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Explainer: Open Doors releases World Watch List 2022 showing top areas of Christian persecution

For nearly 30 years now, as a way of monitoring severe and ongoing opposition to Christianity, Open Doors has published what it calls the annual World Watch List — a “ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.” For those of us in the West who enjoy an unprecedented level of religious liberty, the World Watch List is a sobering reminder that our brothers and sisters around the world face real and present danger simply for following Jesus.

What is Open Doors?

Open Doors began in 1955 when a man known as Brother Andrew “started smuggling Bibles to the persecuted Christians in Communist Europe.” After a visit to Warsaw, Poland, Brother Andrew’s encounter with an “oppressed, isolated, and apparently forgotten church” compelled him to travel throughout Eastern Europe for the next twelve years, “delivering Bibles, encouraging those he met, and recruiting others to help him.” After the publication of God’s Smuggler in 1967 — an account of Brother Andrew’s work in Eastern Europe — his ministry became known worldwide, and “an entire generation caught the vision of supporting Christians who faced persecution and discrimination for their faith.”

Over time, Open Doors’ work “pushed beyond the Soviet Union,” expanding into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Today, Open Doors “is serving persecuted Christians in more than 70 countries, working with churches and local partners to provide Bibles, Christian materials, training, livelihood skills and advocacy.” The aim of Open Doors “is to encourage and raise up people in every nation to pray, support and speak up for Christians around the world who suffer for their faith.”

What is the World Watch List?

As mentioned, “The World Watch List is Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.” More than that, the World Watch List is an interactive tool that enables users to “explore the country profiles to find information, stories and prayers for each of the countries, along with ways that [Christians] can stand with [their] persecuted church family in prayer and action.”

In addition to the annual ranking, the list apprises readers of information such as the percentage of Christians persecuted worldwide (along with each specific region), the number of churches attacked and Christians detained or murdered annually, and country-specific information like its dominant religion and system of government. 

Truly, the World Watch List is a tool of immense value, aiding Christians like us on how we can pray for and serve those who find themselves in locations hostile to Christianity.

How are countries on the World Watch List analyzed?

“Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution of Christians, calculated by analyzing the level of violent persecution plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life,” which include private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life.

For a more detailed look at Open Doors’ methodology, visit this site

What did the 2022 World Watch List reveal?

According to the report, “In just the last year (during their reporting period), there have been:

• Over 360 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.

5,898 Christians killed for their faith.

5,110 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.

6,175 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned.

3,829 Christians abducted.”

Additionally, the report revealed that “1 in 7 Christians are persecuted worldwide,” “1 in 5 Christians are persecuted in Africa,” and “2 in 5 Christians are persecuted in Latin America.”

By and large, the majority of countries on the list are located within Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, but three countries in North and South America (Mexico, Cuba, and Colombia) are on the list as well. After 20 years atop the list, North Korea was replaced as number one on the World Watch List by Afghanistan, due largely to the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

Alarmingly, Open Doors highlighted in this year’s trends that “persecution of Christians has reached the highest levels since the World Watch List began nearly 30 years ago.” The report states that:

“Every country in the top 50 is ranked as experiencing ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of persecution. Outside of the top 50, an additional 26 countries are categorised as having ‘very high’ or ‘high’ levels of persecution. The severity of persecution in countries on the list, demonstrated by the total points scored, has increased by more than 20% since 2014. This signifies an increased pressure in all areas of life for persecuted Christians.”

Nevertheless, “God is building his church and people are coming to faith even in hostile environments . . . The World Watch List shows once again that against all odds, the church is active and alive . . . God’s faithfulness remains a beacon even in the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian.”

What can Christians do?

As Christians, no matter how many miles separate us from these men, women, and children, they are our brothers and sisters. Regardless of how helpless we may feel, being so far removed from such hostile contexts, or how big the problem is (over 360 million Christians!), we have the opportunity to “stand with them in solidarity, and remind them they are not alone.” 

Open Doors gives several ways we can stand with our brothers and sisters, including:

And because Christians believe that God works providentially through our prayers, we can all commit to using the World Watch List to inform us how we can be praying for believers around the world who endure such unimaginable terror. By doing so, we can be certain that God will use our prayers to encourage and minister to Christians in these countries. 

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