Listen: Open Doors CEO Mike Gore chats to Katrina Roe about the world’s most persecuted nations. Above: A woman and her children in Somalia. All images from Open Doors.
One of the most shocking statistics from this year’s ‘World Watch List’ of persecuted nations, is the number of believers living in Somalia.
While around 11.2 million people live in the wartorn nation on Africa’s east, only about 100 of them are believed to be Christ-followers.
Why is that so shocking?
Because it’s a haunting reminder that once a Somali places their faith in Jesus, they aren’t actually likely to stay alive for long.
“In Somalia, it’s so difficult to even follow Christ that most Christians have been killed,” explained Mike Gore, head of the Christian organisation Open Doors. “When you give your life to Christ, more often than not it will cost you your life.”
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Double Trouble: Lawlessness and Islamic Extremism
The World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual report on persecuted Christians, is an indexed ranking of the toughest places on earth to be a believer. In the just-released 2017 list, Somalia is ranked at number 2, making it the second worst place in the world to follow Jesus—following close behind North Korea.
“North Korea has been number 1 [on the persecution ranking list] for around 16 years and it was always far ahead of second place, but this year, Somalia is literally one point in the rankings behind North Korea.”
Mike told Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe that the main driver of persecution in Somalia, is Islamic extremism.
“And when you marry that with a lot of the lawlessness there, even just the suspicion that you’ve given your life to Christ can result in your death,” he said.
Somalia is dominated by a major Islamic extremist group known as al-Shabaab, and the lack of law and order means Somalia is a safe haven for its members. Al-Shabaab actually hunts Christians down to execute them. “In areas not under al-Shabaab control, Christians still risk being killed by family members,” states the World Watch List.
Islamism Responsible for the Most Persecution
Each country on the World Watch List is assigned to a category for ‘source of persecution’, with the greatest source being Islamic oppression. This exists in 35 of the top 50 nations, most of them clustered around the Middle East and North Africa—including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Other sources of persecution include communist oppression (North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, China), religious nationalism (India, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka) and organised corruption (Mexico and Columbia).
Perhaps the most unusual-sounding source of oppression is ‘dictatorial paranoia’, which appears in four of the ‘stan nations’ (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan), as well as in Eritrea, a lawless nation ruled by the brutal dictatorship of president Isaias Afwerki.
North Korea Still the Worst Place for Christians
Topping the World Watch List this year for the 16th year running is North Korea. The secretive communist nation is officially the most dangerous and oppressed place for Christians to live.
“Her 21-year-old daughter had starved to death…her husband had been caught and killed.”
The Christian population is believed to be about 300,000, out of an overall population of 25 million, similar to Australia’s. The main source of persecution there is communist oppression under the Kim Jong-Un regime. The ‘juche’ ideology enforced by the government is more of a Godless religion than a political movement.
Mike Gore’s description of life in that nation as “hugely difficult”, is a vast understatement.
“I remember spending a lot of time with a lovely woman, 69 years old, who had been through nine North Korean labour camps because of her faith,” Mike said. “Her 21-year-old daughter had starved to death in her arms because of the famine, and her husband had been caught and then killed in one of these camps because of his faith in Jesus.”
Christian Love in Action is the Silver Lining
Syria is the sixth-ranked country on the World Watch List, with Christians having suffered greatly there due to ISIS and the civil war. But Mike Gore sees a silver lining among the dark clouds of persecution.
“Both Christian and Muslim people are being caught up in [the persecution and warfare], but one of the things I really love that what we’re seeing, even in places like Aleppo, is churches having community programs that are reaching out and changing the lives of those people who are being displaced by this war,” he said.
“Life has got worse for Christians in those areas, but in the middle of that, we’re seeing the church stand up and do what it does best—serve the community. And we get a chance to breathe life into that, and I love it.”