Every year, Open Doors compiles a list of the top 50 most dangerous countries for Christian believers. The release of its 2018 report highlights not only the growing dangers for Christians in Asia, the Middle East and Africa but also showcases dangers that could hinder the spread of Christianity in nations where millions of people still do not fully understand who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
It is no surprise that North Korea tops the list again this year. The country has, in fact, been listed as the most repressive regime in the world for the last sixteen years. However, one surprise is that Afghanistan is a very close second.
As Open Doors USA CEO David Curry notes, there is very little difference between these two countries in spite of the fact that the United States and other Western nations have invested heavily in rebuilding Afghanistan after the war against the Taliban. In fact, the treatment of Christians in Afghanistan has worsened since the United States invaded the country, as is evidenced by the fact that Afghanistan was ranked in sixth place on Open Doors’ World Watch List in 2010, far behind North Korea and even other Muslim nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
Afghanistan is not the only country where increased persecution immediately follows war and civil unrest and relative peace and freedom for Christians follows nationwide stability and peace. Iraq’s religious freedom’s for Christians have improved slightly as the country went from seventh place on last year’s World Wide Watch List to eight place on this year’s list. Syria dropped off the top ten list thanks in large part to the fact that most of ISIS’ armies have been defeated in the country.
Unfortunately, there is a high chance that persecution may increase thanks to the fact that Turkey is invading Northern Syria in an effort to combat the Kurdish forces that have control there. The Kurds have typically granted Christians significantly more religious freedom than most Middle Eastern nations and the fight against Turkey will likely result in the loss of these basic freedoms.
There are not many other surprises on this year’s list. Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Eritrea are all in the top ten list as they were last year. Libya went from eleventh place on last year’s list to seventh place this year as the unrest and fighting that followed in the wake of Qaddafi’s overthrow continue to plague the nation. Christians who were once able to worship in relative peace and safety are now in constant danger as Islamic militants and criminal groups can now persecute Christian believers without fear of punishment or retribution.
Eritrea has also jumped a few places, going from the tenth most repressive country in 2017 to the sixth most repressive country. Unlike most of the other nations on this list, Eritrea is not a Muslim country; in fact, it has been estimated that almost half of the people in the country are Christians. However, it is ruled by a dictatorship that routinely harasses non-registered religious groups, arresting worshippers and torturing them in prison. Even religious groups are not entirely safe as the Eritrean government interferes in their affairs and represses their freedom to worship.
The fact that the nations mentioned above are the top ten most repressive regimes in the world does not mean that other nations rank far behind. India, for example, rose to eleventh place this year as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stokes sectarian tensions, making it dangerous for Christians in villages and small towns throughout India to worship, tell others about Jesus and even engage in charitable activities. It is the only country not in the top ten list where Christians face extreme persecution. Furthermore, Open Doors ranks more countries as having very high persecution of Christians than it did last year.
While the World Wide Watch List and recent statistics paint a bleak picture of Christian persecution, it should not be viewed as a discouraging report but rather as a call to prayer for Christians who are giving their lives to tell others about Jesus in dangerous regimes.
Christian ministries are also calling on believers to pray for those who are coming to faith in Jesus that they will stand strong in their faith in spite of the hardships that come along with their decision to turn to Christ.
~ 1776 Christian