For the tenth year in a row, North Korea tops the list as the number one nation where Christians face the most severe persecution, according to the World Watch List recently released by Open Doors USA. Countries with an Islamic majority represent nine of the top 10 nations, and 38 of the top 50. Afghanistan (#2), Saudi Arabia (#3), Somalia (#4), Iran (#5), and the Maldives (#6) “form a bloc where indigenous Christians have almost no freedom to openly worship,” says Open Doors. The remaining countries in the top ten are Uzbekistan (#7), Yemen (#8), Iraq (#9), and Pakistan (#10). This is the first time that Pakistan has received the dubious distinction of being in the top 10 on the World Watch List.
Many Christians around the world are asking how the recent death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il will affect the status of believers in North Korea. “Certainly the situation for believers remains perilous,” says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller, who released the challenging and inspiring book, The Privilege of Persecution, last year. “Please pray with me that the Lord will open up North Korea and there will be religious freedom to worship the One, true God, not the gods of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung.” It’s an extremely tenuous situation since North Korea has built a “bizarre quasi-religion around the founder of the country, Kim Il-Sung. Anyone with ‘another god’ is automatically persecuted,” says Open Doors USA. “The estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in this country must remain deeply underground. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are held in ghastly prison camps.”
Other nations are rising precipitously higher on the World Watch List. Sudan moved up 19 spots to #16, and Nigeria jumped 10 spots to #13. Egypt rose to #15. “While many thought the Arab Spring would bring increased freedom, including religious freedom for minorities, that certainly has not been the case so far,” says Dr. Moeller. In fact, Open Doors USA records that at the end of 2011, “Islamist parties flourished in the November elections [in Egypt], prompting some to speak of an Arab Winter instead of an Arab Spring for Christians.”
Ironically, while China still “has the world’s largest persecuted church of 80 million,” it dropped out of the top 20 and now holds the rank of #21 on the World Watch List. Yet Open Doors notes what could only be a silver lining in view of eternity: persecution is rising in most of these nations because the Church is growing. “We wouldn’t be growing if we didn’t have a price to pay for our witness,” reports an Iranian pastor.
Click here for more information about Open Doors USA and the World Watch List.