Today, just like in the book of Acts, Christians are persecuted all over the world for following Jesus.
Persecution at a Glance
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christian torture remains an issue for believers throughout the world including the risk of imprisonment, loss of home and assets, physical torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.
Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender.
Every day we receive new reports of Christians who face threats, unjust imprisonment, harassment, beatings and even loss of family because of their faith in Jesus.
Every month, on average:
- 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons
- 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked
- 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned
Every year, we release the World Watch List—a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 27thyear of the Open Doors World Watch List, and it remains the only annual in-depth survey to rank the 50 most difficult countries in which to be a Christian.
According to our research:
- 245 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List. And worldwide, 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution.
- North Korea is ranked #1 for the 18th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians.
- Islamic Oppression fuels Christian persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries.
Major Trends in Christian Persecution
1. The shocking reality of persecution against women
In the 2019 World Watch List reporting period, there were shocking details about the persecution experienced by Christian women. In many places, they experience “double persecution”—one for being a Christian and one for being a woman. Even in the most restricted circumstances, gender-specific persecution is a key means of destroying the minority Christian community. This kind of persecution is difficult to assess because it is complex, violent and hidden—in many cultures where women are specifically targeted, it is difficult if not impossible to report accurate numbers.
2. Islamic oppression continues to impact millions of Christians
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 follow-ing Jesus can have painful consequences. They can be treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against for jobs or even violently attacked
3. The world’s two most-populated countries on the World Watch List
For the first time since the start of the World Watch List, India has entered the top 10. Additionally, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 to 27. Each of these countries is home to more than a billion people, so these trends are distressing. Hindu nationalists in India continue to attack Christians with what seems like no consequences, and in China, the increased power of the government and the rule of Xi Jinping continue to make open worship difficult in some parts of the country.
4. The spread of Isalm across sub-Saharan Africa
While the violent excesses of ISIS and other Islamic militants have mostly disappeared from headlines from the Middle East, their loss of territory there means that fighters have dispersed to a larger number of countries not only in the region but, increasingly, into sub-Saharan Africa. Their radical ideology has inspired or infiltrated, numerous splinter groups such as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a deadly group that broke away from Nigeria’s Boko Haram that also enslaves Christian women and girls as an integral part of their strategy.
5. More laws added to control religion
State authoritarianism is increasing in many parts of the world, supported by the ever-spreading availability of personal digital technology, which governments can increasingly track through facial recognition, electronic chips and so on. Places like Vietnam, Myanmar, China and North Korea all saw increases in stricter state control of religious rights.
At Open Doors, we’ve made a commitment to stand with the persecuted—so they can be the light of Christ to their communities.
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with the threat of persecution and equips the Western church to advocate for the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries.
Sovereign God, we worship You and we acknowledge that You know all of those who suffer in Your name.
We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul to see that even though they remain captive, their chains have furthered the gospel, not frustrated it.
May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
God of all comfort, for those who are tortured both in body and mind, give them the grace to endure and to see their suffering as part of following in Christ’s footsteps.
Merciful God, for those asked to pay the ultimate price; who are martyred because of their love for You, may they truly know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.
Father God, for those who are widowed and orphaned may they know the comfort that comes from Your promised presence even when they walk through the valley.
May they be strengthened by Your Spirit, enabling them to rejoice with the psalmist as they proclaim that the Lord will not abandon them in death.
Heavenly Father, we ask that You would make us ever mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world who need us to stand with them as they suffer in Your name.
Teach us what it means to overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony; we pray that we would not love our lives so much as to shrink from death. O Lord, hear our prayer.
– from Release International
We can’t escape or ignore the stories of believers being persecuted for their faith around the world, and neither should we.
But in some cases the extent to which our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer because of their refusal to abandon their faith and submit to the demands of those who attack them seems so great that we lose confidence in our ability to support them.
Despite the intimidating scale of the horrors faced by these believers, we can still do many things to stand up for those who don’t live with the same religious freedom that we have. Campaigning for governments to pursue justice for the victims, standing up for those who are persecuted in our presence and praying for the protection of those whose faith freedoms are severely limited or non-existent are just three of the ways that we can demonstrate our solidarity with them.
Christians who work to keep their faith strong at times when they’re faced with violence or even death are an inspiration to us all. If they can wholly trust in the Lord during such testing times, we can join with them and pray for them to continue to know God’s peace and experience His protection.
We should never think of prayer as being the least we can do. Prayer is powerful, necessary and regularly requested by the very victims we want to help.
Here are three prayers that you can say for persecuted Christians.
O Lord God,
Your Son Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In His resurrection He restores life and peace in all creation.
Comfort, we pray, all victims of intolerance and those oppressed by their fellow humans.
Remember in Your Kingdom those who have died.
Lead the oppressors towards compassion and give hope to the suffering.
Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Please protect our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted for their faith, especially those who are active in sharing the gospel.
Let your peace reign on those regions where your children are not permitted the freedom to live out their faith in safety.
And watch over and encourage those who work to support oppressed believers on the ground, risking their own lives to do so.
You have warned us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be oppressed and abused because of their faith.
We ask that you comfort and give courage to all your children who fall victims to unjust imprisonment, physical harm and intimidation at the hands of their oppressors.
For those who have given their lives in the fight for freedom to openly share and live out their faith, may they be welcomed into your warm embrace.
For those who persecute our brothers and sisters, may their spirits be touched by the incredible faith of those who they attack. And may they turn away from sin and open their hearts to your love.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.