“What is Christian Persecution?”
If you were to ask 100 persecuted Christians this question, you’d get 100 answers. The person who owned the Bible pictured above that was burned by Islamic State group probably has an obvious answer to the question. But there are many others.
Consider the experience of Ali, a Christian from Iran who was arrested when his house church was raided
: “When I became a Christian, I said to myself, ‘My family, my country and everything are behind me.’ It was a huge step because there was no support anymore; everyone was opposed to me, so I knew what path I chose.”
This is what Ines*, a Christian teen in Colombia who was recruited by armed gangs, had to say
: “The armed groups like the [girls] who lead a Christian life because they know church girls always properly take care of themselves, and this is why the commanders want them.”
Or hear from Hajaratu, a mom in Nigeria who lost her daughter the night of an attack by extremists
: “Our constant prayer … is that this type of terrible experience should never happen in [our village] again—nor to anybody.”
Then there’s the testimony of Bae*, a Christian in North Korea who helps lead a small group of secret Christians, who smuggled out this note in a lette
r: “From the perspective of other people, our life of suffering must seem like a cursed life; however, this suffering is a blessing from our Father who allowed it in our life because it is a shortcut to the Father.”
And finally, here’s what Islém*, a teen and secret Christian in North Africa told us
: “My family still thinks that I am a Muslim. Only my mother knows that I am a Christian, and she accepts it. My father does not know anything about it. I thought that, if I said anything more, he would kill me.”
These are all real people, and their stories and experience of persecution are different. Their countries, cultures, languages and experiences are different.
But they have some things in common. Each of them shows the daily reality of persecution for them—and for millions of persecuted Christians all over the world.
And they also testify to the goodness of God.
How big is the problem of Christian persecution?
Research for Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List
reveals that over 360 million Christians around the world suffer persecution or discrimination for their faith in Jesus Christ. That means they experience some kind of hostility as a result of proclaiming the name of Jesus or living out their faith.
The Pew Research Center has found that Christians are harassed in more places than any other religious group
. And Open Doors’ research has shown that the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled in the last 30 years.
Open Doors defines Christian persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of proclaiming the name of Jesus.” That hostility can look different for each of the millions of believers who face persecution every day. Some experience rejection and isolation from their families, friends and communities. Others are denied access to basic needs like water, food and health care. Some face violent abuse, imprisonment and even death.
The World Watch List was created in 1993 to help provide an accurate assessment of the problem of persecution against Christians. Each year, this annual report gives details on the 50 countries around the world where Christians experience the most persecution and/or discrimination—which could be from government, family, society or other forces.
What does the Bible say about Christian persecution?
As Christians, we have a biblical command to care for our persecuted sisters and brothers who live around the world. In 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, St. Paul writes: “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
The author of Hebrews echoes this, writing: “Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:2).
And Jesus, in Matthew 25, tells His disciples that when we provide help to our Christian family who is in need, we’re actually caring for Him—because when we care for the Body of Christ, we stand in solidarity with Jesus Himself.
What these passages tell us is that God cares very much about Christians who experience persecution, but that He also has given them a global family who will stand with them. When we support our Christian family through prayer and other ways, we are living into our calling as Christians—suffering and rejoicing with them as if we are physically together.
Because, in Jesus, we are together!
*names have been changed for security purposes