According to the World Watch List 2023, the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled to 76 countries in the past three decades. All photos from the World Watch List 2023.

According to the World Watch List 2023, the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled to 76 countries in the past three decades. All photos from the World Watch List 2023.

What would you give up to follow Jesus?

For many of us here in Singapore, we may give up a meal to spend time with God in prayer, time on social media and our mobile gadgets, or a financially comfortable career to go into full-time ministry.

But for some 360 million Christians worldwide – or 1 in 7 Christians – who live in countries where there is a high level of Christian persecution and discrimination, they have to give up even homes and communities, their security and their very lives.

It is worth noting that, of the 10 Southeast Asian countries that surround our tiny island, six are on the World Watch List.

According to the World Watch List 2023, the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled to 76 countries in the past three decades. Last year, 5,621 Christians were killed for their faith, a staggering 80% more than five years ago. 

The World Watch List is an investigative research and annual report by Open Doors International, which has ranked the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is worst for the past 30 years.

This year’s report was based on grassroots reports by more than 4,000 workers across more than 60 countries, and tracks the time period from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022.

It highlighted the most vulnerable regions, including Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, where Christians are facing increased violence, oppression and marginalisation. 

The top 10 countries on the World Watch List this year were North Korea, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan.

Closer to home, however, it is worth noting that, of the 10 Southeast Asian countries that surround our tiny island, six are on the World Watch List 2023.

Here’s how we can pray for them.

1. Christian minority bearing the brunt of attacks since 2021 coup: Myanmar (#14)

Photo from Open Doors International’s website.

Since the military staged a coup in February 2021, fighting has ramped up across the country and the Christian minority – particularly in majority Christian states like Chin, Kachin, Karen and Kayah – have borne the brunt of these attacks, said Open Doors.

Citing examples, it added that long-established churches and Christian villages have been attacked, while Christian aid workers and pastors have been killed or forced to flee.

More Christians than ever have also become displaced from their homes and live in refugee camps or churches where there is inadequate food and healthcare.

Those who have chosen to put their trust in Jesus also are often persecuted in community life as they are strongly pressured to renounce their faith and return to the religion of their families and tribes. 

A prayer for Myanmar:

Heavenly Father, the weight of this long conflict in Myanmar threatens to eliminate hope and unity in Myanmar’s population. Encourage Your people and let them know that we stand with them in their pain. Strengthen our brothers and sisters with the fellowship, training and everyday provision that they need. Thank You for the powerful ways in which You are working through the church during this difficult time. Give Christians courage, resources and revelation as they seek to respond to this crisis. Bring an end to the conflict. Amen.

2. “When someone decides to be a believer, he will be kicked out of the village”: Vietnam (#25)

Photo from Open Doors International’s website.

In Vietnam, Christians are severely persecuted not just by the authorities, who closely monitor their religious activities, but also their own families and communities.

Converts from Buddhist or ethnic-animist backgrounds in the Central and Northwestern Highlands face the most severe persecution, as their communities follow long-standing traditions of worshipping ancestors and spirits.

If members choose not to join in these traditions, they are ostracised from the community. Some have had their homes destroyed and been forced to leave their villages.

“When a person or a family in the village decides to follow Christ, they can easily evangelise to the whole village and the villagers are likely to believe as well,” said Nguyen Van Quan, a Vietnamese-born pastor and Open Doors partner.

“This is why when someone becomes a believer, he will be kicked out of the village, because the local government is afraid that he will share Jesus to everyone.”

Despite this, however, the number of Christian converts is reported to be growing, noted Open Doors.

A prayer for Vietnam:

Dear Father, thank You for the witness of Your children in Vietnam. May they be known for their love, faithfulness, strength and unity, despite the pressures they face. Soften hearts in Vietnam to eradicate violence and discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities. Strengthen Your people to remain bold and steadfast during times of hardship. Bless Your people with jobs and the means to provide for their families. Amen.

3. Pastor kidnapped and brutally murdered for his faith: Laos (#31)

Photo from Open Doors International’s website.

In October 2022, Pastor Sy Seng Manee, 48, from the Khammouane province was kidnapped and brutally murdered for his faith in an attack that shocked the Christian community.

In the country, where only 0.1% of its population are believers, Christians are generally viewed as Western-influenced “enemies of the state”, said Open Doors, adding that the Communist authorities consider most church meetings “illegal gatherings”.

Churches, most of which meet in homes as few have permanent buildings of their own, have to be registered and government-approved. Those who are unable to get permission have little choice but to operate secretly, risking the arrest of their leaders.

“The local authorities in some provinces are determined to silence any Christian voice,” said the Open Doors report. 

Young Christian men and women are also suffering. More Christian boys and men are getting ensnared in drug addictions due to the lack of educational and professional opportunities, while Christian girls are increasingly being targeted as brides to be trafficked into China.

A prayer for Laos:

Lord Jesus, give Your children in Laos strength to stand firm against the pressure many of them are facing. We pray that Christians would meet together and encourage one another, undetected by the surveillance of the state. Guard and strengthen the faith of house churches whose pastors are detained. When village members come to know You, we pray that their neighbours would be amazed by their stories instead of driving them away, and that many more would come to know Your freedom in this restrictive country. Amen.

4. Violence and harassment against Christians still present: Indonesia (#33)

Photo from Open Doors International’s website.

In this predominantly Islamic country, converts to Christianity are treated harshly by their families, some of whom have withdrawn all support from members who are believers.

Married women are also forced to hide their Christian faith so that their husbands will not divorce them, said Open Doors, adding that some endure psychological abuse like death threats.

“Thanks to effective anti-terror police, physical violence towards Christians by Islamic extremists is not common, but many new Christians in Indonesia will seek to leave their home community and relocate somewhere else to get away from the harassment,” said the Open Doors report.

However, it noted that there is still violence, including some faith-based murders against Christians, who make up about 12% of the total population.

A prayer for Indonesia:

Dear God, You are “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles'” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). May all those Christians experiencing rejection, discrimination or isolation for their faith know the depths of this comfort. We pray that family members would increasingly keep their hearts and minds open when one of their own comes to know You. Amen.

5. Evidence that plans are in place to convert Christian communities: Malaysia (#43)

Photo from Open Doors International’s website.

According to Open Doors, there is evidence that authorities are backing plans to attempt to convert Christian communities to Islam, the dominant religion of the country.

With more conservative Islamic political parties gaining power and support in Malaysia, things could get even more difficult for the 9% of the population who are Christians, it added.

Those most at risk are Christians who have a Muslim background. Leaving Islam is punishable by death, according to Malaysia’s constitution, though this has never been implemented.

However, converts face intense pressure from their communities and some can even be arrested, imprisoned or sentenced to death by authorities, according to Open Doors. 

A prayer for Malaysia:

Dear Father, we ask that You pour Your joy and hope into every believer in Malaysia today, especially those facing rejection and persecution. We pray You would intervene to prevent harsh anti-Christian laws from being enacted. We pray for Your protection on Christians meeting up together; may they know they are not alone. Amen.

6. Government gives aid to those converting to the dominant religion: Brunei (#46)

Photo from Open Doors International’s website.

There has been growing pressure on churches in Brunei and their activities in recent years, contributing to more Christians leaving the country and reducing the number of believers.

Protestant Christian groups can only be registered as secular organisations and their activities are closely monitored by the government, which also warns church leaders against evangelising to others or becoming too public, observed Open Doors.

Sharia law applies to non-Muslims as well, which means that Christians in Brunei, who make up about 12% of the population, are finding it more challenging to practise and share their faith in Jesus.

The government has also been giving aid to Christians to convert to the dominant Islamic faith, according to Open Doors.

“Pray for the salvation of the people of Brunei. Pray for the sultan, the governments and the authorities of this country as well,” said Elora, a young Christian in the country.

“Please pray that the glory of God will shine in Brunei.”

A prayer for Brunei:

Lord Jesus, pour Your peace into the hearts of believers who are fearful. Inspire in them fresh faith and boldness. Protect Your people from harm, and minister Your healing and comfort into the lives of those suffering because of their faith. Surround young Christians with good role models who will help disciple them amid pressure from their peers. May Your children in Brunei know the joy and hope of following You, despite the challenges they face. Use Your people in amazing ways to draw others, including those in authority, to You. Amen.


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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer and Assistant Editor at Salt&Light.