In 2021, modern-day persecution against Christians is at an all-time high—with numbers increasing at an alarming rate. Research for the Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List—the most in-depth investigative research and report on Christian persecution available—shows that today, more than 340 million people worldwide face persecution and discrimination for their faith.
That’s 1 in 8 Christians who are targeted, discriminated against and attacked for following Jesus.
Below, we look at the top 10 countries where Christian persecution is highest. In many of these countries, life is already difficult. Making the decision to follow Jesus and live as a Christian in is a choice that puts your life, family’s lives and livelihood in further jeopardy. In certain countries like North Korea, Afghanistan and Somalia, converting to Christianity can be a death warrant. And in 2020, we saw the pandemic crisis reveal the ugliness of persecution in new ways, as Christian families were denied government-assisted COVID-19 relief they desperately needed to survive.
For the 20th consecutive year, North Korea ranks as the No. 1 most dangerous country for Christians. For three generations, everything in this isolated land has focused on idolizing the ruling Kim family. Christians are seen as hostile elements in society that must be eradicated. Thus, being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence. If you aren’t killed instantly, an inhumane labor camp awaits. North Korean President Kim Jong-un is reported to have expanded the system of prison camps, in which an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned.
Also in 2020, North Korea did not escape the pandemic—though the regime claims COVID-19 has had little impact. We received reports that North Koreans call coronavirus the “ghost disease”–because people are so malnourished already that they die very quickly from COVID-19. The pandemic has led to tighter security at the Chinese border, and a stranglehold on the black market, which many use to survive.
Yet behind the news headlines, a massive underground church of an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 believers is growing in North Korea. It is a miracle that this underground church in North Korea is able to exist. But more than that, we continue to hear reports that Christians long to share the gospel in the midst of difficult conditions.
North Korean refugee and ex-prisoner Hee-Yoi* shares a sobering request: “I ask those who have been praying for North Korea from all around the world to pray for North Korea to be able to come to the gospel. The North Korean citizens are like slaves. With the light of the Lord, they would be freed.”