For the 14th straight year, North Korea ranks as the most difficult place to be a Christian, according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List, released in early January. North Korea’s “dictatorial paranoia” has kept it at the top of the 50 countries on the annual list, a placement underscored by the January 6th detonation of what the country claims was a hydrogen bomb–but the gap between North Korea and the rest of the world is narrowing.
Throughout the 49 other countries on the list, the dominant and growing source of increasing pressure faced by Christians is “Islamic extremism.” Many of those countries share a common denominator among the reasons for their ranking on the 2016 list: the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Islamic State and its affiliates increased attacks in Libya, Kenya, and Egypt, and expanded its reach to impact places as far flung as Paris, France and San Bernardino in the U.S. Open Doors Director of Strategic Trends Ron Boyd-MacMillan in an analysis accompanying the Open Doors World Watch List noted that “there is a feeling globally that no one is safe from the reach of these newer jihadists, who can recruit, convert and train any one through the internet.”
Niger returned to the list, at No. 49. Early in 2015, the nation endured violent attacks by Islamists who destroyed almost all its 70 churches and killed 10 people. The country’s long border with Nigeria has also meant an occasional overspill of violence from the an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria jihadist insurgency.
Islamic State has expanded its influence in places it does not appear to have a physical presence. IS sympathizers in countries such as Nigeria and Libya have aligned themselves with the group after carrying out atrocities against their own minority Christian populations.
Open Doors also reported that in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which has been a comparative safe haven for Christian refugees fleeing IS from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, the government “is ordering land to be sold to Muslim families in several predominantly Christian areas and towns.”
Worries about expanding Islamic extremism have prompted governments to clamp down on anything they see as “extremism,” squeezing Christians along with everyone else. Many Central Asian governments have expanded surveillance of church activities, Boyd-MacMillan noted, a move that typified what he characterized as “the year of fear.”
Pressure continues to rise for Christians in Africa, a trend that emerged during the 2012 Arab Spring and looks likely to to continue. Sixteen of the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List are located in Africa, compared to 14 in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
For the first time, India is among the list’s top 20, ranking No. 17. The world’s biggest democracy, governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is largely complicit in a surge of militant Hindu pressure on religious minorities, most frequently Muslims and Christians.
“Christian communities, across many denominations, report an increase of harassment and violence in the last year, including physical violence, arson, desecration of churches and Bibles, and disruption of religious services,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated about India in its 2015 annual report. “Reportedly, local police seldom provide protection, refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate, and in a few cases encourage Christians to move or hide their religion.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Our Heavenly Father, we pray for our world. We pray for an end to the escalating violence by extremist groups around the world, even in our own nation. We pray Your hand of protection on Your people, our brothers and sisters in the faith, who are being persecuted and harassed on a daily basis. We pray for their sustenance and for their comfort and encouragement. Where they live in fear, grant peace and courage. Keep their hearts free from fear and from bitterness. Grant them both wisdom and courage in ways only Your Holy Spirit can give. Keep us faithful in praying and writing letters and giving as You give us the ability. And in the midst of all the hostility, Christ’s church is growing. We prayer that in our lives and in the lives of Christians around the world Your Name will be exalted. In the name of Jesus who reigns above all nations and rulers. Amen!