In 2021, the World Watch List saw four new countries join the Top 50 ranking: Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Mexico. The reasons that persecution is getting worse differs in these countries– but, in all of them, it’s getting harder to follow Jesus.
Pastor Genaro (not his real name) and his family moved to a community in Guerrero's mountain range in south-western Mexico two years ago.
The state of Guerrero is the primary producer of opium in Mexico and one of the most dangerous places in the country, because of the drug trafficking business. Drug lords and cartels fiercely oppose anyone who is against what they do – like Pastor Genaro.
A year into his new job, Pastor Genaro received a direct threat from several narco-traffickers operating in the area. They were not happy that several men who had previously worked for the cartels had turned their backs on drinking and drugs in favour of the church.
Genaro was then threatened on numerous occasions – an occupational hazard for someone preaching the good news of Jesus in a region like Guerrero. This sort of threat is one of the main reasons Mexico has shot up the World Watch List this year by 15 places. During the Covid-19 pandemic, gangs’ control over parts of Mexico has strengthened.
But despite the dangers, Pastor Genaro is committed to continue being good news in Mexico.
On New Year’s Eve 2020, at least 25 civilians in a village in North Kivu province were taken from their farms and killed by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which in the past has been linked to so-called Islamic State.
“Most of the people in this area are Christians and the church has suffered horrendous human and property losses in these continuous attacks,” explains a spokesperson for Open Doors work in sub-Sahara Africa. There has been an upsurge in violence in the country since the beginning of last year.
“It has left countless people living in constant displacement and trauma. And as is illustrated by this event, it is extremely dangerous for people to go to their farms, which adds hunger to the already long list of challenges for our brothers and sisters in this area.”
Last year, DRC was outside the top 50, but has risen 17 places. Its sharp rise reflects the extreme violence inflicted on the Christian community of DRC. The violence Christians face in this country is among the worst in the world, and it is only the (relatively) low levels of persecution in other spheres of life that mean DRC isn’t even higher on the World Watch List.
This is the first time that Mozambique has appeared on the World Watch List Top 50. It has jumped 21 places, largely because of the increasing violence faced by believers in more areas of the country. In recent years, attacks by Islamic extremists have claimed the lives of many Christians and radical groups have burned down churches and schools. Tens of thousands of people have fled the northern part of the country.
For instance, in an attack in June 2020 on the town of Mocímboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique, Islamic militants al-Shabaab set fire to a Catholic church, a secondary school, the district hospital and dozens of houses. More than 50 people were killed in a nearby village in April, when young people refused to join the ranks of the jihadis.
This persecution used to be limited to a smaller part of the country, but Mozambique’s army withdrew from important strategic locations in 2020, which meant that persecution has expanded in the past year.
Titus (name changed) comes from a devout Muslim family. He became a Christian after being uncertain about his Muslim faith for years, and seeing the example of two local believers, Ahmed and Abdulla (names changed).
“Barely three days after I decided to follow Christ, my house burned down,” says Titus. “I was only able to rescue my laptop. All I had was the clothes on my back. I felt this was a test of my faith in Christ, but it turned out to be faith-strengthening. Ahmed and Abdulla were the only ones to help me. They gave me clothes, shelter, food and money and helped me get back on my feet again. This really reinforced my decision to follow Christ because He had shown me His true character through my friends.”
In the 1990s, Comoros spent several years in the top 20 of the World Watch List. While the situation has improved a great deal since then, and Comoros is making progress in stability and democracy, there is still a rise in radical Islamic sympathies among the population at large.
This year’s re-entry to top 50 is due to the government’s pressure on all religious groups except Sunni Muslims. The government believes the freedom of religion in the constitution is for foreigners, not for Comorians. That means converts have to hide their faith. The public stance of the government also gives locals a licence to pressure and persecute Christians.
Titus is still keeping his faith secret, because he fears his family’s reaction.
While it may be getting harder to follow Jesus in these countries, God is still at work in and through His church. Your support is vital for believers like Pastor Genaro and Titus, as well as the Christian communities in Mozambique and DRC.
Please keep praying for these courageous Christians, that they would see God’s hand at work in their lives and in their nations.
“…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
Heavenly Father, thank You that You see the suffering of our persecuted church family. Pour out Your Spirit on our brothers and sisters in Mexico, DRC, Mozambique and Comoros today. Help them to be Your hands and feet in their communities, and protect them from harm. May Your kingdom come in these places. Amen.
Order the World Watch List 2021 Top 50 booklet to help you pray for your persecuted family - as well as discovering testimonies, trends, articles and a map of worldwide persecution.
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