Annual World Watch List Highlights How Pandemic Exposed Christian Persecution ‘in a New Way’

SANTA ANA, Calif. The annual World Watch List released by the watchdog Open Doors USA shows that the COVID-19 pandemic presented another avenue for those hostile to Christianity in Asia and Africa to persecute believers. It also finds that an estimated one in eight Christians worldwide suffers for their faith.

“The coronavirus pandemic was the event of a generation. And in addition to the pain felt by people all over the world, it also exposed the ugliness of Christian persecution in a new way,” the report reads.

Open Doors USA outlines that it distributed relief aid to more than 100,000 Christians in 2020, of whom “80 percent reported to World Watch List researchers that they were dismissed from food distribution points” run by others and “[s]ome walked miles and hid their Christian identity to get food elsewhere.”

The stories were similar in Nepal, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, and other countries on the Asian and African continents, as Christians there were likewise sent away when they stood in line to obtain rations.

“Sometimes, this denial was at the hands of government officials, but more often, it was from village heads, committees or other local leaders. Some Christians even reported that their food ration cards were torn up or waved away,” the report states.

In southern Kaduna, Nigeria, several families told Open Doors that while they were allowed aid, they only received one-sixth of that which was given to Muslim families.

Christians faced hardship in other ways as well, as “most converts from majority faiths said confinement due to a COVID-19 quarantine locked them in with those most antagonistic to their faith in Jesus.”

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“This especially affected minority women and children,” the report outlines, which notes that kidnapping and forced marriage was also reported as being on the rise during the pandemic due to the increased vulnerability of young women and girls.

As previously reported, Open Doors USA annually lists and ranks the 50 countries that are most hostile toward those who follow Jesus. It estimates, based on its research over the past year, that 309 million Christians in those nations face significant persecution, with 4,761 of those who professed faith in Christ being murdered during the reporting period. Many of those killed lived in Nigeria.

The figures demonstrate that persecution remains on the rise around the world, along with the fact that all 50 countries were marked as having at least “very high” levels of persecution, with the top 12 being characterized as suffering “extreme” persecution.

As in previous years, North Korea was ranked the most dangerous place to live as a a Christian, where an estimated 1.5 percent (400,00) of the 25.8 million inhabitants of the country follow Jesus.

“Being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence in North Korea. If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be taken to a labor camp as a political criminal. These inhumane prisons have horrific conditions, and few believers make it out alive. Everyone in your family will share the same punishment,” the report outlines.

An estimated 50,000 to 700,000 Christians are believed to be currently imprisoned in labor camps.

Not far behind is Afghanistan, where “living openly as a Christian is impossible.”

“Essentially, converts have two options: flee the country or risk being killed. If their family discovers their conversion, the family, clan or tribe must save its ‘honor’ by disowning the believer, or even killing them,” the report states. “Christians from a Muslim background can also be sent to a psychiatric hospital, because leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity.”

Somalia is number three on the list, where Open Doors USA estimates that there are merely “hundreds” of Christians living in the predominantly Muslim country of 16 million.

“Just being suspected of converting to Christianity is a death warrant. Members of a believer’s family, clan or community will harass, intimidate or even kill them,” the report explains. “Female converts are at high risk for rape and forced marriage. And if a  Christian man is killed or abducted, he leaves his whole family unprotected and ‘marked’ by his conversion.”

In Libya, it is illegal to share one’s faith publicly and those who turn to Christ face pressure to return to Islam. In Pakistan, Christians are considered second class citizens and often have to work dirty jobs such as sanitation work. Speaking against Islam can land one in prison on blasphemy charges.

The remaining top ten places where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, according to the 2021 World Watch List, are Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria and India. Open Doors USA notes that China significantly moved up the list from the year prior to the #17 spot, using technology to increase surveillance on believers.

Read this year’s World Watch List in full here.

The organization is urging Christians to download its prayer app so that they can stay up-to-date on persecution stories worldwide and keep each instance in their prayers. The World Watch List also has prayer points under each country so that readers can know how to specifically pray for that nation.

President David Curry says that while the World Watch List is, in a sense, about oppression, it also showcases the resilience of the Body of Christ.

“The numbers of God’s people who are suffering should mean the Church is dying — that Christians are keeping quiet, losing their faith and turning away from one another. But that’s not what’s happening,” he states. “Instead, in living color, we see the words of God recorded in the prophet Isaiah: ‘I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert’ (Isaiah 43:19).”

“When our sisters and brothers are persecuted for their faith, and they still choose Jesus, the Living Water — this is a miracle in front of our eyes.”

Hebrews 13:3 reads, “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

2 Timothy 3:12 promises, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”


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