Today Open Doors launched its 2014 World Watch List (WWL) ranking of countries where persecution of Christians is most prevalent. And it is, indeed, very prevalent these days, with more than two thirds of the countries on the World Watch List experiencing an increase in the persecution of Christians in 2013.
Some countries have moved up on this year's list – Somalia and Syria are notable – with Christian individuals, in Syria's case entire Christian settlements, targeted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Certainly Christians are not the only persecuted religious minority in the world. There are incidents of intolerance and violence in many places, yet Christians remain the most persecuted religious minority on the planet.
Today not only marks the launch of the 2014 World Watch List, but also the birthday of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Un. North Korea ranks first on the WWL for an unprecedented 12th year in a row. There will be a huge celebration for Kim Jong-Un with ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman participating in an exhibition basketball game with his "close friend" watching.
When I look at the World Watch List in general and North Korea in particular, I do not see statistics, but the faces of persecuted brothers and sisters. I hear their voices. Listen to Hea Woo, a North Korean Christian who was imprisoned in a North Korean gulag for years:
"I could not tell you what the worst thing was I experienced. Every day in the camp was like torture. I often had to think about God's plagues for Egypt. Being in this concentration camp felt like undergoing all those 10 plagues at the same time. People were dying and their corpses were burnt. The guards scattered the ashes over the road. We walked that road every day and each time I thought: one day the other prisoners will walk over me."
But still she says: "Despite everything, I remained faithful to God. I remained faithful and God helped me survive. Not only that, He gave me a heart to evangelize other prisoners. Frankly, I was too scared to do it. I wanted to live. How could God ask me to tell the other prisoners about Jesus? I would die if they caught me. God persisted. He showed me which prisoners I should approach. He gave me a feeling: 'That person. Tell him.' So I went to the person and told him or her what is in Acts 16:3, that people have to believe in Jesus and that they and their households will be saved.
"It was an encouraging message for those prisoners, who walked on the edge of death each day. They were easily converted. Not only because of what I said. They saw the Spirit working in me. Sometimes I gave some of the little rice I got to others. When people were sick, I went to them and helped them with washing their clothes."
Hea Woo sums up what the World Watch List is all about. The WWL is an attempt to describe today's earthly realities in parts of our world. However, it is so much more than just that. It also shows that the gates of hell cannot overcome the Church. The WWL is proof that tragedy and victory so often walk hand in hand. Jesus Christ is at work in our nation, in the Muslim World, yes, even in the North Korean concentration camps.
It should also motivate us to become educated about what's happening. The WWL is available online at www.worldwatchlist.us as are supporting resources, so you can be informed about what brothers and sisters in Christ are facing in North Korea and countries like Somalia, Syria and many others.
Above all the World Watch List is an invitation to participate in God's work in those 50 countries where faith costs the most. This is a spiritual battle, one that needs your prayers and advocacy.