You’re not long into a conversation with Mikael Tunér, the director of many SAT-7 PARS series, when you realise that he had more adventures in his childhood than most of us have in a lifetime.
From the age of six months, Mikael spent a year travelling along the coasts of Europe and East and West Africa with his Swedish-Finnish parents, who served on the Operation Mobilisation mission ship, MV Logos.
After that, the family moved to Kabul, Afghanistan, shortly before the country was invaded by the Soviet Union. They lived there for ten and a half years while his parents worked in aid and development. In his free time, Mikael would fly kites, play football and chat in Dari with the local boys.
Russian soldiers patrolled the streets, and Mikael and his family became used to hostile jibes from locals who thought they were Russian too. But by replying in Persian they learnt to convert suspicion into friendship, and invitations to drink tea together quickly followed. Afghans have one of the world’s most hospitable cultures, Mikael says with a smile.
KIDNAPPED AT GUNPOINT
Despite Mikael’s fond memories, there were real dangers too, like the time when a picnic by the river evolved into a kidnapping by the Mujahideen. A day off from the eye hospital in Herat where Mikael’s father was working as an administrator turned nasty when members of the guerilla group opposing Russia burst out of the bullrushes bearing Kalashnikovs.
Five-year-old Mikael, his parents and two medical workers were frog-marched at gunpoint to the group’s camp. After 24 hours they convinced their captors that they weren’t Russian and that it was better that the American in the group – whom the fighters wanted to kill – be allowed to carry on working as an eye doctor serving Afghan people.
All of this was poor preparation, however, for Mikael when the family returned to Northern Europe. Mikael was almost 13, and his parents wanted to avoid sending him to boarding school in India to continue his education.
Instead, they settled in Helsinki, Finland, where his father had been invited to serve a church. Mikael spoke Swedish but knew no Finnish. This, combined with his Christian faith and constant talk about Afghanistan, made him a target for every kind of teasing from the other school kids.
“I had this crazy culture shock,” he remembers. “I had lived in a Christian bubble in a Muslim country. In Finland I met people who didn’t believe in God or go to church. I didn’t understand that.”
So at 19, after graduating from secondary school, Mikael returned to Afghanistan. He spent six months as a volunteer with the development agency his parents had served, International Assistance Mission. He was eager to see the country again through more mature eyes and try to make sense of the contrasting cultures he had known.
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. But after six years working as a TV director for Finland’s state-run 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 the channel’s first TV 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 recorded 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 last 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.
Mikael identifies potential programme hosts and arranges all the logistics for the series, from booking studios and commissioning studio sets to directing the filming and editing the series. One of the first was on Christian discipleship, followed up 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 programme, Christian Youth in Modern Life.
Sadly, COVID-19 travel restrictions have forced the postponement of all of these. For Mikael, who is passionate about these series and was globe-trotting at an age when most of us were just learning to crawl, this is frustrating.
“I hope and pray that the pandemic will die down soon so that next year’s studio weeks won’t need to be cancelled too,” he says. “Currently I’m keeping myself busy finishing off my remaining editing projects. Pray that the 2021 productions may be able to go ahead and provide more support to those thirsty for biblical truth and guidance in Tajikistan and across the Persian world.”
Learn how lives are changing as increasing numbers of Afghans follow our programmes.
Read how Afghan believers who fled a massive fire at Moria refugee camp used their own money to serve fellow fugitives from the fire.