On 7 July, police in the North African country of Algeria sealed shut the doors of three Protestant church buildings, bringing the number to 16 where flourishing congregations have been locked out of their meeting places.
This wasn’t because of COVID-19: the worship spaces of the country’s main faith were reopened in February. Rather, this is part of a state clampdown on a fast-growing, indigenous Church, that was only legally recognised in 2011.
Perhaps, as we have faced the disappointments of COVID-19 closures and restrictions in our own churches, we can grasp a little of what many of our brothers and sisters experience in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) when there is no church to go to or their family or even the state bar them from gathering.
Such restrictions are tightest for those who might want to exercise their most precious freedom: having learnt about Jesus, to leave the majority religion and choose to follow Him.
Despite the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, only two or three nations in the MENA allow citizens legally to move from the majority faith and be recognised as a Christian believer.
Those who take this step often face harassment, isolation, sometimes even violence, from relatives or other members of the community. In Iran, where research in 2020 indicated that over a million people from non-Christian backgrounds are now believers, attending a secret house church results in surveillance, possible arrest, heavy fines, job loss, or a sentence in one of Iran’s notorious prisons.
But SAT-7 is standing in the gap. The four channels of our Christian TV network on satellite and digital media air in Arabic, Persian and Turkish. For many Christians, SAT-7 is their only source and connection to the wider body of Christ. Our programmes encourage often-isolated Christians in their faith, and provide a fresh perspective of faith for those asking questions about Jesus.
Each year over 25 million people watch and have their faith strengthened by SAT-7. We can’t tell you all their stories, but we have collected 40 of them in a free, handy booklet, entitled Free to Believe. We’d love you to have a copy.
The story of Shaheen from Afghanistan is one of these. He lives in a province controlled by extremists but said:
“By watching your programmes I have come to know about Christianity and wonder if it is true. I am tired and heart-broken by the lies and unrighteousness around me [and] asking why it is that people are denied freedom of thought and self-determination.”
Our viewer support team responded and were able to explain the Gospel more fully and lead Shaheen to Christ. His story is one of many inspiring and powerful testimonies told in Free to Believe. Over 40 days, the booklet will introduce you to brothers and sisters from across the MENA, and invite you to reflect on your own journey with Christ. Order yours today here.
SAT-7 UK is a Christian satellite television and digital media broadcaster serving the people of 25 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.