Who is the face of persecution today?
According to Open Doors, after releasing its annual World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians two weeks ago, there are many, diverse faces.
The brutal, hermit country of North Korea topped the list for the 11th straight year. Rounding out the top 10 were Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea. The complete list of 50 countries is available at www.worldwatchlist.us.
Christian scholar William Barclay once said that New Testament Christians had three characteristics: “One, they were filled with an irrational love for their enemies; two, they were absurdly happy; and three, they were always in trouble.”
Based on the data gathered for the 2013 World Watch List, there are six types of Christians most likely to be persecuted around the globe:
One – If you are an underground Christian in North Korea. North Korea does not allow anyone to openly gather to worship God (except in the three official state-run churches in Pyongyang) other than the self-appointed gods of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un. Only last week Open Doors reported the killing of two Christians in North Korea, including a believer in one of its horrific political prisons and one trying to return to China for more biblical training.
Two – If you are a Muslim Background Believer or Secret Believer, particularly in Islamic states. Most Muslim states forbid conversion from Islam. Often families will even take violent action against their own son or daughter who turns their face to Christ. A Christian activist I met in Egypt last year was disowned by his family after he came to Christ as a teenager from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Three – If you are a Christian who evangelizes in Muslim-dominated areas. Even if you are living in a Christian majority country, there are areas that are predominately Muslim, such as northern Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. In Nigeria in 2012, the Associated Press reported the Islamic group Boko Haram killed an estimated 800 people, many of them Christians living in northern states that enforce Sharia Law (strict Islamic law).
Four – If you are a Hindu Background Believer in the more lawless states of the Hindu-run areas of India. Evangelists can be harassed, badly beaten or killed for their witness, especially in at least seven states in India that have anti-conversion laws. Last fall Hindu extremists beat Pastor John Samuel Kim unconscious by the side of the road, then attacked him in his hospital bed the next day.
Five – If you are a Christian from a historic tradition in a Middle East state affected by the Arab Spring.
The headlines often are dominated by the plight of Muslim Background Believers, but even in the Middle East – ironically the cradle of Christianity – Christian Background Believers (belonging to mainly Orthodox and Catholic churches) are under tremendous pressure. Sizeable, ancient communities of faith exist in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. All those countries are in the top 25 of the current World Watch List. In Syria tens of thousands Christians have been targeted and forced to flee from their homes simply for following Christ. The persecution of Christians in Egypt has increased since the election of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer. Earlier this month Nadia Mohamed Ali and her seven children were sentenced to 15 years in prison for converting to Christianity.
Six – If you are a believer who has left the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia. Historically many Christians have been persecuted by other Christians. An on-going example is in Ethiopia, No. 15 on the World Watch List. Ethiopia boasts an Orthodox church, but there is much about the church that is lifeless and dead. As a result, some Christians have left to find a more vibrant Christian life, often in more independent, Pentecostal churches. This has aroused the ire of Orthodox Church leaders, who pressure the congregants who have left to return.
Every persecuted believer has her or his individual story, no matter what country they live in – from No. 1 North Korea to No. 50 Niger. Open Doors research reports Christians are persecuted in at least 60 countries and Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. Additionally, Open Doors says an average of 100 Christians are killed each month for their faith.
There is something you can do today for our brothers and sisters in Christ – fervently pray that they will stand strong in their faith. Join Open Doors USA as we pray through 2013 for each country on the World Watch List. Take the 5-5-5 Challenge to pray daily for the 50 nations at www.worldwatchlist.us. Your prayers and support can make an eternal difference for persecuted Christians.
Jerry Dykstra is the Media Relations Director for Open Doors USA, an affiliate of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians living in the most dangerous countries around the globe since 1955. For more information, visit www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.