2016 was a year of memorable and sometimes troubling headlines. However, at the start of this new year, Emily Fuentes of Open Doors USA talks about one headline that is not covered by the mainstream media.
The headline highlights their 2017 World Watch List: a ranking the 50 hardest places in the world to be a Christian.
According to Fuentes, “Persecution is increasing overall throughout the world. We’re seeing it particularly in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.”
This is the third consecutive year that persecution has noticeably risen, making for a worrying trend, and the increase in violence by radical Islamists was one of the largest contributing factors.
Back in 2013, Christians living in “failed states” – countries in which “social and political structures have collapsed to the point where the government has little or no control” – experienced very high levels of persecution. The collapse of infrastructure in these nations resulted in increased pressure on believers.
Then, 2014 brought “historic levels” of persecution on the Christian community. Africa saw the fastest growth, with three nations moving into the top 10 for the first time: Sudan, Eritrea, and Nigeria. ISIL attacks in the Middle East also triggered a mass exodus of Christian refugees.
The upwards trend continued in 2015, with persecution exceeding even the historic levels of 2014. Christian oppression rose on every continent, and Islamic extremism continued to be the primary driving force behind the rise of persecution.
However, as Fuentes observed, “Even though persecution is horrific in places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, there’s no country that quite has the restrictions, violence, or targeting of Christians like North Korea.”
It’s no surprise that North Korea will again top the World Watch List in 2017, and Fuentes said that 2016 was the nation’s 14th year as the world’s top persecutor of Christians.
In November, human rights advocates discovered a new political labour camp near Pyongyang. Christians are often sent to camps like these when their faith is discovered, and the conditions are equivalent to the Holocaust’s death camps.
The 2017 World Watch List isn’t just a handy set of facts, it’s a starting point for action. As Fuentes said, “The number one thing is to be praying for the countries on the World Watch List.”
- Pray for Christians living in these hard places, where they face persecution, harassment and oppression on a daily basis.
- Pray especially for Christians in North Korea, across the Middle East and Africa, where they face ever growing levels of persecution. Pray for strength and endurance of faith and for opportunities of encouragement by other believers.
- Pray for those in prison, especially in harsh labour camps of North Korea. Pray for the presence, comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit to surround and fill them, and for protection over their families.
- Pray for the continued growth of the Church in these countries on the World Watch List, as believers shine the light of the Gospel into their communities, knowing that they have a treasure worth more than anything in their faith in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 6 vs 18: “ Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.“