We recently released the 2022 World Watch List, the annual report on the 50 places around the world where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus. The list is full of data, statistics and examples about these countries and the dangers Christians face just living in them each day. But the information can be overwhelming and heavy. So we put together a list of the top five trends and takeaways from this year’s World Watch List. We hope you’ll carry these trends in your heart throughout the next year, and join your sisters and brothers in prayer.
1. A new No. 1 tops the list
North Korea has been at (or near) the top of the World Watch List for the past 20 years, but this year the country lost its top spot to Afghanistan. To be clear, this doesn’t mean things are improving for Christians in North Korea; it means things have gotten worse in Afghanistan.
With the Taliban takeover in August, Afghanistan has become a hunting ground for Christians. Christians dare not go out in public to meet, shop or get medical treatment. They’ve been driven underground simply to survive. The Taliban has acquired lists of Christians in the nation and are going town to town, trying to flush them out.
Many Christians have fled the country to protect their children, but some have remained, trusting they’ll still see the goodness of the Lord. Those who remain are considered traitors; enemies of the state, their tribe and their community. Punishment for being found out is often death.
Across all the top 10 countries in this year’s World Watch List, there’s an overarching rise in pressure and persecution. It’s a worrisome trend for the places where it’s most difficult to be a Christian.
3. The deadliest place in the world for Christians gets deadlier
Last year, to our best estimate, 4,761 Christians were killed for their faith. This year, that number increased by nearly 24% to 5,898 (in actuality, this number is probably much higher). 4,650 of those killings took place in Nigeria—that’s 13 Christians martyred every day.
In much of northern Nigeria, Christians live their lives under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani militants and criminals who kidnap and murder with few consequences. ISWAP and Boko Haram want to eliminate the Christian presence in Nigeria, and Muslim Fulani militants attack Christian villages specifically. In addition to violent risk, Christians in some of Nigeria’s northern states also live under Shariah law, where they face discrimination and treatment as second-class citizens. Christians who’ve converted from Islam also face rejection from their families and are often pressured to recant their faith in Jesus or face the consequences.
Nigeria accounts for nearly 80 percent of Christian deaths worldwide, but violence against Christians continues to spread rapidly throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Out of the top ten most violent countries against Christians, this part of Africa retains seven of those: Nigeria, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
3. Constantly being watched while worshiping
For a long time, China’s surveillance system has encroached on the religious freedoms of Christians and other religious minorities. But it’s only gotten worse.
There are reports from two provinces that cameras are present in all state-sanctioned religious venues. In 2021, some Bible apps were taken down from online stores, Christian content was taken off social media and the restrictions of online life have grown tighter. China has also implemented a program where average citizens can access security cameras and report anything “suspicious” to police.
In some places in China, cameras and reporting have meant rapid discovery and detainment. Recently. an online church service was interrupted by authorities and the pastors arrested. As China’s technology continues to spread to places like Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and even countries in the West, the possibility of further persecution against the Church continues to rise.
4. Are the extremists … winning?
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in September, it was a victory for Islamic extremists. The country had been in tumult for 20 years, and the violent radicals were overjoyed to retake the capital city of Kabul, flying their flag above government buildings and erasing the rights of women and religious minorities.
But the Taliban weren’t the only extremist group to make strides in 2021: in Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc, the Islamic State group is active in West Africa and Mozambique and al Shabab controls large portions of Somalia. Islamic extremism continues to spill from one country to the next.
We know what radical Islamic ideology looks like for believers, because we’ve seen it in Iraq and Syria. When ISIS took over parts of the Middle East, Christians were executed, abducted, sexually assaulted and hunted. Where groups like Boko Haram and al Shabab are active, similar threats are inevitable. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they tried to appear moderate, but there’s no sign Christianity will be anything other than a death sentence.
Even though it may seem hopeless and that the extremists are winning, God continues to be a source of never-ending hope. Just as we’ve seen what brutality is possible, we’ve also seen what hope is possible. Christians are rebuilding and their faith is growing; not only that, they’re continuing to bring people to Jesus.
God’s Church can never be destroyed, even by Islamic extremism. The Church might go underground, but it continues to grow outward, attached to Jesus at the root.
5. Countless people driven out of their homes for Jesus
In many countries around the world, Christians have literally been displaced and become refugees, driven from their homes by persecution. In many African countries, like Nigeria and Mozambique, where extremist military groups are heavily active, it is safer for believers to flee than to stay, knowing one slip up or call from a neighbor could mean their family’s lives. In Eritrea, Christian women flee to avoid obligatory military service, where they could be beaten, assaulted or worse.
After last year’s military coup, Christians in Myanmar face increased danger—and more and more Christians are forced to run for their lives. With the fighting taking place in many Christian provinces, believers and their families have no choice but find safety in camps for displaced people; in these camps, Christians are often deprived food and healthcare because of their faith.
Knowing their names are on a list, many Christians have fled Afghanistan, leaving anything they have ever known, including their Christian support networks. In Iran, it’s much of the same: the radical Islamic government raids the houses of Christians, then sentences them to prison for “crimes against national security.” Believers are left with a choice: Stay in Iran, and keep quiet about Jesus; be thrown in prison; or run across the border.
In countries where tradition and culture are highly valued, like parts of Colombia, Mexico and Vietnam, some Christians are targeted for going against customary practices. They’re seen as cultural and family traitors. If these Christians don’t flee, their houses could be burned and their families kidnapped or worse.
There are many takeaways from this year’s World Watch List, but these are the five that jumped out to us. The Church is under attack all over the world, and Christians remain persecuted solely because they follow Jesus.
But these trends should not discourage us, or make us despair of God’s action in the world. If anything, what’s happening to God’s people should drive us to prayer—and deepen our faith as we watch our brothers and sisters follow Him, no matter what.
Download the 2022 World Watch List prayer booklet, and pray through the World Watch List over the next 52 weeks. You’ll find a prayer prompt for each day. Lift up God’s people and see how He changes their lives—and yours.