The published World Watch List documents the 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution. But what about those countries outside the top 50? Find out more about why countries leave the top 50 and how you can continue to pray for believers in those nations.
Sadly, Christians are persecuted in many more countries than just the 50 on the World Watch List. Overall, this year, 76 countries showed extreme, very high or high levels of Christian persecution – a number that is almost double what it was 30 years ago in 1993, when the World Watch List was established.
Ten years ago, a persecution score of 40 points or more would have put a country into the top 50. Today, every top 50 country has over 60 points.
Nepal and Kuwait (48 and 49 on the World Watch List 2022) have dropped out of the top 50 – not because persecution has decreased there, but because it has increased in other countries. Comoros and Nicaragua joined the list, entering at numbers 42 and 50 respectively.
If you’ve seen previous World Watch Lists, you might remember some of these countries appearing in the top 50 before.
In Kenya, Christianity is the majority religion, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of persecution. Christians with a Muslim background in the northeast and coastal regions live under constant threat of attack – even from their closest relatives. Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab has infiltrated the local population to monitor the activities of Christians in those areas. However, organised crime and corrupt officials are also a serious problem.
In 2015, Islamist terrorists attacked Garissa University in Kenya, leaving 148 people dead. Many victims were, like Ronald, Christian students who were singled out by the gunmen.
In Kuwait, persecution of Christians largely focuses on those who’ve left Islam. Converts face discrimination and harassment from their family and community, intimidation from Islamist groups, and even police monitoring. Since conversion from Islam to another faith is not officially recognised, there are likely to be legal problems in personal status and property matters. It’s almost impossible for converts to reveal their new faith, which is why there are hardly any reports of Christians being killed or harmed for their faith.
Tanzania was at number 33 on the World Watch List 2017 – it has remained outside of the top 50 since. Radical groups aim to establish an Islamic state that includes Zanzibar and a significant section of Tanzanian mainland along the coast. In this new Muslim state, there would be no place for Christians or other people with non-Sunni Muslim beliefs.
United Arab Emirates (54)
In 2018, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was number 40 on the World Watch List. While immigrant Christians (mostly migrant workers) enjoy a certain level of tolerance towards their faith, believers from Muslim backgrounds can face persecution if their Christian faith is made known.
Most Christian persecution in Nepal comes from radical Hindu groups who want the country to return to Hinduism. Though the country is no longer an official Hindu state, Christian converts from Hinduism experience significant pressure from their families and communities. If discovered, they might be expelled from their family home or even violently attacked. Christians who are members of indigenous groups might also be subjected to violent forms of persecution.
Djibouti is another country who has fallen significantly in the ranks since 2015, when it reached number 24. Islam is deeply rooted in society and other religions are regarded as alien; radical Islam is also growing. Tribalism in the country is so deeply rooted that any attempt to accept Christianity is viewed as a betrayal of the Islamic faith, the clan and the tribe.
Palestinian Territories (57)
In 2017, the Palestinian Territories reached number 23 on the World Watch List. Thankfully, it dropped to 49 in 2019, and then out of the top 50. Religious nationalism and Islamic oppression are the two main drivers of persecution against Christians, and many believers have fled the region. But there are some Christians – like Elias and his family – who are determined to stay and be a light in their community.
Azerbaijan has fluctuated in the World Watch List over the years and was as high as number 34 in 2016. It was number 50 in 2019, before dropping out of the top 50. No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed. State agents are reported to have infiltrated all religious congregations. Pastors and other church leaders are regularly invited for conversations with the police.
No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed. A law on religion has been drafted (but not yet implemented) making the registration of church congregations almost impossible. Indigenous citizens converting to Christianity will experience pressure and occasionally physical violence.
Chad, located in central sub-Saharan Africa, is affected by the Islamic militant violence spreading from both West and East Africa – its neighbouring countries include Niger (28), Nigeria (6), Cameroon (45), Central African Republic (24) and Sudan (10). Open Doors is supporting believers there with practical aid and spiritual care.
Aisha (name changed) is a believer from a Muslim background who fled from her village in Chad with her son after she became a Christian. Open Doors is supporting them with food aid, and a microloan to start a small business.
“I depend on God because in following Jesus, I can have it all,” Aisha says. “Material things are nothing. When I read Matthew 5 where Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of God is theirs, it comforts me. I know that the afflicted will be comforted. And then the suffering of Job also encourages me. If Job suffered, so I say, why not me? After the suffering of Job, I know that one day, I also will be set free.”
Please continue to hold persecuted believers from these countries in your prayers.
When a country falls outside of the top 50, it doesn’t mean that Christians are no longer facing persecution or that they no longer need any more help – or that it won’t be in the top 50 again. It also doesn’t mean that Open Doors partners no longer support believers there. Although a country may receive less attention globally than when it’s in the top 50, your prayers and gifts mean that Open Doors continues to be a faithful presence for believers and churches, strengthening them and upholding them in their walk with Jesus.
Lord Jesus, thank You that You see, comfort and strengthen our persecuted church family all over the world. Help our brothers and sisters in countries outside the top 50 to continue to shine as lights in their communities and establish Your kingdom in their nations. Help us, their global church family, not to forget them in our prayers. May You continue to provide for them in every circumstance. Amen.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.