World Watch 2009 — Uzbekistan

uzbek-11Top 10 Nations Where Christians Suffer Worst Persecution

1. North Korea

2. Saudi Arabia

3. Iran

4. Afghanistan

5. Somalia

6. Maldives

7. Yemen

8. Laos

9. Eritrea

10. Uzbekistan

“The situation for Christians in Uzbekistan remained poor during 2008. The constitution provides for freedom of religion, but in practice the government and laws restricted these rights. Activities such as proselytizing, importing religious literature, and offering private religious instruction are forbidden or restricted in the law. In 2008 no new registrations have been issued; many churches had to go underground. In May a TV program was broadcast several times, named “In the claws of ignorance”, in which Christians were portrayed extremely negatively. Media campaigns against Christians were more frequent and fiercer. In 2008 Christians were kept in detention for a day or longer and then fined. Christians do not only face persecution from the government but also from Muslim family members, who can put much pressure on new Christians. Christians have been cut off from water supplies and/or electricity to force them out of the village or to make them renounce their faith. Christian families have been threatened, and then they move from one Mahalla (district) to another. Christians are forced to leave their houses because of threats from the Mahalla committees.” (World Watch 2009)

Prayer Challenges

Uzbekistan‘s capital Tashkent is the Islamic capital of Central Asia – and for a lot of people Islam is part of their cultural identity. Pray that people would be released from any cultural pressure to be Islamic in any way and have the freedom to explore Christianity.

Most Christians in Uzbekistan are Koreans and Russians. Pray that Christians would be able to cross the cultural divide between Uzbeks, Koreans and Russians and break down any mistrust or suspicion. uzbek-2

Uzbekistan has one of the worst records in the world for religious freedom. The government particularly targets dynamic and evangelistic churches, making it impossible for them to officially register. Telling people about God could earn you three years in prison and for opening an unregistered Christian group you would get five years. Pray that God would give Christians strength and perseverance in the face of persecution. (Operation World)

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World Watch 2009 — Eritrea

erit-1Top 10 Nations Where Christians Suffer Worst Persecution

1. North Korea

2. Saudi Arabia

3. Iran

4. Afghanistan

5. Somalia

6. Maldives

7. Yemen

8. Laos

9. Eritrea

“Eritrea is new in the top ten of the World Watch List. Although the tiny Horn of Africa country rose mainly due to the fall in points of other countries, the deplorable situation of Christians very much justifies a position in the top ten. The Eritrean government severely restricts freedom of religion for unregistered groups and violates the rights of some registered groups. Since May 2002, the only authorized religions recognized by the state are Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Islam. Anyone caught worshipping outside the four recognized religious institutions, even in private homes, has been subjected to arrest, torture and severe pressure to deny his or her faith. The already lamentable situation of Christians worsened further in 2008. For years it was reported that more than 2,000 Christians had been detained under harsh conditions. However, church leaders in Eritrea told Open Doors recently that almost 3,000 Christians had been incarcerated for their faith by mid-December. A campaign of mass arrests all over the country was initiated at the end October. Hundreds of evangelical Christians, including women and children from a variety of underground churches, were arrested. Several Christians were released on bail during the past year but many, including pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, remain under arrest in police stations, military camps, metal shipping containers and jails all across Eritrea. None of the prisoners has been charged officially or given access to judicial process. In many cases, police authorities are subjecting the detained Christians to beatings and other physical mistreatment. We received reports that in 2008 three Christians died as a result of the poor conditions in prison and from extensive torture.” (World Watch List 2009)

Prayer Challenges

Pray that there will a genuine end to the hostility between Eritrea and Ethiopia and humility and trust between the countries leaders.

Great mosque of Asmara

Great mosque of Asmara

Government restrictions have stopped Christian organisations from bringing help and aid into Eritrea and made it hard for any Christians to go and live or work there. Pray that these restrictions would be lifted.

A third of the population are Tigre – who are almost entirely Muslim. Pray for the few Tigre who are Christians, that they can be a powerful witness in their lives. (Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — Laos

laos-mapTop 10 Nations Where Christians Suffer Worst Persecution

1. North Korea

2. Saudi Arabia

3. Iran

4. Afghanistan

5. Somalia

6. Maldives

7. Yemen

8. Laos

“The church is relatively small but continues to grow (about 200,000 believers, who mostly belong to ethnic minorities). There was hardly any improvement in religious liberty in 2008 in the country. The Laotian authorities allow limited presence of Christianity and put believers under strict surveillance. From time to time believers are arrested, many of whom experience extreme physical and emotional pressure (torture) to renounce their (new) faith. The regime limits the number of open churches and regularly closes churches, especially in the countryside. The biggest challenges to the church in Laos are societal pressure against converts who renounce evil spirit worship and the negative perception of the government on Christianity (The Church) as agents for the USA to bring political change in Laos towards “democracy.” The Christians’ patriotism is questioned. They are being accused of not being good citizens. In one incident, some Christians were caught with an anti-government organization clamoring for an independent state with full autonomy. But still there are many unregistered activities and the church seems to be growing despite persecution. In February 2008, 58 believers were arrested in two villages in Bokeo province. In March, eight pastors were arrested on the border as they were on their way to a training session in Thailand. In July there were large-scale raids in Boukham and Katin villages in which at least 80 believers were arrested. Though most of those arrested have been released, an unknown number are still in jail.” (World Watch List 2009)

Prayer Challenges

“There a still huge parts of the country that have never heard the gospel. laos-collage

“Over 90% of trained church leaders left Laos in 1975 in the face of persecution. It is still dangerous and difficult for church leaders to leave the country to get training. Pray that through small house group fellowships – the churches will grow and mentor other leaders as well.”(Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — Yemen

yemen-1Top 10 Nations Where Christians Suffer Worst Persecution

1. North Korea

2. Saudi Arabia

3. Iran

4. Afghanistan

5. Somalia

6. Maldives

7. Yemen

“The Yemeni Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but it also declares that Islam is the state religion and that Sharia is the source of all legislation. The Yemeni government allows expatriates some freedom to live out their faith, but Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). Converts from Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is dscovered. Proselytizing of Muslims is prohibited. Converts from Islam encounter opposition from the authorities and also extremist groups, who threaten “apostates’’ with death if they do not revert to Islam. During the past year, several Christian converts were arrested, physically harmed and threatened for their faith. There was no major change in the lack of religious freedom for Christians in Yemen in 2008.” (World Watch List 2009)

Prayer Challenges

“80% of the adult population chew the drug qat, which is grown in the rural areas. The knock on effect is enormous – with drug related corruption affecting all levels of society. yemen-2

“It is illegal for Muslims to become Christians – but amazingly around 100 Yemenis have given their lives to Jesus and face extreme danger and isolation from their families. Pray that there would be opportunities and greater freedom for them to meet together and share their faith with families and friends.

“Yemen is one of the least evangelised countries in the world. Pray that the gospel can spread and be heard by everyone.” (Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — Maldives

mald-1The Maldives or Maldive Islands, officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island nation consisting of a group of atolls stretching south of India‘s Lakshadweep islands between Minicoy Island and the Chagos Archipelago, and about seven hundred kilometres (435 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka in the Laccadive Sea of Indian Ocean. The twenty-six atolls of Maldives encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, of which two hundred and fifty islands are inhabited.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maldives)

Maldives is the No. 6 Worst Persecutor of Christians in the world, after (1) North Korea, (2) Saudi Arabia, (3) Iran, (4) Afghanistan, and (5) Somalia.

6. Maldives

“In the archipelago of the Maldives, Islam is the official state religion and all citizens must be Muslims. Sharia law is observed, which prohibits the conversion from Islam to another religion. A convert could lose citizenship. Prohibiting the practice of any other religion than Islam is considered to be an important tool in stimulating national unity and maintenance of the government’s power. Thus it is impossible to open any church, though foreigners are allowed to practice their religion in private as individuals. Gathering for Christian worship among foreigners is also prohibited, and foreigners are not allowed to encourage citizens to participate in worship. The Bible and other Christian materials cannot be imported apart from a copy for personal use. In the country — one of the least evangelized countries on earth — there are only a handful of indigenous believers, and they live their faith in complete secrecy because of the omnipresent social control by other Maldivians. There was almost no improvement in religious liberty in 2008, despite the fact that a new constitution was implemented and the country elected a new president, Mr. Nasheed. There were no reports this year about indigenous believers who were arrested or of expatriate Christians deported from the country.” (World Watch 2009)

“The Maldives government claims to tourists that the Indian Ocean archipelago represents “the sunny of side of life”, yet it severely represses freedom of thought, conscience and belief. The Maldives is one of the few countries – such as Saudi Arabia – that legally allow only one faith to be practised publicly. However, the Maldivian authorities go much further even than that, insisting on homogeneity in religion and that all citizens must be Muslims. Islam itself can only be practised in the government version of Sunni Islam. The public practice of any other faith – including other varieties of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity – is banned.” (Christian Solidarity International)mald-2

Prayer Challenges

“The few Christians in the Maldives are continually watched – they can’t meet together and have to secretively read the Bible. Pray that their faith would be strong and that their relationship with God would be blessed.

“No Christian missionaries have ever been allowed into the Maldives – in 1998 50 Maldivians suspected of being Christian were imprisoned and tortured.” (Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — Somalia

Top 10 Nations Where Christians Suffer Worst Persecution

som-11. North Korea

2. Saudi Arabia

3. Iran

4. Afghanistan

5. Somalia

“During 2008, the situation deteriorated in Somalia with the Islamist insurgents winning influence. Islamist insurgents regained control of most of south-central Somalia, except for Mogadishu, fromgovernment and Ethiopian forces. The Transitional Government was on the verge of collapse and the Djibouti-based Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS) opposition has negotiated the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in 2009. The fighting between Somali Islamic militias and Ethiopian forces reportedly led to an increase in hostility towards Christians in several parts of the war torn East African country. Four Christian teachers, two of them converts from Islam, were murdered by Islamic militants in south-central Somalia. In total, we received reports of at least ten Christians being killed for their faith in 2008 and several others kidnapped and raped. Somalia has no constitution or any legal provision for the protection of religious freedom. Islam is the official religion, and social pressure is strong to respect Islamic tradition, especially in certain rural parts of the country. Most regions make use of local forms of conflict resolution, either secular, traditional clan-based arbitration, or Islamic (Sharia) law. A very tiny minority of ethnic Somalis are Christian, practicing their faith in secret and living under extremely dangerous conditions.”

Prayer Challenges

“As Christians immigrate out, Christianity is projected to slide from 2% of the population in mid-1995 to 0.7% of the population in 2025.

“Somalis are desperate for peace please pray that peace would come and that God would be glorified in it. som-2

“Although the majority of the population are Muslim, the greed and fighting between Islamic groups has contributed to the civil war. Some people are turning to more radical Islamic groups but many are totally disillusioned with Islam. Pray that they would find Jesus and find a real, dynamic and consistent faith.

“Pray for the protection and safety of those delivering vital food aid and medical care.

“The Somali church has been driven totally underground; some leaders have been named on a hit list for execution. Pray that God would protect them and that they would remain strong in their faith.” (Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — Afghanistan

afgh-11The top persecutor of believers of Christ is North Korea, which leads other nations for 7 years now.  Next in line is Saudi Arabia, followed by Iran.  It is based on the World Watch List (WWL) of Open Doors, an evangelical mission agency focused on the persecuted church.  The WWL “is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire of 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the WWL.” (www.odusa.org, accessed February 9, 2009)

The no. 4 spot goes to:

4. Afghanistan

“The general situation in Afghanistan remains difficult for Christians (and non-Christians alike for that matter). For most to survive from day to day is a struggle. Pressure from the Taliban movement has increased during 2008 and the situation in the country is tense. Everyone who operates outside the social norm faces pressure. There is no visible church in the country and it is nearly impossible to be active as a church in Afghanistan. It remains difficult for Christians to live in an Islamic republic. The constitution states that Islam is the “religion of the state” and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Christians have no right in the country and the attitude of officials toward Christians is negative. Christians face persecution from the government when they know that they are followers of Christ. But most pressure comes from within the family and social network of the believer. Local believers have faced rejection and persecution from their families due to their new-found faith. Christians have been expelled from their homes after making their new faith in Christ known to their families. Also, repeated verbal abuse and intimidation, beatings, loss of employment, imprisonment, and sometimes even death is the harsh reality. For Christian Non-government Organizations, it has become more difficult to work inside the country and security is of primary concern. Kidnappings of aid workers have greatly increased. A Christian aid worker in the capital city of Kabul was killed because, according to the Taliban, she was spreading Christianity in Afghanistan which is prohibited by law in the country. In spite of all the problems, the Afghan church continues to grow in all segments of society.” (World Watch 2009)

Prayer Challenges

“The new government has a challenging time ahead. Pray for God’s wisdom in the decisions they make and courage to practically uphold their agreement to the Human Rights Charter.

“Afghanistan‘s living standards are among the lowest in the world. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs, but the Afghan government and international donors remain committed to improving access to these basic necessities by prioritizing infrastructure development, education, housing development, jobs programs, and economic reform over the next year.

“Pray that God will bring a lasting peace and justice to Afghanistan.

“Under the Taliban regime women in Afghanistan were denied basic human rights and suffered cruelly at the hands of men. Pray that promised freedom will be a reality for women in Afghanistan. afgh-2

“Afghanistan is one of the least reached countries in the world. There are an amazing 48,000 mosques. Under Taliban rule the death penalty was imposed for anyone converting from Islam. Pray that this will not continue unofficially.

“Approximately half the population are ‘Pashtuns’ – the largest Muslim tribal society in the world. There are 27 million Pashtuns living in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. Pray that those working with the Pashtuns will be encouraged and that they have breakthrough.” (Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — Iran

g-wld-080408-iran-america-3ahtease

I remember when I was a new believer back in High School. Joevy Tan, one of our church youth leaders, showed me a copy of the book, “Operation World,” by Patrick Johnstone. It was an old copy but there were lots of information and prayer requests about every nation in the world. He told me at the time that he was praying for Algeria. I’m glad he did. The Holy Spirit caused a passion in me for the nations also. Today, Operation World continues to challenge us to pray for Iran, the 3rd worst persecutor of Christians in the world (see Prayer Challenges below).

3. Iran

“This year, Iran and Saudi Arabia have the same total of points. Since Saudi Arabia had higher points last year, it is labeled number 2 and Iran is 3. The reason for the increase in points for Iran is due to some dramatic developments for Christians during 2008. A major crackdown on house churches occurred during the past year, marking 2008 as one of the toughest years regarding Christian persecution since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In total, we recorded more than 50 Christians arrested for their faith in one of the world’s most repressive societies. A Christian couple died after interrogation by government officials, due to injuries and stress caused during captivity. Islam is the official religion in Iran, and all laws and regulations must be consistent with the official interpretation of Sharia law.  although Christians are a recognized religious minority who are guaranteed religious freedom, they have reported imprisonment, physical abuse, harassment and discrimination because of their faith.  Under the judicial interpretations of Sharia law, any Muslim who leaves Islam to embrace another religion faces the death penalty.  However, last September the Iranian Parliament has also called for the Penal Code to be revised, making apostasy punishable by death only.  Formerly, the court could also hand down a jail term or hard labor as alternatives.  Armenian and Assyrian churches are allowed to teach fellow countrymen in their own language, but it is forbidden to minister to people with a Muslim background (speaking Farsi).  Many church services are being monitored by the secret police.  Believers that are active in churches or the cell group movement are being pressured.  They are questioned, arrested and put in jail and beaten.  Individual believers are being oppressed by society, under pressure of the authorities.  They have difficulty in finding and keeping a job and are easily fired when it becomes known they are Christian.”

Prayer Challenges

“Pray for political change in Iran – so that people can live in a fairer and more humane society.

“Pray that the population will see through government propaganda and demand a return to social and religious freedom.“Pray for all those Christians from a Muslim background. The struggles they face are huge – there are rejected and isolated from their families and forbidden from meeting with other Christians.

imagevah110121221003

“Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in their hearts and lives and that they would not be discouraged in the face of opposition. Parsees are people who follow an ancient Persian religion (the wise men who visited Jesus were Parsees!) There are communities of Parsees living across the Middle East and Asia and over 2 million live in Iran.

“None of them have been reached by the gospel – pray for opportunities for them to come to hear about Jesus and worship him – just like the wise men did!” (Operation World)

Tomorrow, you will know more about the 4th worst persecutor of Christ-followers in the world.

World Watch 2009 — Saudi Arabia

The Mosques of Mecca, a major city of prayer in Saudi Arabia

The Mosques of Mecca, a major city of prayer in Saudi Arabia

According to World Watch 2009, North Korea is ranked as the top persecutor of Christians for the last 7 years. The second country with the worst record of persecution is Saudi Arabia.

2. Saudi Arabia

“In Sharia-ruled Saudi Arabia, the deplorable state of religious freedom remained generally unaltered in 2008. We received more information on incidents against Christians, which led to an increase in points. Under the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, apostasy (conversion to another religion) is punishable by death if the accused does not recant. For believers from a Muslim background, there is also a great risk of honor killing if their family or social environment discovers their new faith. During 2008, there was one confirmed report of honor killing of a convert to Christianity within a family. Public non-Muslim worship is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Non-Muslim worshippers who engage in such activities risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture. During the reporting period, we received more reports of Christians arrested for their involvement in religious activities than during the previous year.”

Millions of Muslims pray in Mecca, or Makkah, Saudi Arabia.  They pray, not just during the Hajj season, but year-round.

Millions of Muslims pray in Mecca, or Makkah, Saudi Arabia. They pray, not just during the Hajj season, but year-round.

Prayer Challenges

“Believing in Jesus carries a death sentence and entry to the country is refused for most non-Muslims. All this makes Saudi Arabia the hardest and most terrifying place on earth for people to hear about Jesus and worship him. BUT God is bigger than any strategy that separates Him from the people he loves. Even in Saudi there are 50,000 people risking their lives to believe in God. This is an amazing testimony to thank God for and at the same a serious challenge for us to pray for change.

“Pray for the protection of believers in Saudi who face imprisonment, torture and even execution. Pray that many more would be able to hear the gospel, read the Bible and meet together in safety.” (Operation World)

World Watch 2009 — North Korea

nkWorld Watch 2009 is out. Published by Open Doors, it provides a list of countries around the world where Christians suffer the worst persecution. I have copied the Top 10 countries below.

Last October 2004, I organized “Missionsfest 2004” together with 10 other Baptist pastors of the Baptist Conference of the Philippines-Cebu District. “Missionfest 2004” was a missions mobilizing conference focussed on Muslim missions. We gathered about 500 believers from various churches in Cebu, at UP College, Cebu City. We urged the attendees to exert all efforts to pray and send more missionaries to Muslim unreached people groups. Since then, I haven’t heard of any other conference highlighting muslim missions, at least in the Visayas and Mindanao.

As I have predicted years ago, Islam will continue to be the most challenging religion in this age. It will play a major role during the Tribulation Period. It is one of the fastest growing and resistant religions in the world. According to the World Watch 2009 report, “Islam is the majority religion in seven of the top ten countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen and Uzbekistan. Two countries have communist governments: North Korea and Laos. Eritrea is the only dictatorial country in the 10 highest countries on the list.”

Already, many Muslims are coming to Christ secretly. Let us pray fervently and regularly for the Gospel of Christ to penetrate the final frontier—the less than 10,000 unreached people groups of the world—where Islam controls the mind and culture of the land.

Please study the report below. Open Doors, founded by Brother Andrew, is the only evangelical missions agency I know that’s focussed on the persecuted church worldwide. You or your church may want to support Open Doors Philippines in this task.

Lead your church to pray for the Muslim world. The day will come when people from every Muslim tribe, tongue, and nation will stand before the throne and worship the Lamb. It will happen because you and your church prayed and supported missionaries to them!

Focus on the Top Ten

1. North Koreank2

North Korea tops the World Watch List for the seventh time in a row. Daily life for Christians in the country remains extremely harsh. The border between China and North Korea is almost closed; everything and everyone going in and out of North Korea is strictly checked. As usual, executions occurred in secret. The number of people sentenced to labor camp or prison has increased compared to last year. North Korea is closing its doors and Christians are persecuted constantly. They suffer immensely as no one is allowed to be a Christian in North Korea. Genuine religious freedom does not exist at all. The constitution is firmly based on Juche ideology. The North Korean regime believes that it will collapse if it fails to stop the spreading of Christianity.

Prayer Challenges

“We don’t know very much about the Church in North Korea – because it is so dangerous to be a Christian all the churches have to take place in secret. Over 100,000 Christians are also being held in labour camps. Pray for the safety of Christians in North Korea.

“As many as 3 million people died from starvation between 1994 and 2000, yet the government stockpiles food reserved for the army. Pray that food and aid would reach people in desperate need.” (Operation World)

In our next post, watch out for the No. 2 country in the world that persecutes believers of Jesus Christ.