“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. … If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” —John 15:18-20
Every year since 1992, the international organization Open Doors publishes the World Watch List (WWL), a list of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
Open Doors, an organization founded by Andrew van der Bijl—better known as Brother Andrew—operates in more than 60 countries, supporting Christians persecuted for their faith. The annual report aims to bring to light the plight of millions of Christians around the world, and to help believers pray in an informed way for our persecuted brothers and sisters.
In the 2022 report, for the second year in a row, all nations on the list scored high enough to register “very high” levels of persecution according to the indicators developed by Open Doors.
Christians are persecuted around the world for a wide variety of reasons, which are often related to political and religious motivations. Christians may be seen as traitors, either of their political system and its ideology, the religion of their families, or the traditions and beliefs of their ancestors and their communities.
In most of the countries in the WWL, the monitoring of Christians has been sharply increasing in recent years. In some places, church attendance is strictly prohibited; in others, it is rigorously regulated.
Thousands of churches are violently attacked or closed down every year, the report states. In some countries, even small groups or home churches can be targeted. Open Doors’ report describes how in some areas, it is even illegal for parents to take their underaged children to church.
Since 1992, when the list was first published, North Korea has always occupied one of the top places due to the high level of persecution suffered by Christians in that country. In the 2021 edition, it topped the list for the 19th consecutive year.
North Korea has been ruled by a communist government since the end of World War II, and human rights violations in the country have been widely documented. This country ranks at the “extreme” level of persecution because, according to the Open Doors report, being discovered as a follower of Jesus poses an “immediate risk of imprisonment, brutal torture or death.”
In 2022, however, the WWL has a new first place. On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took control over Afghanistan. With the departure of the last U.S. troops and democratic government representatives that had ruled the country since 2001, came an end to the short-lived religious freedom in the country.
With the Taliban takeover, the country has become the place where Christians are most severely persecuted for their faith. According to the Open Doors report, it is currently impossible to publicly identify as a Christian. The Taliban have extreme Islamic beliefs, so they see Christians as infidels and traitors to Allah, and if they do not flee the country, they risk almost certain death.
The Taliban believe it is their mission to enforce and preserve Islamic rules and customs, the report states, and Christian converts must choose between obeying them or accepting the deadly consequences.
Leaving Islam is considered shameful in this country, and Christian converts face serious consequences if their new faith is discovered. Believers are seen as traitors to their families, their religion and their country, and even the slightest suspicion of conversion can lead to harassment, threats, punishments of various kinds, and even death, according to the report.
How You Can Pray for the Persecuted Church
Open Doors hopes that the WWL will help Christians be united, reminding us that “If one member suffers, the others share in his suffering; and if one member is honored, the others rejoice with him” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Here are a few ideas on how to pray specifically for the persecuted church in these countries:
- That persecutors’ eyes will be opened to see the glory of Christ, repent and be saved.
- For the basic necessities of our brothers and sisters to be met. Pray for their safety and for peace in areas of conflict.
- For Christians to remain faithful in the midst of persecution and continue to share their faith.
- For the Lord to send more workers to the fields (Matthew 9:38).
- For their faith to be strengthened and for them to keep their eyes on Jesus. May they have the faith of the Apostles when they “… left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]” (Acts 5:41).