SANTA ANA, CA (Feb. 6, 2003) - The isolated communist nation of North Korea remains atop the Open Doors "World Watch List" of countries where Christians are persecuted. The annual list ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith.
Saudi Arabia holds the second spot on the list followed by Vietnam.
North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are noted as countries where "severe persecution" is taking place. Other countries listed in the WWL's Top Ten include: Laos, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Somalia and Iran. China is listed 11th.
For years, very little information about the church emerged from Kim Il Sung's harsh North Korea regime, which is now ruled by his son, Kim Jong Il. Some even wondered if the church had survived the decades of severe oppression. Recent years, however, have seen a relative "flood" of information coming from North Korean refugees fleeing to China to escape famine. They report that the church has not only survived, but even grown, perhaps to 400,000 Christians who worship in secret. But to visibly practice the Christian faith in North Korea today can still result in imprisonment and death.
"Imagine how nearly impossible it is for Christians to survive, and the Christian faith to grow in North Korea as it again ranks first in the hall of shame of countries repressing the free expression of Christianity," says Terry Madison, president/CEO of Open Doors USA. "And yet, despite its cruel punishment and death to believers, indications are that the Church in North Korea continues to grow despite the best efforts of the government to destroy the Church."
Madison adds that Christians need to lift up the needs of our brothers and sisters in North Korea in prayer as well as millions of other believers in countries on the World Watch List.
The desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the guardian of Islam, requires all its citizens to be Muslims. A Saudi who converts to another religion faces the death penalty for apostasy. Even Christian guest workers from countries such as the Philippines and Korea have been imprisoned and deported for quietly practicing their faith, despite government assurances that foreigners can worship privately.
Oppression in Vietnam has increased during the last two years in the Central Highlands and the northwest provinces. The harsh treatment of predominately Christian tribal groups has caused the Southeast Asia nation to rise in the WWL rankings despite some superficial government moves to "legalize" the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South). Compass Direct reported in December that more than 350 tribal churches had been forcibly closed. Recent government resolutions indicate Vietnamese communist officials plan to increase their infiltration of the church nationwide.
"The World Watch List top 15 provides an interesting mix, if you can use the word 'interesting' for countries where our Christian brothers and sisters suffer so much," says an Open Doors spokesman. "Eight are dominated by Islamic regimes, while two countries -- Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma) -- are predominately Buddhist. Communist governments rule four of the top 15. Then there is the Central Asia nation of Turkmenistan, ranked fifth, which has a mainly Muslim population but is led by a former communist named Niyazov whose ruthlessness and demand for adoration have orchestrated a dictatorship not unlike the Kims of North Korea."
Nos. 11-25 on the World Watch list are: China, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Sudan, Azerbaijan, Yemen, Comoros, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Colombia (conflict areas), Nigeria (north), Cuba, Iraq, Qatar and Libya.
Rounding out the list are Nos. 26-50: Brunei, Morocco, Tunisia, Russian Federation (the Muslim republics of Chechnya, Kabardino, Balkarya and Dagestan), Mexico (southern state of Chiapas), Indonesia, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Kurdistan, Algeria, India, Mauritania, Djibouti, Nepal, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Kuwait, Syria, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Belarus and Jordan.
The World Watch List is based on evaluations and testimonies obtained by Open Doors indigenous contacts, field workers and from actual members of the Persecuted Church.
An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer persecution for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination for being Christian. Open Doors, founded in 1955 by Brother Andrew, author of the bestselling book, "God's Smuggler," seeks to serve and strengthen the Persecuted Church in the world's most difficult areas through training, literature distribution, community development and personal encouragement.
To partner with Open Doors call 949-752-6600, go to its USA web site at www.opendoorsusa.org or write Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799.