The Open Doors World Watch List ranks the countries where Christians face the most persecution. It started with a simple questionnaire in 1993, and ever since has demonstrated the scale and scope of Christian persecution, informed Open Doors’ work and helped Open Doors supporters pray for our persecuted Christian family.
Open Doors’ initial priorities had focused on smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, into communist Eastern Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the ministry was able to expand – and more funds and resources were released to use elsewhere.
In 1991, a team were tasked with researching Christian persecution in the countries where Open Doors was active, and also in other countries to see if Open Doors should expand our work to support different groups of people.
“I wanted to develop a scientific and as objective as possible method to obtain hard data on the number of persecuted Christians and the extent of persecution, and to map this on a global level,” says Wybo Nicolai, an Open Doors researcher. “This could help us make much better decisions.”
A simple questionnaire was designed to assess persecution levels in the world, leading to the production of the first World Watch List in January 1993.
Initially, the list was not made public; it was primarily used by Open Doors to direct their work. But towards the end of the 1990s the decision was made to make the World Watch List public – a turning point for Open Doors and everyone who supports its ministry. “The list turned out to be a fantastic tool for raising awareness and prayer from our supporters,” says Nicolai. “From then on, Open Doors wanted to give the supporters a complete picture of the persecuted church. I firmly believe in prayer. The World Watch List is a wonderful incentive for that!”
The World Watch List has revealed the complexity of persecution, and continues to show the different ways in which Christians face persecution and discrimination for their faith. This includes how multiple factors can drive hostility, how persecution affects believers in different ways, and how it can be subtle as well as violent. This has sometimes been described as ‘squeeze’ and ‘smash’ – the smash of violent attacks, alongside the squeeze of suffocating restrictions making life much more difficult for Christians across family, national, community, church and private life.
The outcomes since that first World Watch List 30 years ago have been a crucial factor in changing the work of Open Doors for and with persecuted Christians in communist countries, and later Islamic countries. It has made a difference in how we support persecuted Christians in any country in the world where needed, regardless of the source of persecution.
"I firmly believe in prayer. The World Watch List is a wonderful incentive for that!" Wybo Nicolai
Beyond the effects of Islamic militant violence and communism, the World Watch List revealed persecution of Christians in majority Buddhist and Hindu countries, like Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. These are all countries where Open Doors partners are now actively working to support persecuted Christian communities.
In short, the World Watch List contributes to Open Doors’ mission of ensuring that no one suffers persecution alone, by standing with them and amplifying their voices in many places, and on many platforms. Persecution often comes with isolation, and it means so much to our brothers and sisters to know that their experiences don’t go unnoticed by their global family. The World Watch List, and response to it, has really shown the truth of 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
In short, persecution is getting worse – and yet, praise God, the church is growing. “In our time, the gospel has reached almost all countries,” says Nicolai. “Then, according to the Bible, the hatred of all nations will be directed against Christians: persecution is no longer regional or national, but global. We should not think that we can solve persecution with the list. We can, however, help persecuted Christians to stand strong to proclaim the testimony of Jesus.”
"We can help persecuted Christians to stand strong to proclaim the testimony of Jesus." Wybo Nicolai
Opposition has intensified in many Asian countries owing to a rise in authoritarianism and Islamic expression – and surveillance in some countries, particularly China and India, has intensified with the advent of the internet and other means of monitoring believers.
Persecution has worsened in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly due to the rise of Islamic militant violence. This continues to spread further across the continent, and the latest World Watch List bears this out, with violence against Christians hitting new heights. “We are now seeing persecution in areas that used to appear stable and Christian, such as in the Sahel, West Africa and Mozambique,” says Nicolai. “You see much more physical violence, also against women and children.
“At the same time, God continues with His work. In the West, Christianity is on the decline, but in Asia and Africa the church is growing enormously. That is tremendously encouraging, hopeful and spiritually enriching. That side of the story makes me very happy.”
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.