SAT-7 PARS “Signal” presenters Reza Jafari (L) and Niloufar Raisi (R) | SAT-7
An interactive satellite television program is giving a platform to Iran’s “secret” Christians to share their stories of hope with the outside world as the underground church in the Islamic Republic continues to grow.
For the last year-and-a-half, the global Christian satellite network SAT-7, which operates in 25 countries across the Middle East and North Africa, has aired the weekly interactive news talk show “Signal” on its Farsi-speaking channel, SAT-7 PARS.
“Signal” is the first interactive program of its kind giving a voice to Iran’s “secret church” at a time when many Christian converts in the country live under the constant threat of arrest and persecution. The show has been viewed in homes across Iran and the rest of the Middle East.
“For quite some time before we started producing and broadcasting the program, we were always trying to find a unique approach for the Christians, especially those residing inside the country, for being their voice,” the show’s host, Reza Jafari, told The Christian Post.
“Most of the Christian TV programs [available on Satellite TV in Iran] are either teaching programs or theological programs that are sort of like a monologue.”
Normally, Jafari said that viewers in countries like Iran or other places where Christians are persecuted don’t have an outlet to share their stories.
“So we thought we can produce a program that would not be like a monologue only but would be a platform that echoes and shares the voice and stories of people’s testimonies and journeys to other believers living across the globe,” he said.
Jafari himself converted to Christianity before he left Iran for Cyprus in 2003.
Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he said that life has become much more difficult for minorities, especially Muslim converts, to live in Iran due to the ideological Shia regime that sees the growing underground Christian church in Iran as a threat to its power.
“Throughout the past decade, Iran became the fastest and biggest growing home church in the world,” he said. “And that’s also brought a bigger alarm for the government to monitor the Christians and especially converts even more than before. So the pressures and persecutions and all those obstacles and problems, they’re even more severe as the time passed by because the numbers of these converts are growing.”
The global persecution watchdog agency Open Doors USA estimates that there are at least 800,000 Christians in Iran, nearly twice the estimate Open Doors USA provided in 2016.
In addition to arrest, imprisonment and torture for leaving the Muslim faith, Jafari said converts also face societal and workplace pressures from fanatical Muslims.
“There are all sorts of psychological and physical abuse and persecution for all the minorities, but very specifically, especially for Muslim converts,” he said.
Signal airs for 90 minutes each week and features three different forms of testimonies: Skype calls with Muslim converts living outside of Iran, pre-recorded interviews and live calls from believers inside Iran.
“So by sharing [their testimony], they are a blessing and encouraging other believers, especially inside Iran or other hostile countries,” Jafari said. “They are encouraged to know that they are not the only people going through difficult times. There are similar people in a similar situation. But they rest in a living hope that God is behind them and God is with them.
Jafari said that the show has also featured testimonies from converts suffering in other countries.
“One outstanding story and testimony of someone that we had on the show was pre-recorded testimony from an Afghan convert. He was part of a Taliban militia group in Afghanistan,” Jafari explained. “His job was to murder people or go to war. His story and journey of transformation that he was sharing in our program was really inspiring.”
To Jafari, every story shared on the show is inspiring.
“Whether it comes out in a very simple way or with simple words, it is inspiring for us,” he said. “A lot of times when I talk with my colleagues or with the producer of the program, I call these people — like Muslim converts that decided to follow Jesus — I call them silent heroes. Because knowing all the consequences and yet deciding to follow Christ and staying inside the country and staying firm in their faith, it’s inspiring.”
Programming like the kind provided by SAT-7 PARS is crucial for strengthening the faith of many underground believers in Iran, according to Jafari.
“These people are thirsty, they are truth-seekers. So they need truthful information,” he noted. “There is no open church and there are no Christian counseling centers. So one of their main or if not the only main source of gathering information or having answers to their questions are these Christian ministries and media agencies like SAT-7.”
While much of the world prefers communication through the internet nowadays, Jafari said satellite TV is still the preferred way of communication for many in Iran since it is free and considered the safest way to communicate.
“In Iran, the internet is not a perfect method because the government is monitoring these calls or communications or most of these platforms like WhatsApp,” he noted.
“So basically, there is always a risk there and also the government’s deliberately put the bandwidth down. So they can not really watch live streams sometimes. Also, people have financial difficulties, so they can not have 4g or 3g or LTE network all the time.”
Iran is ranked as the ninth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to the 2020 World Watch List published by Open Doors USA.
Open Doors USA reported that at least 169 Christians in Iran were arrested during its 2020 World Watch List reporting period as many converts are prosecuted and sentenced to long-term jail sentences.
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