The Open Doors World Watch List for 2014 was released yesterday, with the troubling news that twice as many Christians died for their faith in 2013 than in 2012. The majority of these deaths happened in Syria, where more Christians were killed in 2013 than in the world in the previous year.
The World Watch List is a yearly report of the worst places of persecution around the world. Ron Boyd-MacMillan, the Chief Strategy Officer of Open Doors told Eternity, “The World Watch List is more than a set of numbers … it must also be seen as a human document, reflecting millions of sad and also amazing stories of fear and faith.”
For the 12th year in a row, North Korea retained the dubious honour of being number one as the most dangerous country in the world to be a practising Christian. It is reported that 50,000 to 70,000 are in prison camps because of Christian belief.
The World Watch List also underlines the role of Islamic extremism in Christian persecution; it’s a central factor in 36 of the top 50 listed countries.
A World Watch List persecution analyst for the area said, “Polarisation is increasing across the Middle East, and Islam is getting even more radicalised, with the civil war in Syria giving the jihadists a new impetus.”
Syria was listed at number three on the list, due to atrocities against the historic Christian community, including massacres and destruction in historic Christian towns.
Despite the persecution, Open Doors also spoke of pastors reporting unprecedented growth and a remarkable unity within the Syrian church, despite the deteriorating situation and danger.
An anonymous pastor from Aleppo in Syria has said, “We cannot say now what is fully going on, but I am sure if I live long that twenty years later I will be telling my children and grandchildren of the time of the ‘great- gathering in’ that is happening now.”
In other places too, it was not all bad news. In terms of placements on the list, this year Mali made the most improvement, dropping to #33 from #7. Also, Tanzania dropped to #49 from #24 in 2013. Uganda, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan dropped out of the top 50 placings completely.
The World Watch List is the only one of its kind that raises awareness of and tracks trends in persecution. This awareness has gradually trickled into the worldwide consciousness, as even Prince Charles has discussed the growing problems faced by Christians in the Middle East.
At the London Cathedral of the Syriac Orthodox Church, he was quoted as saying: “For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so – and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution – including to Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time.”
While such a list can be overwhelming because of the complexity and size of the persecuted church, an Open Doors spokesperson said, “It’s important to remember that the 50 countries on the World Watch List represent millions of Christians – and each one of these Christians is an individual with their own personal relationship with God, just like you and I.”
For more about the 2014 World Watch List and for prayer resources, go to www.worldwatchlist.org.au.More