“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” —2 Timothy 3:12
Christians have always been persecuted.
Jesus himself said this would happen: “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).
Since 1992, Open Doors has measured the levels of persecution of Christians around the world and published those results in the World Watch List (WWL)—a list of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live the Christian faith.
Open Doors invites us to analyze the results of this report in light of the Scriptures: “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).
In the most recent report, published January 2022, three Spanish-speaking countries were included on the list: Colombia (position 30), Cuba (position 37) and Mexico (position 43).
For the first time since the WWL began, the first place is not occupied by North Korea, which for 20 years was the most dangerous place to follow Christ. Ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, this country has become the place where Christians are most harshly persecuted for their faith.
Even though the three Latin American countries in the list occupy relatively lower positions, all three countries registered “very high” levels of persecution according to the Open Doors index—despite being majority Christian nations. Different political and socioeconomic causes have made religious persecution a matter of concern within them.
Colombia remained 30th on the list, the same position in which it ranked in 2021. Persecution of Christians in this country is mainly linked to guerrilla groups, criminal gangs and the beliefs of some indigenous groups.
“Guerrilla groups threaten, harass, extort and even murder church leaders because they denounce corruption, defend human rights and oppose drug cartels. … These forms of persecution are particularly prevalent in rural and remote areas of Colombia,” explains the Open Doors report.
Indigenous communities in the country also persecute members who convert to Christianity, viewing it as a betrayal of their ancestral beliefs.
“These Christians face imprisonment, harassment and physical abuse,” and in many cases are denied basic rights such as the use of territory and resources allocated to their communities. In some cases, Christian converts are even displaced or pushed “to perform forced labor in other territories.”
Ruled by the Communist Party since 1959, Cuba has historically limited religious freedom in the country due to an ideology based on socialism and atheism.
The government responds harshly against voices that are considered opponents of the regime. If church leaders speak publicly in terms that contradict the ideology of the regime, they are often arrested, subjected to interrogation and even imprisoned. Many Christians have denounced the physical and psychological abuse they have faced in prison using different media, but government control has limited public visibility of these denunciations.
Persecution on this Caribbean Island has increased in recent years. In Open Doors’ 2020 report, Cuba ranked 61st. By 2021, it had climbed to 51st and by January of this year, it ranked 37th.
“New churches are often denied registration … forcing many churches to operate illegally. This leads to the imposition of penalties such as large fines, confiscation of property or even the demolition or closure of churches, including house churches,” the report states.
Mexico is part of the WWL for two reasons. For decades criminal groups have been fighting for territorial control in the country, and the instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the situation.
Christians are often perceived as enemies of criminal operations, and because they also oppose the use of violence, drugs and alcohol, they have become a target of persecution by the criminal organizations.
Christian faith and morals are a threat to the interests of drug cartels, who forcefully recruit young men to indoctrinate them into these groups. Those who resist face threats and even death.
Rural indigenous communities constitute another hub of persecution of Christians. Similar to what happens in Colombia, anyone who deviates from traditional indigenous religious beliefs can face attacks, punishment, fines, imprisonment and even forced displacement.
Also, Christian girls and young women may be forced to marry non-Christian indigenous men in an attempt to pressure them to renounce their faith.
The Main Objective: Informed Prayer
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 aim of the annual report is to help believers pray in an informed way for persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and to show them and the world that the Church of Christ is one body; if they suffer, we all suffer together.
Here are a few ideas on how to pray specifically for the persecuted church in these countries:
- Pray that persecutors’ eyes will be opened to see the glory of Christ, repent and be saved.
- Pray for the basic necessities of our brothers and sisters to be met. Pray for their safety and for peace in areas of conflict.
- Pray for church unity among different denominations and for Christians to remain faithful in the midst of persecution and continue to share their faith.