215 Million Believers Face Persecution for Their Faith in Christ

January 10, 2018 by Lindy Lowry in Africa

Around the globe, persecution against Christians is increasing.

The release of the new 2018 World Watch List–the most comprehensive, authoritative report of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe–confirms what we’ve seen and shared with you over the past year. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are coming under increasing levels of persecution as they live and die for their faith.

While Christian persecution takes many forms, Open Doors defines it 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 possessions (including custody of their children, physical torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.

Of the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, 30 saw an increase in persecution during the reporting period. Our new research indicates that throughout the world, approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme persecution for following Jesus. Nearly one of every 12 Christians in the world lives in an area, or in a culture, in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished

Islamic extremism continues to increase, especially against women

Once again, North Korea claims the #1 spot–for the 16th consecutive year. With more than 50,000 Christians in prison or labor camps, the ranking comes as little surprise for the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of life in the country and forces worship of the Kim family.

But the new report reveals an alarming trend as countries driven by Islamic extremism reach persecution levels rivaling those in North Korea. Afghanistan (#2) and North Korea nearly tied for the No. 1 spot. Never before have the top two countries been so close in persecution incidents. Both countries are extreme in intolerance and outright persecution of Christians in all six areas of life that Open Doors monitors.

Countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians. Perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for their faith and gender.

Every day, six women are raped, sexually harassed or are forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith. Research for the World Watch List documented 2,260 such incidences against women—and this number only covers those who had the courage to report such an incident, representing only a fraction of those actually raped and harassed in this way. Throughout this year, we’ve shared numerous stories of women, such as Debora in Nigeria, Rana in Iraq and Workitu in Ethiopia martyred for her faith, who have experienced dual persecution because they 1) believe in Jesus and 2) because they are female.

The overall numbers signal an increase in violence–especially against women, says Open Doors USA CEO David Curry. “It’s imperative we continue to advocate and call leaders to prioritize issues of religious freedom.”

Quick Facts

Christian Persecution Around the World

Throughout The Middle East

Dramatically increasing persecution against Christians in all areas of their lives, Afghanistan is an example of difficult situations that reverberate through the top 10 countries on the list:

In addition to Pakistan being the most violent toward Christians, the country also scored the highest in churches or church buildings being attacked, abductions and forced marriages. Over the last year, our persecuted family in Pakistan has endured increasing violence (the smash factor) and social pressure (the squeeze factor), with the country showing no signs of a better 2018.

Increasing in Areas of Asia

Led by North Korea, Christians living in many Asian countries continue to face intensifying persecution. Some 22 of the 50 countries on the list are in Asia. Driven by radical Hinduism and Indian nationalism, India experienced a dramatic rise in persecution, moving from No. 15 in 2017 to No. 11 this year. Christians there are facing increasing levels of unrest and instability. In 2014, India scored only 55 points, while in 2017, Open Doors World Watch List researchers assigned 81 points to the nation—one of the fastest and most intense increases we’ve seen. Nepal appears on the list for the first time, landing stunningly at No. 25 due to India’s religious nationalism spilling into the country.

Inside Parts of Africa

Ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation is growing, becoming nearly common for Christians in a number of sub-Saharan African countries like Somalia (#3), Sudan (#4), Nigeria (#14) and Kenya (#32). Terrorism connected with extreme Islam continues to plague many African nations, resulting in increased persecution of Christians.

In Latin America 

Mexico (#39) and Columbia (#49) remain the only two nations outside the Middle East, Asia and Africa to make the top 50 list. Both countries experienced increases in persecution, primarily attributed to organized crime, corruption and governmental instability.

As you look through this year’s list, please take the time to pray with persecuted believers in these countries. You may want to sign up to receive our weekly newsletter and join with thousands of believers around the world as we pray for a country each week. You may want to ask God to put a specific country on your heart (maybe a new area you haven’t prayed for or engaged before)… Whatever you do, we hope you’ll use the World Watch List to go deep and stand with your brothers and sisters. Paul’s words to the church of Corinth are for us today:

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26, NASB).

For practical ideas for praying through the 2018 World Watch List, visit our website.

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