Simply being a Christian in some countries & regions is extremely dangerous. It’s a subject that few are even aware of (thanks to most of the news media)…or even worse, they’re indifferent to. If you’re unaware, then this week brings needed attention with the annual recognition of International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 5-12). But If you’re indifferent, then hopefully you can now be motivated to at least pray.
Persecution is on the rise. Millions of Christians aren’t free to attend church or openly practice their faith. They face harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, violence, and death. Every March, Open Doors USA releases a report of the 50 states most likely to punish Christians. The latest report again confirms that Christianity is the most persecuted religion, with 360 million Christians last year living in countries where persecution was “significant.” About 5,600 were murdered, more than 6,000 imprisoned or detained, & 4,000-plus kidnapped. More than 5,000 churches & other religious facilities were destroyed. “Extreme persecution” took place in 11 countries.
Afghanistan was on top of the list where those leaving Islam to convert to Christianity face dire consequences if discovered. They either have to flee or be killed. Communist North Korea was second on the list. Very little detail is known about Christians there, but defectors have shed some light on how anyone caught following Jesus faces immediate risk of imprisonment, brutal torture & death.
Other nations on the list include Somalia where Christians are viewed as high-value targets by Islamic radical groups. Even if they’re not targeted, they still face intense pressures from family & community. Libya is on the list, where Christian converts face similar pressure to renounce their faith. They can be ostracized, left homeless & jobless. In Eritrea, despite almost half the population identifying as Christian, believers suffer extreme persecution. Gatherings are raided & believers arrested, with inhumane prison conditions.
The recent report from the non-profit International Christian Concern (ICC) highlights the 10 worst countries for Christian persecution: Nigeria, North Korea, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, Eritrea, Algeria, Indonesia, & Azerbaijan. These are countries where persecution is promoted mostly by the state rather than by cultural biases.
For example, in Nigeria between March 4 & July 6, more than 500 Christians were murdered in 55 separate attacks. Thousands of others had their property destroyed. Nearly half of Nigeria is Christian, yet they receive little government protection from brutal violence, and must live under the constant threat of attack. Radical Islamist terrorist & criminal groups attack religious minorities with weekly occurrences of kidnapping & torture. Another example is a Catholic seminarian who was burned alive during a kidnapping attempt on Sept. 7 when extremists set the buildings of a Catholic parish on fire. This kind of thing has been going on for 20 years there while the Nigerian government turns a blind eye.
Yet a few months earlier, the U.S. State Department inexplicably removed Nigeria’s “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” designation which is assigned to countries that engage in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” In May, the State Department released its annual report on International Religious Freedom (IRF) which noted that some countries showed improvement in religious freedom in 2022, including Brazil and the Central African Republic. But actually the global trend is the opposite. For example, the IRF report raised deep concern about the government of Iran routinely punishing protestors on charges of spreading “anti-Islamic propaganda.” Such prisoners were given amputation, flogging, solitary confinement, and execution.
India is notable for intensifying private (non-state) violence against non-Hindus. Riyadh in Saudi Arabia continues to formally ban Christianity so that converts are forced to live in secrecy. Foreign Christian visitors & workers can be targeted & restricted from evangelism or gathering for worship.
The incidents are shocking, but shouldn’t really be surprising because this has been the lot for Christians from the beginning. Jesus not only told us to expect it, He endured it personally. In what is now the area of Turkey, the Apostle Paul was nearly (or maybe completely) stoned to death, then rose up, & went on to the next town to preach the gospel again. He & Barnabas went around to the area churches, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Look around–things have gotten pretty bad very quickly. What are the marks of satanic dominion? Deception, wickedness & persecution. Genuine Christianity here in the West is rapidly declining–practically dead in Europe; near death in Canada; & degenerating in America. You might think it can’t get any worse than it is now–but history shows it can! The US isn’t North Korea or Nigeria, but we do seem to be descending into more dictatorial attitudes with restrictions, censorship, discrimination, & intolerance for dissent. The signs of repression are there; the cracks are showing. Will we have the courage to stand as our persecuted brothers & sisters have done & are currently doing?
Don’t take for granted your freedom to attend church & share your faith. This Sunday we’ll be praying for our oppressed & suffering spiritual siblings–for protection, perseverance, boldness, & that the hearts of their oppressors will be turned. You can keep informed about cases of persecution every week through an email subscription at icommittopray.com.