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Christian Sitcom Slated for Fall in Middle East, North Africa

A broadcasting company with programs produced by and for Christians in the Middle East and North Africa is rolling out this fall a situation comedy touching on moral and ethical issues in a lighthearted way.

The Arabic name of the show, “Mayli Min Kil Aileh“–the English title is “Faces of a Family”–is a Lebanese expression that says every situation can be looked at in different ways. The sitcom is written and produced in Lebanon for SAT-7, a broadcasting company established 12 years ago by Christian ministries in the Middle East and around the world to establish a Christian voice in the region through satellite TV.

Mette Schmidt, assistant communications manager of SAT-7 International, told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail the series is in production. The fifth episode currently is being shot. The program is scheduled to start airing in January.

The first episode introduces the family: father Youssef, mother Nihad and children Tony, 17, Rogee, 14, and Samar, 10. Ethical dilemmas begin in Episode 2, when the parents are forced to leave the children in the custody of their grandparents and a family friend due to a family illness. Other episodes deal with real-life issues like cheating at school, stealing, lying, smoking, selfishness, sibling rivalry and the precious relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

SAT-7’s programming director, Rita El Mounayer, said the network is exploring a new television format to connect with viewers. “The main purpose of the show is to make you reflect on important issues as you laugh about them,” she said in a press release. “It is not a heavy drama and the story, even when dealing with sad issues, will lift your spirit.”

Schmidt told EthicsDaily.com SAT-7 did a similar project five or six years ago following the life of a Christian Palestinian family, but it didn’t focus on ethical issues but rather social-development issues like health, the environment, literacy and children’s rights.

Producers say the key to a good drama is a good script. Mayli Min Kil Aileh is written by one of the most well-known Christians in Lebanon. Scriptwriter Fady Tabet is a Maronite priest, singer, author and actor. He is general director of the radio station Voice of Charity.

In addition to enrolling both an experienced writer and public ambassador for the ministry, Tabet also has good contacts with other artists, and he has helped attract well-known actors to the new production.

SAT-7 began broadcasting to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa May 31, 1996. In the beginning there was only enough programming and finances to broadcast two hours a week. Today it transmits 24 hours a day, but the founding mission and vision remain the same–to build up churches in the Middle East and North Africa and allow Christians of various denominations to work together in witness to Jesus Christ.

Only half of the 300 million people in the Arab world are functionally literate, SAT-7 CEO Terence Ascott said in a monthly newsletter, but television sets are found in every home, even in the slums of major cities, and are the only source of information for those who cannot read. For most people in the Middle East, satellite TV is their only source of uncensored news and entertainment.

In a part of the world where the church has never had media access in many countries, Ascott said, satellite broadcasting gives Christians a first-ever opportunity to publicly correct misconceptions like “Christians worship three gods,” to build up and encourage sometimes isolated believers and to “provide a culturally relevant and clear presentation of the gospel” to satellite-viewing families. Ascott said 200 million people from Morocco to Afghanistan have satellite TV.

Ascott said SAT-7’s approach differs from much of Christian TV in the West. Instead of scheduling sponsored programming blocks from a multitude of ministries, it schedules–in Arabic, Farsi and Turkish–specific blocks of programs for children, youth and women, as well as movies, music, teaching and interactive shows.

The approach is paying off, Ascott said. SAT-7 Arabic has between 5 million and 7 million regular viewers, and millions more tune in to Farsi and Turkish broadcasts of SAT-7 PARS.

The director of Mayli Min Kil Aileh said she hopes the series will not only lift viewers’ spirits and attract a group of regular viewers but also will build bridges between different religions by explaining Christianity and educating non-Christians about the faith.

El Mounayer described her goal on the Australian Web site Christian Today as “to build bridges between different religions by explaining the Christian faith with gentleness and respect to a wider general audience that has few other sources for accurate information about Christ and His followers.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.