- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

The Middle East, populated mainly by Muslims and Jews, also has plenty of Christians in need of ministry, a Cyprus-based Christian satellite TV company says.
"We tend to look at that part of the world as one religion, but it's not so," says Paul Eschelmen, director of a film project about Jesus that is a partner of SAT-7.
SAT-7 seeks to "put an Arabic face on Christianity," says its North American executive director, Ron Ensminger. He estimates that 17 million Arabic-speaking Christians are living in the Middle East and want entertainment and family programming.
SAT-7, which stands for "satellite" and alludes to the biblical significance of the number 7, has studios in Beirut and Cairo.
"Ninety-five percent of houses have TVs," Mr. Ensminger says. "It's a medium that penetrates the Middle East."
Satellite broadcasting is often the best source of international news and uncensored entertainment, he says. Although there are 100 satellite channels like CNN, MTV, Al Jazeera and BBC World, he says, few Christian programs are available.
"It's an open door for the West," says Rita Younes, director of children's programs for SAT-7. "They watch all kinds of stuff, not just Christian programs."
SAT-7, which has its U.S. headquarters in Wayne, Pa., broadcasts 12 hours of Christian programs per day around the Middle East. Its mission: "to provide support to the indigenous Christians of the region."
Programs are created, scripted and produced by indigenous Arabic Christians, says Mr. Ensminger, whose goal is that more than 60 percent of the programming be original and produced in-house. Music videos, news, movies, features on business, biblical teaching and prayer are the types of programs aired.
The most popular children's program, "As-Sanabel," which translates as "ears of wheat," airs five days a week and has made Mrs. Younes a regional star. She says she often is recognized as a Christian actress and TV personality on the streets in Lebanon.
The network is considered unique because it does not just dub over Christian programs from the West. SAT-7 actors, writers and producers work in Middle East-based studios to create original programming that its leaders say is politically, socially and religiously sensitive to Middle Eastern society.
"SAT-7 exposes people to the truth in winsome and entertaining ways," Christian Film and Television Commission Chairman Ted Baehr says. Eighty percent of all Muslims have never heard the Christian message, but SAT-7 leaders say they are captivating the Muslim audience through the programming.
SAT-7 regularly receives letters requesting Bibles and more information on Christian beliefs after programs. "I like SAT-7 programs because they change my old ideas about Christianity and replace them with new and correct ones," a man from Algeria wrote.
SAT-7's reception area ranges from northern Europe to the Sahara Desert, targeting 21 Arabic-speaking countries. Growing by 1 million people per month, the area encompasses about 430 million residents in one of the world's most volatile regions.
"If you travel in this region, you come to understand there are people looking for a better way," says J.B. Kump, regional director for the SAT-7 office in Florida.
SAT-7 was conceived in November 1995 by 25 Christian agencies and churches from the Middle East, Europe and North America. It began broadcasting two hours a week in May 1996.
"We are very partnership-oriented with the local church," Mr. Ensminger says. The ministry gathers about 30 percent of its support from within the Middle East and Europe and the other 70 percent of its $7 million budget from North America.
The ministry is endorsed by Campus Crusade, the Baptist General Conference, several members of Congress, including Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and members of the British Parliament.
Since September 11, the SAT-7 North American office has seen many Christians turning to the Middle East and wanting to help this region. To increase awareness and understanding, SAT-7 recently ran four full-page advertisements in Christian magazines.
Letters from viewers, especially children who send 50 percent of the incoming mail, express the impact SAT-7 is having on the Middle East.
"They trust us," Mrs. Younes says. "I'm giving hope to somebody somewhere."


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