7 Southeast Asian countries where it’s most costly to follow Jesus: Will you pray?
by Gracia Lee // January 26, 2022, 5:54 pm
In prison for his faith, Indian Pastor Subhash shared the Gospel with 12 other inmates. "Eleven believed, so I taught them how to pray," he said. Pastor Subhash and these new believers have since been released after fervent prayer. Photo from Open Doors USA's Facebook page.
In Singapore, we have the freedom to worship God in our churches. We can find Bibles in bookstores and read them in public. We can share our faith openly with our friends and family.
But these are luxuries to some Christians.
According to this year’s World Watch List, an investigative research and annual report that ranks the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is worst, one in seven believers worldwide faces “high” or “extreme” levels of persecution for their faith.
About 360 million Christians – 60 times the population of Singapore – face high or extreme levels of persecution for their faith.
In absolute numbers, that’s about 360 million Christians – 60 times the population of Singapore – who have to contend with being ostracised, marginalised, punished, jailed and even killed for being followers of Jesus.
The persecution of the body of Christ can seem like a distant issue to us. But it is, in fact, closer than we think. Seven Southeast Asian countries are on this year’s list – including Malaysia, which is just across Singapore’s borders.
In Galatians 6:2, we are exhorted to bear one another’s burdens. Open Doors strongly urged believers to pray once a week for the persecuted Church throughout this year, using their free 52-week prayer guide.
The report said: “When we pray with persecuted Christians, we stand with them in solidarity, and remind them they are not alone. We join in God’s mission to provide them a place of safety through our support, knowing He will not leave them or forsake them – and neither will we.”
Let’s start by praying for the persecuted body of Christ in Southeast Asia. Here are some prayer pointers from the World Watch List’s 2022 prayer guide:
1. India (#10)
This is the fourth consecutive year that India has ranked 10th on the World Watch List.
Pray for the steadfastness and faithfulness of believers who make this difficult choice of following Jesus, which can mean losing everything.
Extremist Hindu groups equate being Indian with being Hindu, disregarding Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, said the World Watch List 2022 report.
Members of these groups also believe the country needs to be cleansed and purified of non-Hindus, it added.
“This is leading to a systemic, often violent and carefully orchestrated, targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including the use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred,” noted a write-up on the Open Doors website.
An article by The New York Times published in December 2021 detailed how worshippers in a church in the city of Indore were assaulted by a mob mid-service, with attackers punching pastors’ heads and throwing women onto the floor.
When police arrived, they arrested not the attackers but the church’s pastors and elders, said the article.
According to the World Watch List 2022 report, extremist Hindu mobs are also recording the violence done to Christians and posting them on social media to promote their extremist agenda.
Nevertheless, believers are still standing firm in Jesus. Even though her husband was murdered for his faith, 25-year-old Sumi (not her real name) said: “If needed, I will die for Jesus; I will never leave Him.”
How you can pray with Christians in India:
- Thank God that many people are coming to know Jesus after being healed of sickness. Pray that this will continue.
- Pray that social media companies will do more to combat the spread of disinformation and hatred on their platforms.
- Pray for continued protection, strength and encouragement for all those serving the church in India.
- Pray for the healing of the victims of religious violence. Pray that God would heal both their hearts and bodies.
- Pray that God will soften the hearts of the Hindu extremists, that they would see Indian Christians as valuable members of India.
- Pray for those in authority, that they would truly commit to the freedom of people of all faiths, which is in their constitution.
- Pray for the steadfastness and faithfulness of believers who make this difficult choice of following Jesus, which can mean losing everything.
2. Myanmar (#12)
With the country under a military rule which has been known to be hostile and brutal to religious minorities, Christians in Myanmar are facing even greater pressure and persecution for their faith.
A year since the military coup in February 2021, fighting is still continuing in predominantly Christian states like Kachin State, Karen State and Shan State, said the World Watch List 2022 report.
In September 2021, a Baptist pastor was reportedly shot dead as he helped a church member whose house was set on fire during a military attack.
“Churches have been destroyed and Christians killed in Chin State (another majority-Christian region), and churches and pastors have been targeted. More Christians than ever have been driven out to live in camps for displaced people, where they are often deprived of access to food and healthcare because of their faith,” said a report on the Open Doors website.
In September 2021, a 31-year-old Baptist pastor in the Chin state was reportedly shot dead as he helped a church member whose house was set on fire during a military attack. Soldiers then sawed off his finger and stole his wedding ring, according to news reports.
This incident is one of at least 20 cases documented by human rights groups and the media, including shelling churches, detaining pastors and using churches as military bases, said reports.
How you can pray with Christians in Myanmar:
- Pray that God will touch and soften the hearts of Myanmar’s military leaders and give them a desire for peace and reconciliation.
- Pray for the church in Myanmar to be on their knees and praying for peace in the country.
- Pray that Christians who converted will be protected from oppression and violence.
- Pray that the military will not target believers and churches.
- Pray that God will strengthen each believer and revive their spirits that have been dampened from the political turmoil.
3. Vietnam (#19)
“You are Christians and your God shall take care of your family! The government is not responsible for your families!”
This is what a government official reportedly told 18 Christian Vietnamese families – including children and the elderly – before denying them Covid-19 aid, according to a report by Open Doors in May 2020.
“My family and the villagers still hate me … My parents still despise me and have renounced me as their child.”
Christian persecution is worst for converts from minority tribal groups in central and northern highlands of Vietnam, such as the Hmong people. There are about 300,000 Hmong believers out of the million ethnic Hmong in Vietnam.
According to reports, Christianity was almost unheard of in the highlands in the 1980s and there were no foreign missionaries. However, after villagers stumbled upon a Hmong-language evangelistic radio program broadcast from Manila, the Gospel spread like wildfire.
But believers face strong opposition from their communities and the authorities, who view Christianity as a threat to its power and control.
“Christians who leave their tribal religions to follow Jesus are viewed as cultural and family traitors – they’re at risk for violent attack, having their children forcibly taken and having their homes and crops destroyed,” said a report on the Open Doors website.
The World Watch List 2022 report included a testimony by Poh (not his real name), a Hmong believer, who was attacked by his father for declaring he was a Christian. He and his family were then forced to leave the village.
“A few months ago, I went back to my old village to visit my parents and siblings, but my family and the villagers still hate me. They forbade me from going near them,” he said. “My parents still despise me and have renounced me as their child.”
Despite these challenges, however, he continues to serve the Lord boldly. Poh is now a full-time church worker who has a family of his own.
How you can pray with Christians in Vietnam:
- Pray for Christians in Vietnam who suffer persecution, especially those from ethnic minorities.
- Pray for Christians who lose their families and homes, that they would feel the reality that God has given them a global family of believers who prays for them.
- Pray for wisdom and strength for Open Doors’ ministry partners, and for the hearts of all Christians who will benefit from ministry efforts.
- Pray for the government of Vietnam, both local and national.
- Pray that God will protect Christians who follow Jesus in places where doing so is seen as a betrayal of culture and family.
- Pray that God will protect and strengthen Christians who have experienced discrimination in Covid-19 relief.
4. Laos (#26)
Even though Laos dropped four places on the list from last year, an increasing number of Laos’ over 200,000 Christians are being displaced from their homes due to persecution by Communist authorities, according to the World Watch List 2022.
These authorities view Christianity as a foreign religion and tool to undermine the Communist Laotian regime.
Many believers are also being forced to worship in secret, as gathering in unregistered house churches is considered illegal.
“New believers frequently face pressure and violence from their families and the local authorities, who often stir up opposition from the local community or religious leaders. Too often, this kind of conflict can lead to converts being expelled from the village and losing their homes and families,” said the World Watch List 2022 report.
It added that provinces that are most vulnerable to persecution include Luang Namtha, Phongsaly and Houphan in the north, and Khammuane and Savannakhet in the south.
Many believers are also being forced to worship in secret, as gathering in unregistered house churches is considered illegal. The majority of registered churches also do not have permanent physical buildings, and the distribution of Bibles and Christian literature is restricted.
Nevertheless, God is still at work. Some 250 Christians recently had their prayers answered and received their very first Bibles, said the World Watch List 2022 report. One Lao believer, who was jailed for a week when she was 14 because she had accepted Christ, said: “I now share and preach His Word, which I’ve never done in the past.”
How you can pray with Christians in Laos:
- Pray for imprisoned Christians that they will be strengthened in body, mind and spirit, and that they will be released soon.
- Pray that Christians will find increasing favour with local religious leaders and government officials.
- Pray for the protection of all Christians who serve the body of Christ in Laos.
- Pray for new believers who are experiencing persecution for their decision to follow Jesus.
- Pray that God will bring an end to the trafficking of Lao girls to China, and give those who have been sold a way to escape their situation.
- Pray that the house churches and pastors will be hidden from government surveillance, attacks or detainment, and that members will be emboldened to be faithful witnesses.
5. Indonesia (#28)
Indonesia is one of the biggest risers on the World Watch List this year, jumping 19 places from last year.
This is largely due to an increase in violence against the almost 34 million Christians there. In a span of just six months between 2020 and 2021, three attacks on Christians were carried out, killing eight believers, said the World Watch List 2022 report.
In some regions, church groups struggle to get permission to build churches, and those who evangelise are targeted by Islamic extremist groups, said a report on the Open Doors website.
“I am so overwhelmed by the love from my Christian friends. I feel like I have a new family when my biological family abandoned me.”
Women also face added persecution.
“The most common threat facing female Christian converts is divorce. Additionally, Christian women are marginalised through enforced religious dress codes. In provinces like Aceh, women are required to wear a hijab, especially anyone holding government office. Those who fail to do so may face interrogation and be labelled as immoral women,” said the report.
However, despite increased persecution, the Church in Indonesia has boldly stepped up to provide love and support to those who have been ostracised by their families for following Jesus.
Wanda (not her real name) received help by a local church after she was chased out of her home by her family when they discovered her faith.
She said: “One thing that I am so overwhelmed with is the love from my Christian friends. I feel like I have a new family when my biological family abandoned me. I don’t feel alone in this new journey of my life.”
How you can pray with Christians in Indonesia:
- Pray for God’s comfort and healing for all those affected by the recent attacks on Christians.
- Pray that God will give Christians the wisdom and boldness as they follow Jesus.
- Pray that the influence of extremist Islamic groups will be snuffed out, and that God will reveal Himself to those who oppose Him.
- Pray for steadfastness for converts who are being pressured to return to their old religion.
- Pray for protection for churches who are being targeted by Islamic extremist groups for sharing the Gospel.
- Pray for protection for prominent church leaders who risk false accusations of inciting religious hatred.
6. Brunei (#46)
In 2014, Brunei was the first East Asian country to adopt parts of the Sharia law, which led to the banning of public Christmas celebrations. This was because authorities feared public celebrations could “lead its Muslim population astray”, according to an article by The Independent.
The penalty for sharing the Gospel with a Muslim is a fine of $15,000, up to a five-year imprisonment, or both.
Those who break this law face a fine of $20,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
Under the Sharia law, leaving Islam is also crime punishable by death or a 30-year imprisonment. The penalty for sharing the Gospel with a Muslim is a fine of $15,000, up to a five-year imprisonment, or both. Bibles in Malay, the country’s official language, are illegal and and no new church buildings are allowed.
Despite the increased pressure they are facing, believers in Brunei are raising prayers and intercession for their nation.
Said a young believer in her 20s: “My heart beats faster when it comes to Brunei. There is a burden I can’t explain. Pray for the salvation for the people of Brunei.”
How you can pray with Christians in Brunei:
- Pray that believers will persist in their Christian faith despite opposition.
- Pray for pastors to be strengthened and equipped to serve and lead their congregations.
- Pray that churches will be able to be registered more openly.
- Pray that younger believers will be encouraged to remain in the country for the long-term health of the Church.
7. Malaysia (#50)
Many of the believers just across our borders are under fire for their faith.
Those who become Christians risk breaking the law, which is punishable by death, and facing strong opposition from their families and communities.
According to the country’s constitution, ethnic Malays are expected to be Muslims. It is illegal to share the Gospel with Muslims. Those who become Christians risk breaking the law, which is punishable by death, and facing strong opposition from their families and communities, said a report on the Open Doors website.
“Malaysia continues to be a difficult place for Christians, particularly those who convert from Islam. As Malaysia swings more deeply toward radical Islamic belief and practice, the potential for Christian persecution increases. There is less tolerance, or even hope of tolerance, with the new government than in past years,” said the report.
In February 2017, Pastor Raymond Koh was kidnapped from his car in Selangor and has not yet been found. In 2019, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia concluded that he was a victim of enforced disappearance by the intelligence unit of the Malaysian Police Department, because of his religious activities that included proselytising.
How you can pray with Christians in Malaysia:
- Pray for steadfastness for Christians as they follow Jesus despite persecution.
- Ask God to give believers the spiritual nurturing they need in their isolation.
- Pray for Pastor Raymond Koh, who was kidnapped in February 2017 and has not yet been found.
- Pray that God will reach people with His Word, including those who are illiterate.
- Pray that the government will have more openness to other faiths.
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