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The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story by Adelle M. Banks was published on Jan. 19. It has been edited for length. A final paragraph with a resource from a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church has been added.

Afghanistan is the most dangerous country for Christians, according to an annual list put together by the Christian watchdog group Open Doors. It is the first time in two decades that North Korea has not been at the top of the list.

Open Doors said the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan government in mid-August forced many Afghan Christians—most of whom are converts from Islam—to go into hiding.

“This proved a game-changer not only for women and ethnic minorities, but also for religious minorities, including Christian converts, who are seen as apostates,” said the organization’s annual report, released last week (Jan. 19). “With the Taliban’s grip on power growing stronger and reaching into more and more districts, the situation for Christian converts is becoming increasingly challenging.”

Overall, no new countries appeared in Open Doors’ top 10 most dangerous countries for Christians. Afghanistan was second on the list last year.

North Korea is now listed second, though its persecution score increased slightly, based in part on a rise in the arrests of Christians and the closings of house churches. The country also adopted a new law countering “reactionary thought” that bars the Bible among “foreign published materials.”

The level of persecution is “the same in North Korea and Afghanistan until you get to violence, and this year the violence has been more dramatic in Afghanistan,” said Open Doors President David Curry of the findings at an online news conference.

Related: Jonathan Umran and Rev. Naji Umran’s October 2021 feature, Through The Storm, tells of the persistent faith of Yusuf, a convert to Christianity, and encourages “... God molds us through such trials. It is a reminder that our faith is not defined by the trials it faces, but by the ways we respond.”

Across the globe, Open Doors found that there has been a 24% increase in Christians killed because of their faith, increasing from 4,761 cited in its report last year to 5,898 this year.

Nigeria, for the second year in a row, was named as the country where Christians are subject to the most violence. It was cited for 79% of the recorded killings, or 4,650.

The number of churches attacked worldwide also increased to 5,110 for 2022, compared with 4,488 the previous year.

The watchdog said its findings indicate that more than 360 million Christians across the world—or 1 in 7 members of the Christian faith — are suffering high levels of discrimination and persecution. Curry called Christian women in particular “the most vulnerable group in the world today” in light of their “horrendous treatment” in extremist Islamic societies.

Open Doors has worked for more than six decades to help persecuted Christians in some five dozen countries.

The 2022 World Watch List is based on a reporting period from November 2020 through September 2021.

The entire top 10 list:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. North Korea
  3. Somalia
  4. Libya
  5. Yemen
  6. Eritrea
  7. Nigeria
  8. Pakistan
  9. Iran
  10. India

Last year, Open Doors reported that governments and extremists used the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for persecution. For example, in India, the watchdog reported that 80% of Christians in India who received pandemic aid from its partner organizations said they were turned away from other food distribution points because of their faith.

The first Sunday in November is often recognized as a day of prayer for the persecuted church. Last fall ReFrame Ministries, the global media ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, published a guide and a prayer, How Do We Pray for the Persecuted Church?

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