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Five countries and their Christians to pray for this Christmas

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Scenes of destruction in Yemen(Photo: Open Doors)

While in the West Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus with our families and loved ones, many Christians around the world must mark the season against a backdrop of oppression and uncertainty. Here are five countries where Christians need our prayers this Christmas.

Nigeria

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. Almost half of the population (100 million) are Christian. However, more Christians are killed for their faith in this one country than in the rest of the world combined – 14 every day, on average.

This mostly affects believers living in the Muslim-majority north and Middle Belt, but it is also spreading to the south of the country. The killings and destruction (as well as kidnappings) come from Islamist extremist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province. Often, whole Christian villages can be laid to waste, with residents shot, beheaded or abducted.

In northern states that operate under Sharia (Islamic law), Christians can be treated as second-class citizens, while those who convert from Islam are also at risk of pressure and persecution. Christians from a Muslim background also face rejection from their own families, pressure to give up their faith, and often the threat of physical violence.

How to pray for Nigeria:

  • Pray for safety for those in vulnerable regions where these armed groups operate.
  • Pray for those who have chosen to convert from Islam, that they may stand firm in their faith, even under extreme threat.
  • Ask that the Nigerian authorities may successfully clamp down on the armed violence before it spreads further across the nation.

Nigeria is currently number six on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most dangerous or difficult to be a Christian.

North Korea

The infamously secretive nation is the most dangerous place to have a Christian faith. All mention of Christianity is strictly banned from the country.

To be caught sharing your faith or even possessing a Bible is enough to face execution, or imprisonment in one of North Korea’s infamous prison camps – along with your entire family.

However, there is an underground church in North Korea, operating in complete secrecy, despite the price they would pay for being discovered. Any celebration of Christmas would most likely happen in a believer’s home, behind locked doors, undetectable to anyone else.

In recent years, the authorities have tightened borders with neighbouring China, meaning that there is a dire shortage of food and supplies for all but a few privileged citizens.

Pray for North Korea:

  • Ask for God’s comfort and support for those Christians isolated, that they will feel less alone.
  • Pray for the witness of secret radio broadcasts sharing the gospel.
  • Even in times of huge need, Christians in North Korea are known to share the little they have with others in need. Inspire them to stay generous and may God meet their own needs.

North Korea is currently number one on the Open Doors World Watch Listof countries where it is most dangerous or difficult to be a Christian.

The Armenian Vank Church in Iran.(Photo: Open Doors)

Iran

There are believed to be about 1.2 million Christians in a population of more than 86 million; most of the remaining population are Shia Muslims.

Iran is ruled by an increasingly strict Islamic regime, which views the existence of Iranian house churches as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and their authority. Indigenous Armenian and Assyrian Christians are protected by the state, but treated as second-class citizens. Christians who have converted from Islam face the greatest risk.

Iranian Christians can be banned from education, lose their jobs and find it very difficult to get back into employment. Women are especially vulnerable; if discovered to be a Christian convert they are likely to be violently punished or divorced by their husbands and have their children taken away from them.

Following the widespread demonstrations which began in 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, police and authorities have arrested and imprisoned numerous church leaders, for no more than membership of their churches – their crime described as ‘engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam’.

Many believers will mark Christmas. However, they will do it under the pretext of celebrating something else, such as a December birthday.

Pray for Iran:

  • Pray for those who have been imprisoned for their faith, that they may be comforted and kept strong.
  • Pray for justice that those falsely imprisoned may be freed.
  • Ask God that He will “make seeing eyes blind” for those who wish to worship and witness in Iran this Christmas and that they will not be detected by Iran’s notorious morality police.

Iran is currently number eight on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most dangerous or difficult to be a Christian.

China

There are close to 100 million Christians thought to live in China. Despite all the good they bring to the nation, they are seen as a threat by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

For many years, Christians have faced tightening restrictions, including new laws which include a ban on under 18s attending church – these are severely limiting Christian freedom generally.

Under measures introduced in March 2022, churches that want to share sermons or Bibles studies online require a permit – but this is only available to the five state-approved religious institutions, such as the Three Self Patriotic Movement. These “official” churches are strictly surveilled, with CCP propaganda on display in the church and sermons submitted to authorities for approval.

The other, underground house churches are being clamped down upon with more and more online surveillance, meaning that Christians dare not meet in large numbers. Many of the leaders are arrested and imprisoned.

Pray for China

  • Pray for the state-sanctioned churches that they may still be able to truly preach Christ and serve Him, above the demands of loyalty to the CCP.
  • Pray for leaders and members of the unofficial house churches that they can keep growing in faith and in number as meeting together becomes tougher.
  • Practising your faith in China can damage your standing in the country’s new Social Credit System, which scores people for trustworthiness and patriotic behaviour. A low score can affect your creditworthiness or employability. May Christians not be swayed from their worship and witness by these pressures.

China is currently number 16 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most dangerous or difficult to be a Christian.

Yemen

The church in Yemen is composed mostly of converts from a Muslim background and their children, who must live out their faith in secret. They face violations of religious freedom from the authorities (including detention and interrogation), family, and from radical Islamic groups who threaten “apostates” with death.

Yemeni tribal identity is closely tied in with Islamic identity. Therefore, Christians face severe community pressure and violence from their tribe for leaving Islam. Converts to Christianity who are married to Muslims risk forced divorce and loss of custody of their children.

Yemen is suffering from a humanitarian crisis, brought on by a civil war now entering its tenth year. Yemeni Christians are additionally vulnerable as emergency relief is distributed preferentially through mosques, who discriminate against those not considered to be devout Muslims.

Pray for Yemen

  • There are only a few thousand Christians in the country, but against all odds, they are growing in number. Praise God for this, and may it continue.
  • Pray that Christians may receive the aid that should be theirs by right. May Christians continue to be generous with what little they have.
  • Pray for divine connections that can bring Yemen’s scattered, isolated believers together.

Yemen is currently number three on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most dangerous or difficult to be a Christian.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 70 countries. Open Doors provides practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources.





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