This year’s Open Doors World Watch List contains some significant changes – one of the most notable being that Afghanistan is number one on the list for the first time, despite levels of persecution in North Korea (previously number one for 20 consecutive years) continuing to rise. We’ve listed some of the key changes to this year’s list – why not ask God to place a country from this list on your heart to pray for throughout 2022?
Myanmar has risen six places in this year's list - Christian persecution, which was already severe, has worsened because of the military coup
Sadly, one of the many trends this year is that, on the whole, levels of persecution against Christians are continuing to rise. Below are some countries that have risen significantly in this year’s World Watch List:
For the first time, Afghanistan is number one on the Open Doors World Watch List. It had previously been number two, and rose because of an increase in violence after the Taliban took over the country in 2021.
Yemen (5) and Nigeria (7)
Both countries continue to move up the top 10 list. Yemen was number nine only a few years ago, and Nigeria only entered the top 10 last year.
In Yemen, the increase in score is largely due to a higher number of reported incidents of violence against Christians. In Nigeria, Christians continue to be attacked indiscriminately and brutally, especially in the north. The violence has continued unabated – one of the only places in the world where Covid-19 travel restrictions and lockdowns have had little impact on attacks against Christians. Attacks have also spread south, despite these regions being Christian-majority.
“The military coup is going to be like North Korea... I have big concern for our future generations”Believer in Myanmar
Myanmar is one of the big rises in the latest World Watch List, jumping six places to number 12. The persecution facing Christians in the country was already severe. This has worsened following the military coup – and it may yet get worse. “The military coup is going to be like North Korea,” says one believer. “I have big concern for our future generations.”
Persecution has increased considerably in Indonesia, which is one of the biggest risers – jumping 19 places on the World Watch List. The main cause is an increase in violence, including several bomb attacks.
The country has risen eight spots in this year's World Watch List. This is largely down to the government intensifying its monitoring of Christians, especially those who’ve converted from Islam, and cracking down on evangelistic activities. Several Christians have been forced to leave the country.
There are some countries who have dropped ranks on this year’s list. In some countries this shows a real answer to prayer – sadly, in others, it’s not necessarily because levels of persecution have decreased:
Tunisia fell nine places on the World Watch List, but this only represents a small drop in persecution. The fall in World Watch List ranking is largely explained by the increase in persecution in other countries – but is also because there was a slight decrease in violence, due to fewer church buildings and properties of Christians being attacked, as well as a decrease in the number of Christians being detained.
Turkey fell 17 places on the World Watch List, praise God. Violence fell significantly, with no Christians killed and fewer churches attacked. On the other hand, pressure increased slightly, with Islamic nationalism on the rise.
While Tajikistan has fallen 12 places in the World Watch List, this is largely because persecution increased in other countries. Pressure remains largely the same in the country, and has slightly increased in public life.
Nepal has dropped 14 places in this year’s World Watch List, from number 34 last year. But life for Nepalese Christians has hardly changed at all. Despite a decrease in violence, pressure in almost every sphere of life went up, showing that daily life remains difficult for Christians, especially converts from Hinduism. Despite some good news – the government allowed some Christian charities to help with Covid-19 relief – the situation remains relatively unchanged for Nepal's believers.
There are two new countries on the World Watch List: Niger and Cuba. While Kenya (49) and Comoros (50) are no longer inside the top 50, please keep our brothers and sisters there in your prayers.
Persecution is getting much worse in Niger, with the country jumping 21 places to re-enter the World Watch List top 50. This is down to a dramatic rise in violence against Christians. In the past five years, the Sahel region has seen a huge increase in violent Islamist attacks and the government of Niger has lost a lot of territory to the jihadists. Since 2020, the country has been experiencing a series of attacks by Islamic militants. The unpredictability of the situation makes Christians vulnerable, reflecting a trend of increasing violence facing Christians across sub-Saharan Africa.
Last year, Cuba was just outside the top 50 countries on the World Watch List (at 51), but this year it has risen 17 places. The continued rise is the result of highly restrictive measures against churches deemed to be opponents of the regime – especially non-registered Protestant churches. The Covid-19 crisis has been used as a pretext to hinder church and community activities, monitor church leaders, make arbitrary arrests, confiscate private property and impose extortion fees. Christian leaders from different denominations were among those arrested during anti-government demonstrations in July.
“I am grateful to God – and to you for standing with us and sharing our burden”Mahesh, Nepal
When we read these statistics, it can be hard to see where God might be at work. But, while we might not see the full impact of our prayers and support, we can trust that Jesus has not abandoned His church – He is alive and active in the witness of our brothers and sisters, and through our prayers, gifts and advocacy on their behalf.
In December 2021, the Supreme Court in Iran ordered the retrial of nine Christian converts serving five-year prison sentences, after ruling that the ‘promotion of Christianity and the formation of a house church is not criminalised in law’. This is welcome news for all Christian prisoners of conscience in Iran because it means that belonging to a house church no longer makes Christians ‘enemies of the state’.
For many impoverished Christian minorities, the Covid-19 pandemic presented oppressors with new opportunities to intensify persecution. Travel restrictions meant pastors couldn’t visit isolated believers. House churches couldn’t meet. Violence and discrimination continued. In some places, Christians were even blamed for causing the pandemic. Converts, put at risk for declaring their faith, could no longer depend on their community for help in the crisis.
But help was at hand. During this challenging time Open Doors partners were able to bring vital emergency aid to 30,000 of the most vulnerable families in sub-Saharan Africa – all of whom faced increased poverty and persecution because of the lockdowns. Isaiah* from Burkina Faso fled his village when Islamist extremists invaded. His family were just about managing until Covid-19 hit. What does social distancing mean when you live in cramped conditions? How do you buy masks and soap when you can’t even afford food? When Open Doors partners delivered three months’ worth of food to Isaiah, it was a lifeline. “We thank God! If we hadn’t received this, it would have been catastrophic.”
In Asia, Open Doors reached 283,000 individuals with food relief and other practical aid last year, 126,000 in India alone. This emergency aid saved lives. It restored hope and confidence and strengthened believers. Mahesh, from Nepal, said: “We had no income nor place to live in the pandemic. We prayed and kept our hope in God. As an answer, we received groceries and help to build a house. I am grateful to God – and to you for standing with us and sharing our burden.”
In the Middle East and North Africa, the pandemic added another layer to the struggle to survive in places like Iran, Iraq and Syria. With the lockdowns, many Christians have lost jobs in countries where few have savings, and state support is non-existent. Open Doors partners were able to provide essential aid to 200,000 vulnerable Christians, of whom 150,000 were in Syria – where the church often shared the aid with their non-Christian neighbours. This prompted a local pastor to observe: “Many non-believing family members of Christians changed their view towards the church during this pandemic. They were amazed to see how the church took care of the needy.”
With every new World Watch List, it’s important to remember that Jesus holds the ultimate victory, and that one day, the world will be set to rights. Please keep praying for our persecuted church family around the world, their persecutors and nations – every prayer and action is like lighting another candle to dispel the darkness.
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