Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where owning a Bible can be fatal

Each January the organisation Open Doors publishes its World Watch list of countries where Christians are the most severely persecuted.

On the 2012 list, North Korea is No 1 for the 10th successive year. The remaining nine in the top 10 - and a total of 38 of the 50 countries on the list - are all countries where Muslims predominate.

Nowhere in the world is persecution of Christians more fierce than in North Korea. (Kim Jong-Un recently replaced his late father, Kim Jong-Il, as the country's leader.)

Owning a Bible there could get you killed, or sent to a labour camp. In 2010 hundreds of Christians were arrested; some were murdered. Christians can't share their faith with their children until they are old enough to understand the dangers. Despite the risks, the church is growing: there are an estimated 400,000 believers.

Prayer is requested for an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians suffering horrific conditions in labour camps there.

The other countries in the top 10 are Afghanistan, Saudia Arabia, Somalia, Iran, the Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan. Pakistan made the top 10 for the first time.

Nigeria remains the country with the worst atrocities in terms of lives lost. More than 300 Christians are known to have been martyred in Nigeria last year, though the actual count may be double or triple that number. (The total is probably greater in North Korea, but it is impossible to confirm the number killed in North Korea because of the country's isolation.) The extreme Islamist group Boko Haram has destroyed more than 50 churches and killed 10 pastors in Nigeria since 2009.

China still has the world's largest persecuted church - an estimated 80 million - but has dropped to 21 on the list, due in large part to house church pastors learning how to play "cat and mouse" with the government.

You can see more details of the list here.

While sitting in a pew or in a comfortable chair at home, free to believe what you want to believe, spare a thought for those laying their lives on the line for their Christian faith.