DOZENS OF CHURCHGOERS are dressed in their Sunday best outside St. John’s Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq. Before entering, each person is individually searched. First, they are patted down for suicide vests. Then their bags are inspected for weapons.
It is Easter—the first to be celebrated in this church since Islamic State (ISIS) militants were driven out of Qaraqosh, formerly Iraq’s largest Christian-majority city, by Iraqi forces after nearly three years of conflict.
Everyone is cautious. A week earlier, ISIS suicide bombers killed more than 40 people, including themselves, at two churches in northern Egypt during Palm Sunday services.
With North Korea leading the way and Islamic extremism rapidly expanding, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution,” according to a group tracking this issue.
From imprisonment to torture to beheadings, more Christians worldwide live in fear for their lives than at any time in the modern era.
That’s the message from Open Doors USA, which released its annual World Watch List on Jan. 7. Christian persecution reached historic levels in 2014, with approximately 100 million Christians around the world facing possible dire consequences for merely practicing their religion, according to the report. If current trends persist, many believe 2015 could be even worse.
“In regions where Christians are being persecuted as central targets, the trends and issues we track are expanding,” said David Curry, president of Open Doors, a nonprofit that aids persecuted Christians in the most oppressive countries and ranks nations based on the severity of persecution.
North Korea tops Open Doors’ list as the worst oppressor of Christians for the 13th consecutive year, but the list is dominated by African and Middle Eastern nations. Iraq, which experienced the mass displacement of Christians from its northern region, ranked third. Syria was listed fourth, due to the reign of ISIS in that war-torn region. Nigeria ranked 10th, due in part to the more than 1,000 Christians murdered or kidnapped by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. Also included in the top 10 are Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, and Eritrea.
Open Doors, a non-denominational Christian group that supports persecuted Christians, reminds us what real persecution is. There are more than 65 countries where Christians face imprisonment, torture, or death because of their faith. Reuters Faith World reports
“About 100 million Christians are persecuted around the world, with conditions worsening for them most rapidly in Syria and Ethiopia, according to an annual report by a group supporting oppressed Christians worldwide.
“Open Doors, a non-denominational Christian group, listed North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as the three toughest countries for Christians last year. They topped the 50-country ranking for 2011 as well.”
Last week Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and world governments (including our own) publicly spoke out on an issue that has barely broken through the international news. On August 24, a massive program of violence against Christians began in the Kandhamal district in the Indian state of Orissa after a Hindu leader, Swami Saraswati, was killed by Maoist rebels. Retaliatory violence has claimed at least 25 lives and sent 10,000 Christians fleeing into the jungle. This is the same region [...]
My great-grandfather was one of the first Christians in a village near Pyongyang. God's grace was poured over his entire family, but they experienced intense persecution because of their faith. As a result, he "escaped" one night with his entire family from what is now known as North [...]