365 million+ people.
Modern-day persecution of Christians is at its highest level yet. Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List—an in-depth investigative report focusing on global Christian persecution—reveals that today, more than 365 million worldwide (up from 360 million last year) Christians face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. That’s one in seven followers of Jesus worldwide who are targeted and attacked.
The newly released World Watch List (based on research conducted from October 2022 to September 2023) reveals the 50 most dangerous countries to live as a Christian—and the stark reality for God’s people who live under fire from their families, communities, extremist groups and their nation’s authorities.
Below, we look at the world’s 10 most dangerous places to be a Christian—the nations where saying “yes” to Jesus is also saying “yes” to a life of risk and a dependence on the hope of Christ.
Once again, North Korea is the most dangerous country for Christians. For more than 20 years, the country has been at or near the top of the World Watch List. In the “hermit kingdom,” being discovered as a Christian can be effectively a death sentence. Often, either believers will be deported to labor camps as political criminals—where they face a life of hard labor which few survive—or they are killed on the spot. The same fate awaits family members. There are believed to be tens of thousands of Christians held in labor camps across the country.
Meeting for worship or owning a Bible is a serious crime in North Korea and will be severely punished. In May 2023, five members of a family were arrested as they gathered for prayer and Bible study. The deplorable treatment of believers is driven by the authoritarian regime’s view that Christians are a particular threat to the country’s leadership and society. However, even in such a hostile place, we know there is an underground church estimated at 350,000 to 400,000 believers whose hope in Christ is greater than the oppression they live under each day.
Pray that secret believers will be protected from the scrutiny of the authorities as they meet together.
In the Muslim-majority nation—one of the eight countries making up the Horn of Africa—all Somalis are expected to be Muslim and follow Sharia (Islamic) law. Imams in mosques and madrassas state publicly that there is no room for Christianity, Christians or churches. The violent insurgent group al-Shabab has repeatedly expressed its desire to eradicate Christians from the East African country. In Somalia, Christians from Muslim backgrounds are regarded as high-value targets and may be killed on the spot if discovered.
Christians also face serious persecution from their family and community. Leaving Islam is regarded as a betrayal of the family and clan, and family members and clan leaders will harass, intimidate and even kill Somali converts. Anyone even suspected of being a Christian convert is closely monitored by elders in the community, and their own family members. Yet the Somalis that have come to faith in Christ are unrelenting in their conviction and are a force for the gospel. One Somali woman shared with our local partners in East Africa that after becoming a Christian, she suffered repeated attacks on her life. “I [tried] 100 times to leave Jesus and not to follow Him—but I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I decided to follow Him.”
Pray that believers who risk everything to follow Jesus will have strength to persevere in their faith despite the dangers.
In the North African nation, authorities assert that Libya is a wholly Islamic nation. Sharia law governs how the nation is run and how problems are resolved. This means, in society’s eyes, there can be no Christians in Libya—and that's what the authorities in charge want the public to believe.
But the truth is more complicated. Because the majority of believers in Libya conceal their faith—sometimes for years—the exact number of believers there is not fully known. When someone’s faith is discovered, they will likely be scorned by their own family and risk imprisonment. There are a few churches in Libya, all of which cater toward migrant communities. But even believers in these churches are at risk. Yet the most dangerous activity in Libya for Christians is evangelism—particularly sharing the gospel with Muslims. Sharing your faith is illegal in Libya, and discussing your faith with others is dangerous. In a nation where Islam is the law and Christianity is not an option, tolerating Christians is not something the Libyan government or society advocates. Bottom line: Every Christian in Libya is in constant danger of losing their life.
Pray that God would help His people find fellowship with one another. Ask God to give the Libyan church the ability to meet.
Believers in Eritrea in the Horn of Africa continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus. For 20 years, the East African nation has only recognized three official Christian denominations: Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran, and even those churches are closely monitored. Those who have become Christians from Muslim backgrounds, or who leave the Eritrean Orthodox Church for a non-traditional church, face extreme pressure and persecution from their own families and communities. Authorities perpetuate a stigma against believers and encourage neighbors to spy on and report each other. Over the years, government security forces have conducted hundreds of house-to-house raids to catch other Christians.
Following Christ in the country known as the “North Korea of Africa” and sharing the gospel comes at a high cost, especially if you remain in Eritrea. It’s not a question of if, but when you will be imprisoned. There are thought to be 1,000 Christians indefinitely detained in Eritrean prisons not officially charged with anything. But we know that even in the face of imprisonment, the church in Eritrea—though much of it is underground—has not stopped growing and continues to share the gospel with others.
Pray for wisdom and discernment for the church in Eritrea. Pray that they will be courageous in sharing the gospel, but also mindful of their precarious situation.
Following Jesus in Yemen continues to be extremely dangerous. Most believers are Yemeni and come from Muslim backgrounds. As conversion from Islam is forbidden by Islamic and state law, Christians risk severe repercussions from their families, the authorities or radical Islamic groups. Yemeni Christians face targeted persecution from government, family and community, and as the influence of more extreme and violent Islamic groups grows, following Jesus becomes even more difficult.
In Yemen, Christians must keep their faith secret. “You cannot reveal that you're a Christian here,” says one of our contacts inside the region. “You cannot have an identity as a Christian. You cannot have a church. You cannot get your birth certificate, which makes every Yemeni a Muslim. You cannot get married [if you’re a Christian]. It’s impossible to live as a Christian.”
It's also very difficult for Christians to come together. They only gather with Christians they have already known for a long time to avoid being betrayed. And the humanitarian crisis caused by Yemen's 10-year civil war has also exacerbated the pressure on believers. While some relief aid is available, this is mostly distributed through local Muslim groups and mosques, which some claim discriminate against anyone not considered a devout Muslim.
Pray for strength and protection for believers living in areas where they are at risk from Islamic militant groups. Pray for courage to share their faith, and that the underground church will grow.
In Africa’s most populous country, more believers are killed for their faith each year than everywhere else in the world combined. Violence remains the most dangerous and prevalent threat. Christians in Nigeria, particularly in the Muslim-majority north, continue to live under immense pressure from Islamic militants and armed “bandits.” The brutal attacks can involve destruction of properties, abductions for ransom, sexual violence and death. Believers are stripped of their livelihoods and driven from their homes, leaving a trail of grief and trauma.
The government’s failure to protect Christians has only strengthened the militants’ influence. And these attacks have led to large numbers of Christians (and other Nigerians) being forced to live in camps for internally displaced people where women and children are particularly vulnerable to health issues and human trafficking. Despite these challenges, the church in Nigeria is a resilient church. They understand what it means to rely on their Savior for every breath. And they are asking the worldwide Church to pray with them.
Pray for an end to the violence inflicted by bandits and militant groups across Nigeria.
Christians in Pakistan are considered second-class citizens and face discrimination in every aspect of life. Occupations that are deemed low, dirty and degrading—such as working as a sewer cleaner or in a brick kiln—are reserved for Christians. Many are referred to as chura
, a derogatory term meaning "filthy.”
“We are a lower class because we are Christians,” says one of the 600,000 Pakistani women working in factories. “It is an insult to Muslims to eat with us off the same plate. If we touch their plate, it becomes defiled. We have no right to any privileges, and have no right to
dignity. When I had my son, I was put on a dirty bed that still had blood from the woman who had given birth before me. Other women were given a clean bed, but for me, the Isai
(the Urdu word for “Christian”), there was only the option of a dirty one.”
The August 2023 devastating mob violence against the Christian community in the city of Jaranwala was a sobering reminder of the hostile environment facing many believers in Pakistan. The attack on more than 20 churches and almost 100 homes came in response to allegations that two believers had desecrated the Quran—another distorted use of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. The laws are often used to target minority groups, but Christians are disproportionately affected. Roughly a quarter of all blasphemy accusations target Christians, who only make up 1.8% of the population.
Pray that Pakistan's blasphemy laws will be changed so that Christians will be safe from false accusations and pray for strength for Christians who must live as second-class citizens every day.
Much has changed this year in Sudan—and it's not positive. “Christians in Sudan are especially vulnerable and on the receiving end in war times,” says an Open Doors research expert for East Africa. The crisis stems from a power struggle between the National Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Latest figures show that more than 9,000 people have been killed and nearly 6 million displaced. More than 165 churches have closed and others have been destroyed. Churches have also reported human rights violations such as rape, kidnapping and looting.
All of this comes alongside the oppression experienced by those who have chosen to leave Islam for Christianity. There are concerns that the conflict will give Islamic extremists a renewed foothold in the country, undoing the reforms made by the transitional civilian government which gave more freedom to Christians, including abolishing the apostasy law and removing Islam as the state religion.
More immediately, those who convert to Christianity from Muslim backgrounds continue to face huge dangers. Some will even refrain from telling their children about Jesus, for fear they may inadvertently disclose their parents’ faith to the local community.
Pray for an end to the violence in Sudan and for provision for Christians who have been displaced.
For Iranian Christians who convert from Islam, not even the veneer of tolerance is present. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in Iran, and anyone caught as a convert can be arrested and imprisoned. The government views conversion as an attempt by the West to undermine Islam and the Islamic government of Iran. This means that anyone who is discovered to be a member of a house church can be charged with a crime against national security, potentially leading to long prison sentences.
Christian converts who leave Islam can also face pressure from their families and communities. Converts can lose their inheritance, unmarried Christians can be forced into marriage to a Muslim, and married believers may be forced to divorce or face losing their children.
The situation in Iran has remained largely the same. In July 2023, another wave of mass arrests took place. Life in the Islamic Republic continues to be difficult for believers; converts attend underground churches under incredible risk. But God is still working and moving among His people there and continues to grow the church in Iran. An Iranian ministry leader recently shared with us: “The harvest is ready. There are so many people that have not heard about Jesus yet, but their hearts are really open to receive His salvation. Please pray that God would bring more workers to the field … .”
Pray for secret converts from Islam in Iran. Pray they would find fellowship and that God would protect them from arrest and imprisonment.
When the Taliban came to power over Afghanistan in August 2021, they did so with pledges to recognize more freedoms than in the past. But that hasn't happened—if an Afghan’s Christian faith is discovered, it can be a death sentence, or they can be detained and tortured into giving information about fellow believers. As far as the Taliban are concerned, there are "no Christians" in Afghanistan.
Many Christians fled the country during the Taliban takeover; those who remain either couldn't get out, or feel called to remain. This means there are fewer chances of fellowship than before, and the church has been driven underground even more than before. Most house churches that existed before the Taliban (even if they had to be hidden) have been closed.
The surrounding society and family structure has no space for religious freedom, and the government upholds this rigid stance. This means Christians—almost all of whom are converts from Islam—must keep their faith secret, or they may simply disappear. As one Afghan Christian who remains in the country tells us, “We feel disoriented and alone.”
Pray for the protection of secret believers and that they would know they’re part of a worldwide Church that hears their story and prays for them each day.
Download the 2024 World Watch List to see, learn about, and pray for all 50 of the countries most dangerous for Christians.
Top photo: Representative photo from Pakistan, taken by AA Dil, PEXELS