Every day, 8 Christians killed for their decision to follow Jesus

January 15, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Africa

Tonight by the time you lie down to sleep, 8 people will have died for their decision to follow Jesus.


That’s a staggering and sobering statistic.

(Above photo: Doris, Yafa, a widow in northeastern Nigeria whose husband was killed in a Boko Haram attack on their Christian village)

But our research for Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List—the most in-depth investigative report focusing on global Christian persecution available—reveals that each day of the year-long reporting period, eight Christians were martyred for their faith in the top 50 countries ranked on the World Watch List.

Keep in mind that this number is likely to be much lower than the actual reality because, especially in closed countries like North Korea and Afghanistan or conflict-ridden places like Nigeria and Libya, killings are often done in secrecy and/or go unreported. No one in a North Korean prison camp or a Muslim tribe in Afghanistan is reporting the murder of a Christian. Yet Open Doors has talked to thousands of believers and refugees to know that Christians are dying for their faith—every day.

And many Christians die because of their increased vulnerability in conflict, through long-term deprivation of basic necessities, or exclusion from socioeconomic aid.

Spread of violent Islamization across Sub-Saharan Africa

This year, the total number of Christian martyrs declined from 4,305 (WWL 2019) to 2,983 (WWL 2020). However, the reason for this fall, again, comes back to reporting. In Nigeria, fewer numbers of Christians killed for their faith were reported because Muslim Fulani militants partly changed their persecution tactics. Instead of focusing on raiding Christian homesteads and communities like we’ve seen over the past few years, extremists put more emphasis on kidnappings and roadblock killings (militants set up a fake road block, stop a bus or other vehicle and check religious IDs, separating Muslim from non-Muslims).

Download the 2020 World Watch List

Though Open Doors estimates many deaths went unreported, well over half of Christians killed and churches attacked were in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso alone, 2,476 Christians were martyred for their faith—1,350 reported in Nigeria and 924 in CAR. In Nigeria, Christians are targeted by Fulani militants, Boko Haram, ISWAP and a range of armed criminal groups that attack Christian communities and churches, kill, kidnap and rape with impunity.

For the first time, Burkina Faso entered the top 50 at No. 28. Both Al Qaeda and Islamic State maintain a strong presence in the country, allowing them to attack Christians, as well as the government. In 2019, we saw the church in Burkina Faso repeatedly targeted and attacked during and after worship services with refused demands by extremists to renounce their faith or die—a picture of both the severity of persecution and powerful faith in the lives God’s people.

In a once-peaceful country where different religious groups managed to thrive, violent Islamic militants have killed church leaders, kidnapped families for ransom and burned down churches and schools. Cameroon (No. 48) also saw a deteriorating persecution situation.

Watch the 2020 World Watch List video

The violence in these countries gives way to what Open Doors is calling, “a wave of Islamist influence backed by money, weapons, drugs and organized crime spreading across Sub-Saharan Africa.”

“In weak or “fragile” states, where laws and government are ineffective, targeted Christian populations are left unprotected.”

The recent video release of the execution of 11 Nigerian Christians by the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) on December 28, 2019, offers specific evidence—mirroring the same message ISIS sent almost five years ago when they beheaded 21 Christian men on the Libyan coast. In both videos, the martyrs wore orange jumpsuits, their killers in black. Reportedly, it is understood to be the largest group killed by ISWAP so far.

“This message is to the Christians in the world,” ISWAP said in the 56-second propaganda video.

Stand with your family

Right now, more than 260 million Christians worldwide are living in places where they face high persecution—just because they follow Jesus. But you can help. Through prayer and by supporting Open Doors’ work around the world, you are reminding God’s people they are part of one Church; part of one Family.

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Expanding violent Islamic militancy across South and Southeast Asia             

The influence of radical Islamic ideology also emerged in completely unexpected atrocities, such as the coordinated Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that killed almost 300 people, men, women and children, mostly Christians. Some 176 children lost one or both parents that day. In one year, Sri Lanka jumped to No. 30 from No. 46 on the World Watch List. The Southeast Asian country recorded the third-highest deaths of believers.

Across the top 50 countries on the World Watch List, pressure is rising. In 2020, 45 countries registered a “very high” level of persecution. Last year, the number was 40. The total points of persecution scores in these 50 countries have spiked, and the threshold to get into the top 50 has risen again. Persecution against Christians has risen for 14 consecutive years.

In many Asian countries violence is more “subtle.” In a country such as India—once again No. 10 on the World Watch List, Open Doors partners have shared numerous accounts of violence. Christians are beaten up, injured or chased away from their homes. Many live in fear. But the number of killings of Christians is very limited. Over the last year in India, the martyrdom of nine believers were reported. Again, this number is likely higher.

One Church, One Family

Open Doors estimates that there are at least a further 50 million Christians facing high levels of persecution in 23 other countries not in the top 50.

The numbers are important, but the World Watch List research represents so much more. Behind every statistic and fact is a life, a family, a church that represents deep suffering but also courage and inspiring faith. Through Jesus, we and every Christian living in North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and the rest of the top 50 countries on the 2020 World Watch List are one Church, one Family.

Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters tonight.

To read more about Christian persecution, click here to see the list and download the full report. To help you pray with these believers, Open Doors has a mobile prayer app that alerts you to prayer requests from believers. Learn more about it and sign up to get regular updates delivered to your phone. 

Released at the beginning of each year, the World Watch List uses extensive research, data from Open Doors field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide. It is certified by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.

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