Every year Open Doors, a ministry aimed at serving persecuted Christians worldwide, updates its ‘World Watch List’. The list highlights the top 50 countries throughout the world that face the most severe levels of persecution.
We are thankful that in some of these countries highlighted in the list, Bible Societies are reporting an increase in the number of Scriptures distributed over these past few years. As we take great encouragement that even with the rising persecution of Christians in certain parts of the world, God’s Word is more sought after and cherished than ever before. We felt it was important to turn our thoughts and prayers to some of the countries sitting at the top of this list and focus on the struggle and punishments they are facing as a result of their faith.
For the past fourteen years North Korea has topped the list. A totalitarian dictatorship under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, any sort of organised religion is seen as a threat to his power. Under his control it is almost impossible for any worship to take place and Christians in North Korea don’t even tend to risk sharing their faith with family members or friends. If it is discovered that someone does have faith, they are severely punished alongside their families. It is estimated that around 50,000- 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in North Korea’s penal labour camps.
Over the years Islamic Extremism has become the prevailing cause of persecution in 36 of the 50 countries on the list. Islamic Extremism has taken hold of 3 of the top 5 countries: Iraq (#2), Afghanistan (#4) and Syria (#5). Those who reveal their Christian faith in these countries are often faced with discrimination, violence and in many cases death.
In the early 1990s there were between 1.5 and 2 million Christians living in Iraq, however, as the situation in the country continues to deteriorate there are now only an estimated 250,000 Christians left. In recent years the severity of the situation has grown as many parts of the country have been invaded by Islamic State (IS). In parts of the country controlled by IS, strict rules have been implemented and it has become impossible for Christians to reveal their faith in any way. Any public gatherings that have not been organised by IS are strictly forbidden and all women must wear a full veil. The majority of attacks against and killings of Christians have been carried out by IS. A similar situation has broken out in Syria as Islamic State continues to invade large parts of the country. Several churches have been destroyed and many Christians have been taken captive since the beginning of the unrest.
In Afghanistan it is extremely dangerous to live openly as a Christian. Those who convert from Islam to Christianity are shunned by their communities and pressured to recant their faith. Conversion is seen as a direct insult to Islam, your family and the community. The government, the Taliban and the majority of Afghanis regard Islam as the only acceptable form of religion. Those who do have faith live in fear of discrimination, hostility and violence. As a result of this there are only small groups and individual followers of Christ left in Afghanistan. These groups lack education, training and leadership.
These are just examples of some of the countries that are facing persecution on a daily basis for following Christ. Millions of Christians throughout the world are risking their lives and suffering as they stand strong in their faith.
- Pray for the Christians of North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and all the countries around the world where persecution is a reality.
- Pray that those who face persecution will continue to stand strong in their faith.
- Pray for those who have been imprisoned or encountered violence as a result of their faith.
- Pray for those who have lost loved ones and risk their lives as a result of their faith.
- Pray for God’s Word to be accessible to those who are being persecuted so that they draw hope and encouragement from the Bible.
All information is taken from Open Doors World Watch List 2016. World Watch List is compiled by a group of experts, audited by an outside organisation specialising in religious freedom http://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/country_profiles.php