Every year, the release of the Open Doors World Watch List shows that Christian persecution has got worse in some countries – while believers in other countries have seen a change for the better. This year, why not ask God to put a country from the World Watch List on your heart to pray for throughout 2023?
Overall, persecution has intensified against Christians across the world. The number of Christians facing persecution and discrimination has remained approximately the same – 360 million, which is 1 in 7 Christians worldwide – but the level of persecution has worsened. That only happens because the church is growing and active, and Jesus knew it would happen: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20). Let’s keep praying for our brothers and sisters to be resilient, faithful and even joyful in the face of extraordinary risks, dangers and persecution.
Below are some of the countries that have risen on this year’s World Watch List:
North Korea (1)
North Korea is again number one on the World Watch List: the place where Christians face the most persecution for following Jesus. It had been number one since 2002 – last year, even though the nation fell a place, persecution was worse than ever. This year, the persecution score of 98/100 is the highest a country has ever received in 30 years of World Watch List research.
The region that has seen the sharpest increase in persecution is Latin America, with four countries rising substantially. Mexico (38, up five places), Colombia (22, up eight places), Cuba (27, up ten places) have all risen, and Nicaragua (50, up 11 places) is in the top 50 for the first time.
Corrupt and ineffective governments, particularly in the rural areas of Mexico and Colombia, have created space for criminal groups and ethnic leaders to grow in influence and persecution.
In Cuba and Nicaragua, repressive governments are intensifying efforts to suppress those they deem opponents to their rule. In Nicaragua, especially, the silencing of Christians has become increasingly apparent, with churches that speak out against injustice and human rights violations by the government viewed as troublemakers.
Along with Nicaragua, the other country entering the top 50 is Comoros – which has risen 11 places on the World Watch List. The nation has seen a rise in incidents of violence, and increased pressure from government and in local communities.
Violence against Christians in sub-Saharan Africa has hit new heights as jihadists seek to make Africa the first Islamic continent. This is already having catastrophic consequences for the church.
Countries in this region which have risen on the World Watch List include Nigeria (6, up one place) Mali (17, up seven places), Burkina Faso (23, up nine places), Central African Republic (23, up seven places), Niger (28, up five places), Mozambique (32, up nine places) and Democratic Republic of Congo (37, up three places). The trend of Islamic militant violence in sub-Saharan Africa has been seen over several years, and continues to worsen.
Sudan was one of the good news stories a couple of years ago, with steps taken towards religious freedom including the end of apostasy laws. Sadly, though, Sudan has re-entered the top ten on the World Watch List after dropping out from 2020-2022.
In October 2021, the military effectively conducted a coup that ended the power-sharing agreement with the civilian members of the transitional government. In August 2022, the government established a community police which resembles the disbanded morality police. Power is now firmly held in the hands of the military. Many believe that Sudan will return to the authoritarian years of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir; this could undo the positive steps made towards religious freedom under the transitional government. In general, persecution of Christians has intensified, both in terms of violence and in the pressures they face.
Syria has risen three places on the World Watch List mainly because of an increase in violence. Last year, three Christians were killed because of their faith and at least five were kidnapped. Dozens of churches, monasteries, Christian cemeteries and other buildings vital to the Christian community were attacked, damaged or looted in the west and northeast of the country, mostly due to intense shelling by Turkish forces, or by criminals.
There are a number of countries which have dropped in the ranks on this year’s World Watch List. In some countries this shows a real answer to prayer – sadly, in others, it’s not necessarily because levels of persecution have decreased.
Afghanistan was number one on the World Watch List 2022, and has fallen eight places. This is largely because, in the past year, the Taliban has turned their attention to consolidating power and have not been explicitly targeting non-Muslims. This means there have been fewer violent incidents against Christians that can be clearly linked to their faith. In this complex situation, persecution is affecting almost everyone in many different ways. Sadly, life has not become easier for the small number of Christians who remain in Afghanistan – but it’s harder to clearly associate the persecution they experience with their faith.
Qatar fell 16 places on the World Watch list, from number 18. The country has seen a reduction in opposition towards Christians, which is largely due to no churches being closed in 2022. This may be linked to the FIFA World Cup and the spotlight it put on the country’s human rights record – and it was also a time when many Christians around the world, including Open Doors supporters, were faithfully praying for our Qatari brothers and sisters.
That said, a significant number of churches closed during the pandemic have not been allowed to reopen, and pressure on Christians – especially converts from Islam to Christianity – remains at an extremely high level. Our church family in Qatar still need our prayers.
Egypt has dropped 15 places on the World Watch List, mainly because there have been fewer reports of violence against Christians, including fewer faith-based killings and instances of properties being attacked. While violence against Christians remains high, this is still an encouraging answer to prayer – and we can join in praying that this trend continues.
Sri Lanka (62)
A couple of years ago, Sri Lanka was at number 30 on the World Watch List – because of the Easter church bombings in which more than 250 people were killed. The nation has continued to fall down the World Watch List, and is now outside of the top 50 at number 62. This is an encouraging answer to the prayers of Sri Lankan believers and those who support them.
Every prayer counts
There were smaller drops in position on the World Watch List, and persecution score, for Libya (5), Saudi Arabia (13), Iraq (18), Vietnam (25), Laos (31), Oman (47) and Jordan (49). While these numbers aren’t enormous, each change for the better represents answers to prayer – and Christians who were able to follow Jesus a little more freely than the previous year. We join with believers from these nations in praising God for these changes.
Despite persecution, God is still in control – and more and more people are choosing to follow Him. Even in countries where persecution is rife, people are coming to faith and taking extraordinary risks to be Christians. We know that churches that actively share the gospel are often targets for attack and discrimination, but that God has the ultimate victory, and He says, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Father God, thank You for loving all Your children so deeply and eternally. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn – giving thanks for countries where persecution has eased, and asking for Your help and strength for Christians facing worsening situations. Speak Your words of love to these courageous believers, we pray. Amen.
You can order your free World Watch List Top 50 booklet to get detailed information about the 50 countries, inspiring testimonies and stories from the persecuted church, and prayers to help you stand with your risk-taking church family.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.