Sri Lanka Easter Sunday Attack

The 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka claimed more than 250 lives, many of whom were Christians. Photo from St Sebastian's Church Facebook page.

At this very moment, one in eight Christians worldwide faces threats, imprisonment and even death for professing their Christian faith, reports Christian advocacy group Open Doors International in its World Watch List 2020, released yesterday (January 15).

That is 260 million Christians who are believed to live in areas of high persecution – a 6% increase, or 15 million more people, compared to a year ago.

“If North Korean Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot.”

The report ranks the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. The 2020 findings are based on information collected between November 2018 and October 2019.

North Korea retains its top spot for being the most dangerous place to be a Christian. It has held that position since Open Doors started releasing its findings in 2002.

“If North Korean Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot,” reported Open Doors.

Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran and India round out the top 10 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus.

Eight Christian martyrs a day

Open Doors estimates that 2,983 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons last year – that is an average of eight Christians killed every day.

It is believed that 3,711 Christians were also detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned.

More than 20 Christians are imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.

Even those who were free to practise their faith publicly were not spared, with 9,488 churches or Christian buildings attacked in 2019.

The most severe of these was the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka which claimed the lives of more than 250 people, most of whom were Christians attending Easter Sunday service. Sri Lanka ranks 30 on the list, up 16 spots from 2019.

Pakistan held on to its fifth spot on the list. The advocacy group noted that, given the influence of radical groups there, it does not see a relaxation of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws anytime soon.

The laws caught international attention after Asia Bibi, a Christian mother, spent eight years on death row on trumped up blasphemy charges. Her eventual acquittal in October 2018 sparked violent protests in the country. She and her family have since left Pakistan for Canada after being granted asylum.

Currently there are more than 20 Christians imprisoned in Pakistan who are either convicted of, or charged with, blasphemy.

Under watch

Open Doors also noted a disturbing trend: The use of technology to persecute Christians.

This was most evident in China, which is home to about 97 million Christians. The country climbed four spots to rank 23 on the list as Chinese believers and churches report increasing harassment from authorities.

Financial data firm IHS Markit estimates there are approximately 415 million surveillance cameras in the country and this number is expected to rise in the coming years. China has also developed widespread facial recognition software.

Surveillance technology is set to make everyday life difficult for Christians in China and India.

“When taken together, these two technological advances mean the government can track individuals like never before,” noted Open Doors. “China is also rolling out a country-wide Social Credit System (SCS) by which authorities plan to reward ‘good’ citizenship and punish ‘bad’.

“Already, one community has reportedly decided to add penalties for those who ‘illegally spread Christianity’. It’s easy to see how surveillance technology could be used in tandem with the SCS to make everyday life very difficult for anyone the Chinese government deems insufficiently ‘Chinese’ – including Christians.”

It warns that India is set to follow suit, with the government planning to introduce a national facial recognition system. The country stands unchanged at the 10th spot.

“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” said Open Doors. “There were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period. There is fear that more tracking could increase these attacks.”

Praying for our persecuted brethren

Of the 50 nations listed, more than half are located in Asia. Of that, six are found in Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.

This may come as a surprise to Christians residing in Singapore, where we have the freedom to worship openly. Some of us may have even gone to these countries to do missions work.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:26

While the figures are worrying, Open Doors urges believers around the world to join in prayer for our persecuted brethren: “Pray through this year’s report and let it move your heart. Learn how the Body of Christ is hurting, and how they are finding joy in Him even in the midst of pain. And learn how, in Jesus, we really are one Church, one Family.”  (1 Corinthians 12:26)

There is also a glimmer of hope.

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said “the church is being squeezed in China but sometimes, when the church is squeezed, it grows.”

And that is true, not just of China, but in the other nations too. According to a recent report from The Christian Post, Iran – ranked 9th on the list – is home to the fastest-growing Christian church in the world.

In Christ, we have a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) and we know that the gates of hell will not overcome the Church of God. (Matthew 16:18)

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