Each year, around this time of year, Open Doors ministry releases its “World Watch List”. This year, 2016, I’ll be waiting to see it next Wednesday. The World Watch List collects data on the persecution of Christians around the world during the last 12 months, and puts together a list of the 50 countries where Christians face the most trouble for their faith.
I was first introduced to Open Doors a couple of years ago, and have found this list to be a way to keep up with our brothers & sisters around the world and the struggles they face. Its also a way I’ve found to be able to pray for a different church each week throughout the year. It’s humbling for me to see the difficulties that Christians face in other places for their faith, and at the same time makes me grieve for those parts of the body of Christ, and grateful to live in a place where we have the freedom we do.
When our brothers & sisters in Christ face trial and tribulation, we do grieve with them. We are united together into the body of Christ (Rom. 6:3), and when one part of the body suffers, the whole body is affected. Just think of how it feels to have one part of our own physical body be unwell-sunburn on the skin, a respiratory infection in the lungs, or an injury to a joint. When part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. It’s no different with the body of Christ- our brothers & sisters face significant persecution each day, and we suffer with them.
While we grieve for other Christians, and sometimes struggle with the question of what we could do to help, there is another thing that we can be keenly aware of as we consider persecution. In the United States, we have more freedom to practice our faith than most Christians in most countries of the world. There are 50 countries that make the World Watch List each year-those are the ones where there is the most outright persecution, but even in other nations there are restrictions that most Christians in the US would find intolerable. For instance, in several countries in Europe, it’s essentially illegal to homeschool; others have major restrictions on religious dress or jewelry of any kind; and in the most tolerant of middle eastern countries, a couple wishing to marry must have the ceremony performed by clergy of an ‘official’ religious organization. These are freedoms we in the United States often take for granted.
Often, we are limited in what we can do for our brothers and sisters-there are a number of international tensions and considerations that limit what we individuals can do. We can, of course, listen to Christians around the world ourselves, and pray for them. We remember their struggles, bring them before the Lord, and bring material help as we are gifted and able. This week, even as North Korea enters the headlines for some of those international concerns, we Christians remember the country for a different reason. For the last 13 years, North Korea has topped the list as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world- a country so bad that Christians there sometimes flee to China for relief! Be thankful this week for the freedoms we have here, and pray for those of our household of faith around the world who face a new year that promises to be just as tough as the one that’s passed.
Be sure to check out the new list next week! https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/