|PIC1|The Estefanos' had recently moved to the United States from Cairo, Egypt, when they saw the events of September 11th unfold on television.
In an interview, Samuel told me that he was watching TV and was absolutely shocked beyond words at what he saw when God spoke to him.
"On September 11, 2001, I was watching the news that day, and as I watched the television, it was as if Satan was jumping up and down screaming and saying that he's destroying people and he will destroy more and more."
This experience led Samuel to do something to reach the Arabic speaking people of America.
"That day [9/11] I felt that it's wrong; we don't have to stay calm; and we cannot stay as we are because that's what Satan wants and he cannot take all this power; he cannot destroy the world," said Samuel. "We have the truth, we have the light; we have to get it out. We have to fight Satan. We have to stand in the gap; we have to say the truth. We have to save people from him.
"So, since that day, my life was changed and I was praying -- my wife and me -- and I couldn't think of exactly what I should do, but I was praying day and night until on January 11th, 2002, when God spoke to my heart and said, 'You have to reach out to these people. You have to go to their homes and preach the Gospel to them.' I couldn't think exactly how I could do this, but I did know that the only one who can save them is Jesus. He is the Savior. Nobody else could do anything. No weapons, nothing, only Jesus could save. So God spoke to my heart (that) through satellite television (we) can do this."
Samuel said that he tried to get some friends involved but nobody seemed to be interested.
I then asked Mona if she thought her husband was going crazy.
"Not really." She replied. "When he shared the vision with me, I was shocked with the idea itself. I felt like it was way too big to think of, but he said, 'Let's pray about it and seek God's will and see what God wants.' So we went further and further in prayer, and we realized that it was God's will, and I knew that he had to do what God was leading him to do. It was a big thing, but this is God."
Because the couple could find no backers, they decided to take out a huge mortgage to try to get the TV station off the ground.
Samuel said, "I started thinking and praying and then took some courses in video editing, broadcasting, financial planning, and business management. I didn't know exactly what I would do until 2004. Some nights I couldn't sleep at all and it was something like a fire inside my heart. I knew that I had to do something.
"I finally decided, after much prayer, that I would start from the garage. I converted our three-car garage into a TV station and initially started recording programs for the Middle East. I mortgaged my house, converted the garage, and started from there."
Samuel admitted that many of his friends thought he had taken leave of his senses.
He went on, "One person told me, 'You don't know how to run a TV station.' Some one else told me, 'You need $200 million dollars a year to run something like this.' Another said, 'If you want to do something very humble you need about $2 million dollars a year.' So I wondered where I could get this money as all that I had was my home. So I mortgaged my house, I bought some cameras, and we started filming."
Dan Wooding shakes hands with Michael Drzymkowski after interviewing him
About that time a Christian gentleman named Michael Drzymkowski came into Samuel's life and helped him arrange to get on satellite television.
"In my case," Michael Drzymkowski explained, "I actually had some equipment for sale on eBay of all things. I own a business in Orange County, California, and we manufacture software and hardware for the television industry, and on occasions we find ourselves with some extra equipment that we don't need.
"So I was advertising some of that equipment on eBay and Samuel called me. The more I talked to him the more frustrated he was getting because he kept asking me the price for some of the things that we do for TV stations and I wouldn't give him a concrete answer. I was more interested in knowing about his ministry and considering whether it was something I wanted to get involved with.
"From my standpoint, I think a lot of Americans just look at what goes on every day by turning on the TV news, the radio, or reading the newspaper, but they don't really understand what is going on or why it is happening. It's Islam, Islam, Islam! We keep hearing that it's the fastest growing religion in the world or one of the fastest. We hear these things and, as a Christian man who also happens to be a patriotic American, I'm just very concerned about the world events and the influence that Islam is having on them.
"As I prayed about it, and got to know Samuel more, I realized what a humble and Christ-loving man he was. I thought to myself that instead of wondering what I could do, I realized that not just myself, but something we all need to do, which is simply share the love of Christ with the Arabic-speaking community because they're our brothers.
"They are just like any non-believers, or anybody who's perhaps involved in some different religious system, and when they learn about the true and loving God it's the undeniable truth. So, I had the good fortune, guided by God, to get involved with Samuel just doing whatever I could do to help him -- which frankly is a very small part. But it's been a real privilege and blessing to be a part of it."
What Drzymkowski suggested transformed the vision into a reality when introduced them to a satellite distributor.
"One of my clients is a broadcaster in Los Angeles by the name of Globecast TV and they already have something they call the ethnic neighborhood," he said. "They're actually the third largest direct to home broadcaster in the United States.
"They already have a number of Arabic channels, not necessarily the kinds of channels that you or I might like to see being broadcast, nonetheless it seemed like a good place to put this channel, amidst those other Arabic channels, in the hopes that people would stumble upon the Gospel; and so that's exactly what we did to get started."
So, suddenly, from the Estefanos' garage in a quiet neighborhood in Southern California, they began satellite broadcasting initially to the Arabic speaking people of North America.
Samuel decided to call the channel Alkarma TV, explaining, "Alkarma means the vine (or) the vineyard. That's what came to my mind as I was praying about it. I liked this name, and it's His (Gods') channel. As it says in the Gospel of John 15:5, 'I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.' I don't call it anybody else's channel; it's not my channel, it's His."
I first became aware of Alkarma TV when I received a tip-off from a friend that this unusual couple, were running a TV channel out of their garage and I went to see what was going on. It was an astonishing sight to see their home full of equipment and a dedicated team had joined them in their venture.
But then, after a period, they suddenly they got terrible news. The date was September 12, 2006, when an official of the city where they live, came to their doorstep and told them that they could not run a business out of their home. It looked like the end of the ministry.
Mona recalled that day. "It was very shocking," she said. "I was actually crying, but we prayed and we submitted the situation to God and Samuel and I said, 'God, if this is the time for this ministry to stop, it's Your ministry not ours; we take it from You, and You take it from here.'
"But God's plan was greater than ours because we had just sold a townhouse and took that money and put it into a warehouse that had been sitting there since March ; that was in September. So we started working on the place so that we would be able to move in. We kept asking the city officials and praying to God for an extension since we already had the warehouse that we would be moving into. So we finally got an extension, but there was a little bit of fund raising that we had to do (so) that we could get enough money for the basics to finish the building. It was miracle after miracle."
Drzymkowski said he thought that Mona was being humble about the situation they faced.
"She says that there was some fund raising that went on," he said. "Well, you have to understand that this was a four-thousand square foot facility, but the problem was we're talking about a shell. There was nothing there but that. It needed literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to turn it into a television studio, an editing facility, offices and administration and the prayer room.
"The glory really goes to God because it's just amazing what kind of money came in at just the right time to conform to the city requirements to get out of a neighborhood and get into a commercial area where it was properly zoned for a television studio. All the money came in with very little fund raising, which was really God confirming that He has His hand on Alkarma TV and confirming that indeed this is the work that He wants to see done.
"For me personally it was an absolutely amazing thing to witness. At times, I wondered if it was the end, but that just shows my own weakness in my faith. God has blessed this beyond what I thought He would. Within about a ninety day to six month period we had the money to do the hundreds of thousands of dollars of work that had to be done to build the television studio, everything you've seen today."
I then asked Samuel to talk about this crises at, at first, seemed like their fledgling Arabic television network was going to go off the air.
He said, "I was praying and asking God, 'What exactly is happening? We are good at home, we didn't do anything wrong, we're preaching the Gospel twenty-four seven. We're bearing fruit; we have souls coming to you, what is wrong? Why are we getting kicked out of the house?' I didn't see the bigger picture of what God had in mind. Until then nobody knew who was running this channel -- nobody knew who were Samuel or Mona.
"So we came in to the studio to do a half an hour program, and we put it on air, and explained the situation. We said that we were doing this channel so we could get souls saved, and that we were running it from our home and we were having trouble keeping it running because we didn't have enough money. People were crying over the phone. I remembered a woman called and gave us gold and said that's all she had. Mona took this phone call, and she was crying and said, 'It is too much,' but the woman said, 'No, it's not too much -- Jesus gave His blood for us, we should give everything to Him.' The money came in from our Arabic viewers -- I don't know from where -- and we moved here, in this place that you see."
One of the unusual parts of the ministry the Estefanos' have is counseling.
"We give (our) programs to the Middle East; we have many programs broadcasting in different TV stations there. We get results every day. Yesterday we got a call from Jordan, from Syria, and from Germany, we get phone calls from all over the world," Samuel said.
So I asked Mona about what problems that the women callers face.
She replied, "There are lots of different problems that they face; the major one is the difference in the culture and how to raise their kids or how to keep their marriage together in a country that's completely different from the Middle Eastern mentality that we grew up in. It's a big struggle for them every day to maintain their marriage and raise their kids in a Godly way. So we try to counsel them over the phone, send them material through the mail that can help build their faith and their family. We do lots of prayer-- we receive letters from them and answer them, we answer their emails, and we try to help them with all their struggles and problems."
Mona said that when they get phone calls from viewers she counsels them in Arabic.
I asked her if there was one particular story that stood out to her.
Mona said, "There was a couple that was getting a divorce -- the husband had filed for divorce -- and the wife called us with tears saying, 'Please pray with me, I do not want the family to break up. I want the family to stay together and the case is in court; we're getting a divorce.' So we kept praying with her a lot over the phone and we kept interceding for her and a miracle happened! The husband changed his mind and pulled the case out of court and the family came back together."
Mona then went on, "Another story is where a husband left the house, and the wife called us in tears. She said, 'He's left. I don't know where he is and he doesn't want to come back. I have kids to take care of.' I prayed with her, encouraged her, and a miracle happened. The husband came back and the family came back together. We have many, many stories like that and we pray with them all the time.
"We always pray that God would give us the wisdom and there are some problems that get solved, but there are some that are out of our hands. A very sad story is about a woman who came here. She was around twenty-eight with two kids and a husband. She had to have a simple surgery, like removing the appendix or something, but the oxygen machine was misplaced in her throat, which caused the oxygen to stop, and she became completely crippled. So she's in bed and her mother's crying with tears asking, 'What can I do?'
"You know, you can only use God's Word to comfort these people because you cannot solve their problem at that point. It's out of everybody's hand, but we cry with them, we pray with them, we give them God's Word and we send them material in the mail that can help them."
I then asked Samuel if he sometimes does the counseling as well or does he leave it all to his staff.
"I sometimes answer the phone randomly so I get some people that are cry over the phone and need help," he said. "I cannot turn them away, so I just pray with them and see what I can do to help. I remember one person called from Virginia and he said, 'It's three o'clock in the middle of the night and I'm not a Christian and I'm looking for the truth. What can you offer me?' So I spoke with him, I prayed with him. He prayed and his life changed that night."
I then asked Mona how she dealt with female callers who say they are being mistreated by their husbands.
"We ask the women to be patient and loving; pray for their husbands, and wait on God," she said. "We also have a live show that airs almost every Wednesday. We get doctors and psychiatrists, people who talk about family and raising children. We give advice, get live phone calls with real problems, and we try to help them over the phone on the show. It's amazing, and it helps them a lot with their struggles. We get feedback that lives change from these programs because they find solutions to their problems."
I then asked Michael Drzymkowski what he had learned by becoming involved with Alkarma TV.
"One of the biggest things I've learned is that the Arabic-speaking folks who were raised in the Muslim religious system, they don't know about love," he said. "It's a religion of duty, and a religion of following the laws. It's a legalistic type of religious system praying five times a day and being willing to step up to the plate perhaps and maybe consider being a martyr. The concept of love is very foreign to them, and when you fight that concept with the message of the love of Christ, the message of a Savior who was willing to lay his life down for you, that is an overwhelming concept to somebody who's been raised in this system where they don't know. They just have never heard anything like that before, and it is piercing to their heart.
"One of the things that's been amazing is to see is what God has done and another great testimony for Him is the quality of the programming that Alkarma has put together. So much so, that a number of different broadcasters from all over the world, who have approached Alkarma TV and said the quality of your programming is excellent. The production values, the writing, directing, the editing, the lighting; all of it.
"What's happening now is we're literally exceeding our capacity to get this content to all the places in the world that it's being requested. There's different ways that this expansion can happen; generally, the easiest way is to write a check to them every month
"Another example is that Samuel has expressed to me many times that there are a number of excellent opportunities to go out into the field and record events and document events that are very interesting to the Arabic community, but right now he doesn't have traveling equipment. The studio is excellently equipped, but to go out in the field this equipment isn't really designed to do that, so they really could use what's known in the industry as a flypack which is just sort of a portable studio to go out and get that live element involved with Alkarma TV.
"But really, the biggest thing of all, is for people, who God leads, to be faithfully and prayerfully joining every month as a partner of Alkarma TV. At the end of the day that's what is most helpful to Alkarma, that every month (the money) comes in to make sure they can pay their people and do the things that they need to do as a business of any television studio."
I then asked Samuel to explain some of the kinds of programming that Alkarma does.
"The channel is non-denominational so we don't talk about certain denominations. We are only preaching the Gospel," he said. "We are Bible-based; we are looking to save souls. That's our over all target, from our Muslim friends, to Christians who don't really know Christ. We have programs for all ages; ranging from kids, to youth, women, Bible study and regular church meetings, which is designed to match our goal of saving souls.
"We have live programs which are amazing. We had a live program and we got two phone calls from Saudi Arabia with people saying they wanted to give their life to Christ on air. When we asked if they would like to pray with us to give their life to Jesus they said, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes, we want to!' So that's amazing. That's dangerous, but they probably called from unknown phones so nobody can trace them.
"Everybody watches television everywhere. You cannot reach them person-to-person, but they watch their TV in their homes and their lives are changing. I remember one day we got on live and a former terrorist who used to go and blow up churches said I'm giving my life to Jesus. That's what we're here for, to help change people, to change lives for the better."
Samuel said the Alkarma TV station is unique and he said, 'It's not supported by any church as far as money or by any big organizations. We run on the little donations from our partners.
"A lot of times we run into financial problems and our goal is standing in the gap so millions may know Him. We're looking for partners that can stand with us so we can preach to more people. Our website is www.alkarmatv.com and the email address is email@example.com."
I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Source: Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries