SANTA ANA, Calif. — A watchdog organization that releases a report each year on the global persecution of Christians has again named North Korea as the most dangerous place to live as a Christian—for the 18th year in a row, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan.
Open Doors USA released its “World Watch List” on Wednesday, which lists and ranks the 50 countries that are most hostile toward those who follow Jesus. It estimated that 245 million Christians in those nations faced significant persecution in 2018—an increase of 30 million more than the year prior—with 4,136 of those who professed faith in Christ being murdered during the reporting period, up from 3,066.
A tally of 2,625 Christians were arrested and imprisoned, and 1,266 churches or Christian-operated buildings suffered attacks.
“Open Doors continues to see ominous persecution trends against Christians,” David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, said in a statement. “The distressing impact of billions of people living in an environment in which the government oppresses freedom of religion is unraveling day by day as millions of Christians are being attacked, imprisoned or killed.”
The organization noted five trends during the reporting period: the mistreatment of Christian women; the rise of persecution in the world’s two most populated countries—China and India; the spread of radical Islam throughout sub-Saharan Africa; the oppression of Christians who grew up in Muslim families; and the enactment of additional laws that adversely affect religious rights.
“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 following Jesus can have painful consequences,” it outlined. “They can be treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against for jobs or even violently attacked.”
While most of the countries in the top 10 struggled with Islamic oppression, topping the list for nearly 20 years is North Korea, an atheistic nation that focuses on the personality of the communist Kim empire.
“For three generations, everything in the country has focused on idolizing the Kim family,” the report outlines. “Christians are seen as hostiles to be eradicated. There was hope that new diplomatic efforts in 2018—including the 2018 Winter Olympics—would mean a lessening of pressure and violence against Christians, but so far that has not been the case. Kim Jong-un has maintained tight control over the populace, and dissent or worshiping anything else is not tolerated.”
Following North Korea is Afghanistan and Somalia.
“Afghanistan is an Islamic state by constitution, which means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials and citizens are hostile toward adherents of any other religion,” the document explains. “This means any expression of any faith other than Islam is simply not permitted to exist. Additionally, to convert to a faith outside Islam is tantamount to treason because it is seen as a betrayal of family, tribe and country.”
“Sharia law and Islam are enshrined in [Somalia’s] country’s constitution, and the persecution of Christians almost always involves violence. Additionally, in many rural areas, Islamic militant groups like al-Shabab are de facto rulers,” it notes.
The other nations in the top 10 are Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran and India.
Open Doors USA, however, notes that despite the continued rise of persecution, there are positive developments to report as persecution decreased in Iraq and Malaysia in 2018, dropping their position on the list to 13 and 42 respectively.
Open Doors USA encourages Christians and their churches to pray for these countries, and includes prayer points for each nation in its report. The full list of 50 countries may be viewed here, and the report with prayer points may be obtained here.
Jesus said in Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy for, behold, your reward is great in Heaven, for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.”
Hebrews 13:3 also exhorts, “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”