Closed Middle East churches give SAT-7 a unique role this Easter
For the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the UK, the Easter festival looks very different this year. Normally overflowing church pews in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon are empty. From Bethlehem to Istanbul churches are closed and the region’s diverse Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical communities are having to mark the death and resurrection of Jesus in seclusion.
But all through the western and eastern Easters, which are marked a week apart this year, SAT-7 is drawing viewers together in prayer and celebration. In responding to the coronavirus pandemic and in uniting isolated believers during this central Christian festival, SAT-7 has been given a unique role.
“SAT-7 is uniquely placed to provide our audience with the spiritual support they need,” said Rita El-Mounayer, SAT-7 International CEO, in a recent video message.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, SAT-7 has ramped up the production of special programmes that offer health information, address the spiritual questions many in the region have about the pandemic and point them to a loving and sovereign God.
God, Fear and the Coronavirus, a televised discussion with Egyptian Bible teacher and psychiatrist Dr Maher Samuel, was watched by 160,000 people on social media alone. Following that, Samuel has begun hosting Ask the Doctor, a weekly question and answer programme on SAT-7 ARABIC.
From Beirut, leaders of various denominations are addressing viewers’ questions and seeking to promote faith over fear in a new live show, In the Shadow of the Almighty. A second programme from SAT-7’s Lebanon studio, Spiritual Evening, helps viewers as they make that response. Presented by a well-known Lebanese TV anchor, it mixes meditations, testimonies and worship music and has space for viewers to call in for prayer.
Regular live programmes such as parenting show The Coach (from Cairo), women’s show Homemade (from Istanbul) and Persian youth show Hashtag have all offered practical advice to keep viewers and their families safe and to keep up their spirits with creative activities.
More important than ever
In Iran, which has seen some 70,000 coronavirus cases, people are staying at home and watching television more than ever, according to SAT-7 PARS presenter Parastoo Portaheri. A live episode of Signal in which Revd Keyvan Cyrus discussed the crisis and prayed for viewers in the Persian world prompted hundreds of messages of thanks. While SAT-7 PARS’ Cyprus studio continues to operate, UK-based presenters have begun recording programmes from home because of government regulations here.
In Turkey, SAT-7 TÜRK children’s presenter Nora Yazırlıoğlu has had to self-isolate because she is pregnant and has asthma. But, determined to continue production of SAT-7 TÜRK Kids, she has converted her living room into a studio and enlisted the aid of her producer husband and even their pet cat during one episode. Nora has included indoor games and family competitions and quizzes in the show to keep children entertained and stop them from becoming scared.
In the approach to Holy Week, almost 30 Christian leaders from Arabic-speaking nations including Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Algeria have recorded messages of hope and faith in the face of the coronavirus.
In his contribution (see above), Dr Andre Zaki Stephanous, president of the Protestant community in Egypt, gave a resounding message that “God is for us”. He countered “distorted” images in parts of the Arab world of a God who is “fearful and vengeful”.
He said: “God isn’t against us, as others think, but He is with us. He stands with us in face of this disease. He is with us in the scientific discoveries that would fight the disease. He is with us when we are in pain. He is with us every moment.”
In a message from Kuwait, Pastor Emmanuel Ghareed, one of the country’s few national believers, said, “We thank the Lord because we are under His protection, so we will not fear the coronavirus or any other, but we trust in the Lord and rely on Him with all our hearts.”,
Presenters on SAT-7’s popular children’s channel, SAT-7 KIDS, filmed messages of reassurance from their homes, and children responded by sending in some of their own!
In Turkey, the senior bishops of both the Armenian Christian community, Patriarch Sahak Maşalyan, and the Catholic community, Bishop Monseigneur Rubén Tierrablanca González, chose SAT-7 TÜRK to give their messages for Easter, knowing that they will be seen by thousands across the country.
Answers of Hope, a new series that tackles the questions that many Turks are asking, is being recorded from producer Gokhan Talas’s home through live links with church leaders across the country.
Church at home
The Easter season on SAT-7 usually sees an explosion of large-scale Easter concerts in many musical styles as well as live transmissions from many leading churches. This year, new concerts have mostly been replaced by recorded events from previous years.
Church services, however, continue to air from SAT-7 regular locations such as Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church, Cairo, and Resurrection Church, Beirut, along with special transmissions from other churches. Among these will be the traditional Easter Eve service led by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros. Only limited numbers of clergy and assistants will be present, but they will be joined by hundreds of thousands through SAT-7’s television and digital streaming platforms.
Although the lockdown is presenting real challenges to many, SAT-7 is also encouraging viewers to see it as an opportunity. Presenters Marianne and Rawad from the popular relationships programme From Heart to Heart shared from their own experience of staying at home and praying and spending more time with the Lord. They encouraged viewers to do the same.
“Let’s be one body in Christ and grab the opportunity to listen to sermons whenever possible without discrimination over denominations or churches,” Rawad said.
“Let’s drop our differences and be like the first-century church when they were all one body in Christ,” Marianne added.