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Most difficult places in the world to be a Christian

North Korean citizens gather in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to pledge to meet the goals stated in Kim Jong Un's New Year address four days earlier, January 5, 2016 (Credit: AP Images/Kyodo)According to the 2016 World Watch List, released yesterday, the most difficult place to be a Christian is North Korea. This is North Korea's fourteenth year atop the list. Scoring a 92 out of 100, North Korea was followed by Iraq (90), Eritrea (89), Afghanistan (88), with Syria (87).rounding out the top five.

Boasting a population of 24.5 million, North Korea has an estimated 300,000 Christians. Open Doors, the organization that puts out this list, found that North Korean officials see Christianity as not only "opium for the people," but also "deeply Western and despicable." In turn, Christians in North Korea must keep their faith a secret, or risk being sent to a labor camp or a prison.

Open Doors creates and shares this list of countries in order to provide accountability to those in power and to inform a watching world of the atrocities happening within these countries. Commenting on this year's list, Ronald Boyd-MacMillan of Open Doors said:

"The saddest news from the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List is that, again, like the previous year, persecution of Christians worsened in all the continents. The entry level for points per country for the 2015 list was 48.5; for the 2016 list it is 53.4."

Boyd-MacMillian identified four trends that stood out when compiling the list: Islamic extremists have expanded their spheres of operation across international borders, governments became more fearful of Islamic extremism, extremists are becoming more radicalized, and extremist elements in Hinduism is drastically ravaging India.

Spheres of operation are expanding due to perceived victories. With an atmosphere that is palpably fearful, radical groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS have been able to secure more land and influence because of the perception of inevitability. One observer with intimate ground knowledge noted in the press release: "For a lot of extremists, Islamic State seems to have God on their side, since they are so successful at taking and holding territory, and their propaganda is so seductive, so it is no surprise so many want to become part of their 'brand.'"

Not only are the people fearful, but governments as well. They express their fear in one of two ways: they either boost their nationalism in a pompous manner that indirectly conveys insecurity, or they tighten regulations and increase surveillance over all to the detriment of all—both radical and moderate alike. In certain places within China, they are ripping crosses off churches. Boyd-MacMillian finds that Myanmar has passed at least four discriminatory bills within the past year. Such bills penalize those who convert from Buddhism to Christianity.

Certain governments are penalizing some who are converting, and extremists are radicalizing others. Instead of converting from one religion to another, certain extremists, particularly relative to ISIS, are radicalizing Muslims due to fear. This is not simply happening within Islam, but it is also effecting Hinduism—specifically in India.

With a population of 1.2 billion, India is the world's second largest nation. Last year, the Indian parliament introduced the Religious Freedom Bill, which would "prohibit conversion from one religion to another by use of force or allurement by fraudulent means." In this case, force includes "threat of divine displeasure." What makes this so significant is not only the enslavement of the conscience, but the fact that eighty-one percent of Indians are Hindu.

These trends do not even mention other atrocities that are happening across the world. In Nigeria alone, 27 million Christians remain second-class citizens under Sharia law. There are more than 12 million Christian refugees from the Middle East, leaving persecution and places of political unrest.

The situation is dire around the world, and it is not limited to Christians. Though the situation may be bleak, our God is strong. Reigning and ruling upon his throne (Psalm 115:3), he is not asleep at the proverbial wheel (Psalm 121). He is keenly aware and deeply values the loss of any life (Psalm 116:15).

Present answers may not be apparent, but a historical example can be helpful. Consider Adoniram Judson. He was the first Protestant missionary in Myanmar (Burma). It took him twelve years to see his first eighteen converts. Eventually, he would lose his life, but not without leaving the world these indelible words: "There is no success without sacrifice. If you succeed without sacrifice it is because someone has suffered before you. If you sacrifice without success it is because someone will succeed after."

Though Jesus did not guarantee safety in this world (John 16:33), he does provide comfort, strength, and the promise to not let one extra tear drop or hurt be wasted. As Soren Kierkegaard noted: "The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins."

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