By the time you go to bed tonight, 15 Christians will die today for their faith in Jesus. Ten will be abducted.
These numbers and others (see below) paint a disturbing picture. In more than 70 countries, every day Christians are killed, imprisoned, abducted, sexually assaulted, forced into marriage or forced to leave their homes and even their countries—simply
because they have chosen to follow Jesus.
In recent years, violence against Christians has reached an all-time high. Research for Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List
reveals 5,621 recorded cases of Christians killed for their faith. The actual number, however,
is likely much higher. It’s extremely difficult to estimate the numbers of Christians killed for their faith. Data remains hard to come by despite Open Doors’ extensive on-the-ground networks. After all, no one is reporting when a Somalian family kills
one of their own; or a Christian dies of starvation or beatings in a North Korean labor camp.
Also, many Christians (not included in the 5,621) died indirectly for their faith—due to deprivation (of basic necessities). Many others died in different forms of conflict not specifically related to the persecution situation in their country.
Insecurity, jihadists and violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
The rise is particularly shocking in Sub-Saharan Africa. Again this year, Nigeria
was where an alarming 79% of all Christians were killed—4,650 believers. Pakistan
came second with 11% (620 Christians) followed by the African countries of Burkina Faso
, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Conditions across Sub-Saharan Africa, including economic and political stability, continue to breed insecurity and violence, making the region fertile ground for the ongoing expansion of jihadists. In turn, growing Islamic insurgency creates a pretext
for military juntas to overthrow governments, such as coups in both Mali (2021) and Burkina Faso (2022).
4,650 Nigerian Christians were killed for their faith in a year.
The jihadist movement, which seeks to expand Islamic extremism and Sharia law across the continent, has forced Christians into constant motion, from their homes to displacement camps, or even to other countries.
Christians in the region endure these conditions alongside everyone else, but in the weak states and their ineffective governments within, these conditions have intensified a number of violent trends especially threatening to the church.
Insecurity, stemming from forced displacement, can then make Christians even more vulnerable to further violence. For example, Christian women, in particular, are easily targeted for sexual attack, though levels of sexual violence are particularly difficult
to gauge due to the stigma in church and society. Men are more likely to be killed.
At schools or universities, in employment, just at home or in family circles, Christians can be bullied, seriously mistreated, or killed.
Especially in Sharia-controlled areas, the violence often goes hand-in-hand with serious pressure on Christians in their everyday life. At schools or universities, in employment, just at home or in family circles, Christians can be bullied, seriously
mistreated or, as in the case of university student Deborah Samuel
Deborah was one of the 4,650 Nigerians killed for her faith last year (that’s two people every hour). In May 2022, the world watched in horror as a video of an enraged mob of her Muslim classmates beat Deborah and burned the body of the 21-year-old
home economics major. She was accused of blasphemy against Islam when she posted a Whatsapp message: “Jesus Christ is the greatest. He helped me pass my exams.” For that message and other similar comments, she was murdered.
In 2023, Open Doors is launching a major, multi-year campaign to respond to the rising violence and lawlessness in Africa. Our priority goal is to reach every Christian who has suffered violent persecution with emergency relief, support to help them
rebuild their lives and both spiritual and trauma care. But also, our goal is to challenge the international community to do more to stem the tide of violence.
The risks Christians live with every day
In addition to the number of martyrs, research for the World Watch List offers other findings that collectively, help us see the enormous risk that Christians live with every day:
An average of 10 Christians were abducted every day—a staggering increase of 124% since 2021 (1,710 registered cases to 3,829 in 2022). Abductions were highest in Nigeria (2,510; 66%), followed by Pakistan (1000+; 26%).Together,
both countries account for 92% of the registered abductions.
-Detainment, arrests and sentencing:
The total number of Christians detained for their faith increased from 2,813 registered cases (WWL 2021) to 4,765 (WWL 2022)—an increase of 69%. India registered 1,310 detainment cases while Pakistan
and China saw 1,000+. The three countries make up 90% of the total. Some 1,410 Christians were sentenced for their faith. In all, 6,175 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. That’s a striking 17 believers in one
-Churches and other Christian buildings attacked:
The total number of churches and other Christian buildings attacked in differing forms of severity, increased from 4,488 registered cases (WWL 2021) to 5,110 (WWL 2022)—an increase of
14%. Again, China had again the highest number of churches attacked (3,000 or 59%) followed by Nigeria (470), Bangladesh (200), Pakistan (183) and Qatar(100).
Registered cases of forced marriages of Christians to non-Christians numbered 1,588 though, once again, these kinds of numbers are extremely difficult to get. A world of abject misery for women forced into such marriages
is hidden behind this (far) too low number.
Almost 25,000 (24,678) cases of Christians who have been otherwise physically or mentally abused for faith-related reasons (including beatings and death threats) were recorded though the actual number is likely to be much higher.
Because of violence but also pressure (especially converts forced to leave their homes and communities), the registered cases of Christians forced to leave their homes or go into hiding inside the country for faith-related
reasons was 218,709. However, many more Christians likely became Internally displaced persons (IDPs). In Myanmar alone, there were 200,000.
Statistics like these make us cry out like the psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” How long must our sisters and brothers suffer like this? But the facts of modern-day persecution also push us to do something and take action. Yet the numbers are daunting. We
acknowledge that with such an expansive and gigantic problem, it’s often difficult to know how to respond.
First, we need to pray. Prayer is a powerful weapon in the often complex fight against persecution. Open Doors founder Brother Andrew’s
words are powerfully reminders: “Our prayers can go where we cannot…there
are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”
We can also support our sisters and brothers around the world who risk everything for their faith through our resources. A new Bible. A restored home. A safehouse. Food, clothes, medicine and trauma counseling after an attack. Legal aid and long-term
trauma care. When we equip the local church to care for families, we empower them to care for a community and ultimately share the love of Jesus.
We know that God has not left His people. They are resilient because of His help and His Spirit—and when we support and pray with our persecuted family, they know we haven’t left them, either.