We recently watched the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018) at MainStreet which is a stirring account of the last days of Paul’s life before he is martyred in Rome. In our discussion time afterwards, someone rightly pointed out that persecution isn’t just ancient history or an early church reality; more people today are dying for their faith in Jesus than ever before in history.
1 Corinthians 12:26 says that we are one body. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” We owe it to our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ to become more aware of their plight and hold them in our hearts and prayers. As we wrap up a week of blog posts on martyrdom, and approach the cross of Christ tonight on Good Friday, I want to share the following facts about current day persecution taken from the website of Open Doors USA. (Another place to go to learn more about the persecuted church and how you can stand with them is The Voice of the Martyrs.)
Persecution at a Glance
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christian torture remains an issue for believers throughout the world including the risk of imprisonment, loss of home and assets, physical torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.
Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender.
Every day we receive new reports of Christians who face threats, unjust imprisonment, harassment, beatings and even loss of family because of their faith in Jesus.
Every month, on average:
- 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons
- 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked
- 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned
Every year, we release the World Watch List—a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 27thyear of the Open Doors World Watch List, and it remains the only annual in-depth survey to rank the 50 most difficult countries in which to be a Christian.
According to our research:
- 245 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List. And worldwide, 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution.
- North Korea is ranked #1 for the 18th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians.
- Islamic Oppression fuels Christian persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries.
MAJOR TRENDS IN CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION
1. THE SHOCKING REALITY OF PERSECUTION AGAINST WOMEN
In the 2019 World Watch List reporting period, there were shocking details about the persecution experienced by Christian women. In many places, they experience “double persecution”—one for being a Christian and one for being a woman. Even in the most restricted circumstances, gender-specific persecution is a key means of destroying the minority Christian community. This kind of persecution is difficult to assess because it is complex, violent and hidden—in many cultures where women are specifically targeted, it is difficult if not impossible to report accurate numbers.
2. ISLAMIC OPPRESSION CONTINUES TO IMPACT MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS
In seven out of the top 10 World Watch List countries, the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression. This means, for millions of Christians—particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families—openly follow-ing Jesus can have painful consequences. They can be treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against for jobs or even violently attacked
3. THE WORLD’S TWO MOST-POPULATED COUNTRIES ON THE WORLD WATCH LIST
For the first time since the start of the World Watch List, India has entered the top 10. Additionally, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 to 27. Each of these countries is home to more than a billion people, so these trends are distressing. Hindu nationalists in India continue to attack Christians with what seems like no consequences, and in China, the increased power of the government and the rule of Xi Jinping continue to make open worship difficult in some parts of the country.
4. THE SPREAD OF ISALM ACROSS SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
While the violent excesses of ISIS and other Islamic militants have mostly disappeared from headlines from the Middle East, their loss of territory there means that fighters have dispersed to a larger number of countries not only in the region but, increasingly, into sub-Saharan Africa. Their radical ideology has inspired or infiltrated, numerous splinter groups such as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a deadly group that broke away from Nigeria’s that also enslaves Christian women and girls as an integral part of their strategy.
5. MORE LAWS ADDED TO CONTROL RELIGION
State authoritarianism is increasing in many parts of the world, supported by the ever-spreading availability of personal digital technology, which governments can increasingly track through facial recognition, electronic chips and so on. Places like Vietnam, Myanmar, China and North Korea all saw increases in stricter state control of religious rights.
LET US PRAY TODAY FOR OUR BROTHERS & SISTER IN CHRIST AROUND THE WORLD.
I pray today for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being oppressed, persecuted and abused for their faith just as Jesus was.
Comfort and give courage to Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Eritrea, Pakistan, Egypt and India where many are experiencing physical harm, intimidation and unjust imprisonment at the hands of their oppressors.
Our heavenly Father, thank you for welcoming into your arms all Christian martyrs who have given their lives because they refused to stop sharing the gospel and living out their faith.
Heal the hearts and minds of those who have lost loved ones because of persecution and restore them to full physical and spiritual health.
For those who persecute my brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that their hearts will be touched by the wonderful faith of those they attack. I pray also that they will open their hearts to your love.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,