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Where Christians Face The Cross Daily...

by glynch — last modified 09 Jan, 2014 08:07 PM

Pressure severe in weak states with Islamist terrorism, but North Korea tops global list for Christian persecution.

North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are the five countries where Christians are most likely to face persecution in 2014. That's the finding of a report by Open Doors International, a Christian NGO and ministry which serves persecuted Christians.

The report argues that fragile or failed states where militant Islamist movements flourish are the most dangerous places for Christians to live. Examples include war-torn Syria and Iraq, where some of the oldest Christian communities on the planet have been decimated in recent decades. In Somalia, where central government barely exists, and de facto power often lies with Islamist militias, one Christian said, “In this country, a Christian cannot trust anyone. One false confidence and you literally lose your head.”

Fragile Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen are other countries where extreme Islamist militias either fill the void in authority left by weak states or exploit it to carry out acts of violence against Christians. Pakistan, for example, saw its worst single act of anti-Christian violence since the state was created in 1947 this October, when two suicide bombers killed 96 Christians at a church in Peshawar.

Too much state authority can be as dangerous to Christians as too little. Former Communist countries in Central and South East Asia are another prominent group on the list of 50 countries where Christians are most at risk. Most have authoritarian rulers with a legacy of suspicion of any group perceived as being autonomous from the state. It might surprise people to see Vietnam and Laos among the most difficult countries in the world to be Christian: but clergy, in particular, risk police harassment, prison, and even torture simply by attracting the attention of the wrong official. In countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, pressure on Christians is motivated by state paranoia rather than majority Muslim populations - Islamic clergy are also imprisoned and mistreated by the same governments.

Authoritarian Islamic states can be particularly difficult for Christians. Despite a large expatriate population from both the West and the Philippines, Christians in Saudi Arabia are forced to meet in secret and Filipinos, in particular, have been deported or even flogged for bringing Bibles and crucifixes into the country.

In countries like Iran and Qatar, there is tolerance of both expatriate and ancient indigenous Christian communities, but converts from Islam and churches which welcome them face real danger.

Other situations are more complex but no less deadly. In Colombia, paramilitary groups and drug gangs sometimes specifically target Christians who refuse to countenance illegal activity because of their faith. In 2011, for example, six Catholic priests were deliberately targeted and murdered in the Latin American country.

But no country in the planet is as dangerous for followers of Christ as North Korea, where martyrdom is literally a day-to-day reality.  There are perhaps 200,000-400,000 Christians in the East Asian country, of which perhaps as many as 70,000 are held in prison camps.

Rarely are Christians able to meet each other for worship. Reading the Bible in the middle of the night and praying in whispers are only possible within family connections. Hye, a North Korean Christian who fled to South Korea, explains how her parents and grandparents were able to organize actual services. “Everybody had to work for ten days, after which they had one day off. The Christians tried to arrange to work on their days off so that they could gather for Sunday services. They came on Saturday night and then stayed overnight. There were usually 5 or 6 people, but no more than ten.”

Christian families teach their children the principles of the Gospel without using words such as ‘God’, ‘Jesus’ or ‘Bible’, by making up stories with Christian values. Once the children are old enough to keep their faith secret, the parents explain to them the full gospel. This usually happens when the children are between ten and fifteen years old. Letting the secret slip means deportation to a camp for use as slave labour.

While all Christians are expected to bear their crosses, in too many countries following Jesus means risking literally following him to torture and execution.

Pray: Learn how you can pray for the persecuted church on the Open Doors UK website and read profiles of the 50 countries identified as having the worst persecution.

Learn: Forum 18 News Service is a Christian initiative supporting freedom of religion or belief – which includes the right to have no religion and to criticise any religion – with a particular focus on China, Turkey, and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

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