Pray for – and be inspired by – our suffering Christian family

With persecution of Christians worsening in nations high on the World Watch List, Open Doors is calling on Australians to pray for and take inspiration from the example of our brothers and sisters who are willing to pay the cost of being faithful followers of Jesus.

“For so many people, God is Plan A and there is no Plan B,” notes Open Doors Australia’s interim CEO, Adam Holland.

In the 2023 World Watch List released on Wednesday, January 18, Afghanistan fell from its No 1 position last year – not because the situation of Christians under the Taliban had eased but because persecution has increased elsewhere.

More than more than 360 million Christians around the world – or one in seven Christians worldwide – face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith.

North Korea returned to the top of the rankings as a result of a new “anti-reactionary thought law”, which has pushed persecution to its highest levels ever

“The trend, sadly, is where it’s bad, it’s getting worse.” – Adam Holland

“I had expected Afghanistan to be No 1 again, because you think of how shocking it is for Christians living under Taliban rule. It’s terrible – it’s a genuinely desperate situation,” Holland commented.

“But the fact is that as bad as it is, other countries have increased – the trend, sadly, is where it’s bad, it’s getting worse. And where there’s high levels of persecution, the number of Christians experiencing that is increasing.”

North Korean Christians pray.

Holland noted that while it’s tempting to turn a blind eye towards this suffering and not engage with it because it’s too depressing or confronting, we should be encouraged by the example of people living their lives in ways that honour God despite the dangers they face.

“I have the luxury – or the risk – of having plan B, C, D, E all the way to Zed, and that can shift me away from a childlike posture of trusting God and saying am I living in your will? Am I trusting you? Am I following you with all that I am as a husband, as a dad, as an employee, as someone in the community?

“I found that convicting because, if I’m honest with myself, God is not always my Plan A. That’s really honest and raw, but it’s true and I don’t want that to be the case. I want it to be always focused on bringing glory to God. 1 Corinthians 10: whether you’re eating or drinking or whatever you’re doing, how do you bring glory to God and all that you do? And persecution has a way of really challenging, ‘Well, why are you doing things? Why are you willing to pay this cost?’ Ultimately, it’s an encouragement but a very confronting one.”

“Ultimately, it’s an encouragement but a very confronting one.” – Adam Holland

In the criteria that calculate the level of persecution, Nigeria is particularly sobering. The country comes in at the seventh highest spot because of religiously motivated killings, which rose from 4,650 last year to 5,014. This represents a staggering 89 per cent of the international total.

As well:

  • Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have been forced into internal displacement or have become refugees.
  • This year has also seen this violence spill over into the Christian majority south of the nation.
  • Violence is only part of the equation, with ever-increasing Islamisation putting extreme pressure on many Christians in their everyday lives.
  • Nigeria’s government continues to deny this is religious persecution, so violations of Christians’ rights are carried out with impunity.

Jihadist violence is becoming commonplace across sub-Saharan Africa, with 26 countries scoring very significant levels of persecution. A lethal mix of trafficking, changes to the climate and an influx of mercenary soldiers from the shadowy Kremlin-backed Wagner Group fuels this Islamist campaign of terror.

Children at a Sudanese refugee camp,

“There’s a number of factors that influence that religious conflict with Islam in a country wrestling with who are we, economic challenges, political challenges, and it creates even more marginalisation for those followers of Jesus who already faced such marginalisation. It’s just gotten that much worse and more physically dangerous – just the physical violence.

“In countries that might want to be democratic or might want to move towards diversified economies or more trade, the sheer violence that exists in sub-Saharan Africa is incredible. And that is jihadist violence.”

“The aim of Islamic State and affiliated groups is to destabilise the entire region, establish an Islamic caliphate – ultimately across the entire continent.” Frans Verrman

Frans Verrman, managing director of World Watch Research, comments: The aim of Islamic State and affiliated groups is to destabilise the entire region, establish an Islamic caliphate – ultimately across the entire continent – and, long-term, they are confident this is within their reach. They are helped by other Islamists focusing on non-violent, systemic Islamisation.

“It isn’t just governments in Africa that aren’t facing up to the true nature of this religiously motivated purge; it’s governments across the world. The price of this denial is incalculable, not just to Africa, but to the whole world.”

A child in Ethiopia shows her Bible.

While we as individuals cannot advocate with Nigerian political officials or try to change the regime in North Korea, what we can do is pray, Holland reminds us.

“Prayer means we can have an impact anywhere in the world.” – Adam Holland

“Prayer means we can have an impact anywhere in the world. There’s a great prayer guide that comes out regularly from Open Doors and for World Watch List.

“Pray that persecution does lessen, but also pray for those brothers and sisters in Christ who experience that persecution, that they know that we stand with them. When one part of the body suffers, the other part suffers with it.

“We just miss big parts of the Bible or we can read it differently when we actually see that it’s real stories – people are facing persecution and there’s always the chance to make a difference through financial giving to Open Doors or other ministries that support persecuted Christians – it’s real challenges that they face.

“The state of the world is confronting in the sense that the World Watch List gives qualitative expression to what is the cost of following Jesus. Where we can be encouraged in our lives as followers of Jesus in Australia and other countries is our brothers and sisters are willing to pay that cost to be faithful followers of Jesus, to be trying to influence those people in their communities, sharing the good news. That’s an incredible encouragement to me because it puts into perspective my own frustrations – and challenges in the big picture just pale in comparison.”

“Our brothers and sisters are willing to pay that cost to be faithful followers of Jesus, to be trying to influence those people in their communities, sharing the good news.” – Adam Holland

Another encouragement is to avoid indifference, he says, which can be as dangerous to our walk with Jesus as persecution.

“I don’t mean in terms of physical safety, but to our walk with Jesus and our trust in him. Our trust in God. We have a lot of comfort and a lot of ease in our life, and so the challenge or the conviction, the encouragement is that, if you’re experiencing persecution, it’s very hard to be indifferent and not care.

“We can be challenged and encouraged by that to say we want to live our life oriented to God, trusting him, living out a biblical expression of Christianity. There are so many people who do that in the face of persecution and discrimination. How can we move further from indifference and closer to God?”

You can read the whole World Watch List report here.