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Mindy Belz

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What happens when an elderly Coptic priest takes to the airwaves and the internet to confront Islam? Death threats, conversions, and a global following. Meet Zakaria Botros, WORLD's 2008 Daniel of the Year.

At 28 minutes before air time, an assistant is lint-rolling Father Zakaria Botros' cassock, polishing the pectoral cross he wears over it and giving the dark circles beneath his eyes a last smudge of makeup from a cosmetics sponge. The studio lights are on, the clock is running, and assistants are checking a pair of teleprompters. Two full glasses of water, one for Botros and one for his guest, stand ready at opposite ends of the table where the men will sit.

At 20 minutes before air time Botros, his guest, and crew pause to pray. It is 9 p.m. on a Thursday evening in Cairo, 10 p.m. in Riyadh, and 10:30 in Tehran. Botros, an Egyptian, will host the live show about to be broadcast via Cyprus-based satellite channel Al-Hayat, which will last 90 minutes and may have an audience of up to 60 million viewers across the Arab world and beyond—from the Middle East to Europe to North America to Australia. And most of the viewers who sit down to watch the televised ruminations of a 75-year-old Christian will be Muslims.

Fr. Botros

Fr. Botros

Botros has been hosting Truth Talk since 2003. The weekly show grew out of an internet chat room attended by thousands where the Coptic priest engaged Muslims on the inherent contradictions of their own religion and found that he was leading many to faith in Jesus Christ. As the geographic scope of the show has grown, so has its reach into the lives of Muslims. It is broadcast in Arabic, and this year began also to be translated for Turkish audiences and into Farsi to be aired in Iran.

Father Zakaria, as he is known to millions, has won his enormous following not by borrowing from the toolbox of the televangelist. For someone whose ecclesiastical tradition began in a.d. 100, his tools are decidedly 21st century: satellite uplinks, Wi-Fi connectivity, a late-edition Vaio laptop that is with him at all times, and a trusted reference tool he refers to as "St. Google." He can spend 14-hour days on research for each show, and for this episode emailed the final script to producers at 4:30 a.m.

The result is less a preaching ministry and more like battlefield strategy. It's the late-in-life culmination of a conscious decision, Botros says, to move away from apologetics and toward what he calls polemics: "My program is to attack Islam, not to attack Muslims but to save them because they are deceived. As I love Muslims, I hate Islam."

Read the entire article on the World Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 20-Dec-2008



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