Youthful energy, enquiry and potential. These aren’t characteristics that immediately spring to mind when we think of the Arab world. But in a region where one third of the population is aged 15-29 and another is under 15, they reflect the dynamic potential of these countries, if only obstacles like conflict, weak political participation, scant job opportunities, and discrimination didn’t stand in their way.
But many Middle East churches are working hard to help young people reach their potential – by running schools, youth camps, youth choirs, talent shows and mobilizing young people in service to the church and community. SAT-7 programmes regularly benefit from the input of talented youth and children’s bands and choirs, like the Better Life and Good News teams in Egypt, and programmes on SAT-7 KIDS celebrate and showcase the positive activities of young people.
Praise Factory is a popular SAT-7 live worship show aimed at the under 15s that involves a large group of young singers every week. Each episode encourages young people to bring their situations and emotions to God in worship.
A recent episode introduced a new worship style to the show. Hip hop, the music genre which includes rhythmic and fast-spoken “rap” singing, is hugely popular in the Middle East but sometimes frowned on by adults.
Music that connects
Nevertheless, Tony Fayez, a singer-songwriter and freelancer at SAT-7, writes lyrics and composes hip-hop worship songs in this style to reach out to young people and help young Christians worship in a language they feel belongs to them.
“The fast rhythm of rap reflects the passion, energy and speed of teenagers,” Tony says. “That’s the music they listen to when they are together. It’s a good way to reach them using Christian lyrics that they can remember and sing along to.”
The song Tony performed on Praise Factory was “I’m sticking to church”. Its lyrics reflect a young person’s love for church and his/her reasons for ‘sticking to it’.
“The image of my Sunday School teacher playing the piano and teaching us hymns is ingrained in my memory,” he recalls. “Teenage years are a fruitful time to plant Christian concepts through music. It is more effective than many sermons they hear as adults.”
Rap took off in the Middle East in the late nineties, when Tony discovered it and started writing lyrics for rap music during his time at college. He featured in some successful Christian rap songs, including one by Philip Wissa, filmed at Egypt’s pyramids.
Tony began using the style with young teenagers after overhearing some in the street listening to an Egyptian rap song “Just Be Yourself”. The song was a big hit with this age group because it expressed ideas of individualism, discovering your talents, thanking God and others.
Tony explains, “When I heard this song, I thought that if a mainstream, secular song could be so successful in spreading good concepts, then we can we do the same with Christian songs to teach young people about Jesus.”
It’s an approach that has drawn some criticism. Traditional churches and some parents have said the language degrades Christian values and encourages the use of poor vocabulary. Tony believes you have to give young people some freedom to express their faith in ways that are meaningful to them: “Youth can and will do whatever they want. They can listen to whatever music they choose so instead of trying to fit them in a rigid form, we can reach out to them and speak their language.”
See how you can help SAT-7 answer the cries of young people across the Middle East for hope and encouragement through programmes that speak their language.