International (ODM/MNN) — The Open Doors 2012
World Watch List has a familiar look to it.
North Korea tops the list for the 10th
straight year as the country where Christians face the most severe persecution,
while Islamic-majority countries represent 9 of the top 10, and 38 of the 50
countries on the annual ranking.
Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl
Moeller said this year's report also reveals an interesting, but not
surprising, reality. "Islamic extremism is on the rise. Nine out of the
top ten countries on our list of the worst persecutors of Christians around the
world are Islamic. 38 out of the top 50 that we've ranked are Islamic extremist
Afghanistan (2), Saudi Arabia (3), Somalia
(4), Iran (5) and the Maldives (6) form a bloc where indigenous Christians have
almost no freedom to openly worship. For the first time, Pakistan (10) entered
the top 10, after a tumultuous year during which the nation's highest-ranking
Christian politician, Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for his attempts to change the blasphemy
Moeller says, "I was told by an
Egyptian brother who was with me just last week: 'The situation for Christians in Egypt and
all of North Africa is not an 'Arab Spring' at all, but a 'cold winter' of threat
and increased persecution.'" He adds, "The pressure on
the church is causing, literally, hundreds of thousands of Christians every
year to flee these countries. That will devastate the Christian populations in the Middle East."
In 2011, remnant churches are becoming the
norm in many countries where Islamic hardliners are in power. "There is a Muslim-background believer (MBB) church that is growing remarkably during these very chaotic times. We can
attribute that to the work of the Holy Spirit. We can attribute that to the
spiritual emptiness that is still present amidst the political and social
There are significant moves on the World
Watch List, including Sudan moving up 19 spots to No. 16 – the biggest leap of
any country from 2011. Nigeria jumped 10 spots to No. 13. Egypt, wracked by
violent protests and upheaval during the Arab Spring, rose four positions to
No. 15. Increased Islamic extremism triggered the upward movement of Sudan,
Nigeria and Egypt.
However, it's not only the Middle East and
North Africa that are topping the list. The
rest of the top 10 is composed of Uzbekistan (7), Yemen (8), and Iraq (9). Laos was
the lone country to drop from the top 10 list, falling to No. 12 from No. 10.
"Persecution globally is increasing
dramatically," says Moeller. "It's
coming from a number of new sources. One of the megatrends that we noticed is
that more and more countries, particularly in the Islamic world, are becoming
unstable and close to becoming Failed States–or are indeed Failed States."
For example, Somalia, Afghanistan and
Pakistan could be considered Failed States. "That's producing untold
hardship on the Christian communities in these places, because in a Failed State, there are no vehicles for Christians to address their concerns
politically. They can only address them spiritually through prayer and through
the encouragement of God's Word."
While persecution has worsened due to
persecution by Muslim extremists, without question North Korea once again deserves
its No. 1 ranking. Defiantly Communist, North Korea built a bizarre
quasi-religion around the founder of the country, Kim Il-Sung. Anyone with
"another god" is automatically persecuted. The estimated 200,000 to 400,000
Christians in this country must remain deeply underground. An estimated 50,000
to 70,000 Christians are held in ghastly prison camps.
"How the death of Kim Jong-Il last month
and the coming to power of his son, Kim Jong-Un, will affect the status of
Christians in North Korea is hard to determine at this early stage," Moeller said. "Certainly the situation for believers
remains perilous. Please pray with me that the Lord will open up North Korea
and there will be religious freedom to worship the One, true God, not the gods
of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung."
In July 2011 southern Sudan, which is
mostly Christian, seceded to become an independent country, called South Sudan,
leaving the Christians of North Sudan much more isolated under President Omar
al-Bashir. In response to the loss of the south, al-Bashir vowed to make constitutional
changes to make his country even more Islamic. On the ground the military has
attacked Christian communities in battles over resources with many being
Nigeria remains the country with the worst
atrocities in terms of lives lost. More than 300 Christians were martyred last
year in Nigeria, though the actual number is believed to be double or triple
that number. The total is probably greater in North Korea, but impossible to
confirm due to its isolation. Since 2009 the extreme Islamic group Boko Haram
has destroyed more than 50 churches and killed 10 pastors in Nigeria.
Egyptian Christians experienced a
disastrous start to 2011 when a bombing at the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint
Mark and Pope Peter in Alexandria killed 21 Christians on New Year's Day. After
the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February, hopes soared for new
freedoms for all Egyptians. But on Oct. 9, the military turned on its own
citizens in the Maspero massacre in Cairo, killing 27 Coptic Christian demonstrators.
At the close of 2011, Islamist parties flourished in the November elections,
prompting some to speak of an Arab Winter instead of an Arab Spring for
China still has the world's largest
persecuted church of 80 million, but it dropped out of the top 20 this year to
No. 21. Last year China ranked No. 16. This is due in large part to the house
church pastors learning how to play "cat and mouse" with the government.
The good news behind the bad news of rising
persecution is an increase in church growth.
"Muslims are turning to faith in Christ, so we see both things
happening: the visible church being incredibly pressured and many Christians
fleeing the region, and also the growth of Muslim-Background Believer churches
and cell groups despite the persecution."
Through the upheaval, Moeller says, "Open
Doors is committed to being on the ground, shoulder-to-shoulder with our
brothers and sisters throughout North Africa, providing Bibles, providing
spiritual encouragement, training."
The WWL is based on a questionnaire
devised by Open Doors to measure the degree of persecution in over 60
countries. The questionnaires are filled out by Open Doors field personnel
working in the countries and cross-checked with independent experts to arrive
at a quantitative score per country. Countries are then ranked according to points