Immediately after the horrendous blast that severely damaged half of Beirut, a major Christian Arabic language broadcaster in Lebanon is airing special live programs. The reassuring satellite programming is ministering to shell-shocked viewers, many of whose friends and family were among at least 200 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.
The broadcaster reported minor damage to its Beirut studios a few miles from the blast epicenter but continued broadcasting live with a special Arabic-language program Lebanon: The Pain and Hope.
Local Christian leaders Rev. Dr. Hikmat Kashouh and Dr. Nabil Costa offered reassurance to viewers and prayed live on air for the families of those killed in the explosion, for those who are missing, and for the injured.
“Everyone is in shock and devastated by what has happened,” said Maroun Bou Rached, the network’s director in Lebanon, as live programming continues.
The massive blast in Beirut’s port area — reportedly caused by 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse — shook the entire city and was heard by SAT-7 headquarters staff on the island nation of Cyprus, more than 100 miles away. The cause is still under investigation though some experts believe it may be tied to the terrorist organization Hezbollah which controls half of the country.
‘Hearts Go Out to Everyone’
Lebanon is 59% Muslim and 39% Christian, with 2% accounting for other religious minorities. There are fears about the increasing Muslim majority fueled by attacks from Hezbollah, due to increased attacks on Lebanese Christians. Many Christians claim they are only protected because they are represented in government – a unique trait in a Middle Eastern country.
Parliamentary member, Gahzi Yousef, has spoken of the importance of keeping the Christian community in Lebanon intact in order to maintain diversity in the country, but fears that too many Christians are emigrating for that to work.
The Beirut blast has allowed Christians in Lebanon to shine as they minister to their Muslim neighbors but, still, there was tremendous confusion in the country that remains.
“We didn’t know what was happening,” said Rita El-Mounayer, the network’s International CEO based in Cyprus, who heard the explosion. “Our hearts go out to everyone in the country.”
Launched in 1996, SAT-7 with its international headquarters in Cyprus — broadcasts Christian and educational satellite television programs to more than 30 million people in the Middle East and North Africa. Its mission is to make the gospel available to everyone and support the church in its life, work, and witness for Jesus Christ. SAT-7 broadcasts 24/7 in Arabic, Farsi (Persian), and Turkish, using multiple satellite channels and online services.
SAT-7’s live programs will continue to provide a platform for grieving and traumatized viewers in Lebanon to find comfort and seek prayer in the aftermath of the disaster, El-Mounayer said. Since March, SAT-7 has aired more than 40 programs addressing COVID-19, and the network continues to minister to a country beset by economic collapse, hunger, and social unrest.
As thousands across Lebanon — roughly the size of Connecticut — turn to television for news and updates, SAT-7’s interactive live broadcasts have a unique role as the disaster unfolds, according to Rex Rogers, its SAT-7 USA president.
“People across Lebanon are looking to us in America and in the Middle East to stand with them in grief and in prayer in the wake of this catastrophe,” Rogers said. “Many people, including Christians, are asking: ‘Where is God? Why is he allowing this? What is happening to my country?’
“People are saying: ‘Lebanon needs a miracle,’” said Rogers. “As Christians, we offer genuine hope.”
For Lebanon’s capital Beirut, that hope is being shared on the airwaves.
Pray that the Muslim and Christian communities will be able to co-exist and work together to rebuild Lebanon. Pray that Lebanon can set a positive example of religious diversity and tolerance for other countries in the region. Pray that internally displaced people within Lebanon are able to either return home or find and create new ones. Pray that the Christian minority can turn to one another for support, rather than feel the need to flee. Pray that peace will return to Lebanon after years of warfare and civil unrest.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice and wire services