Open Doors US leader reveals what Western Church can learn from persecuted Christians

Relatives of the victims of a bus accident mourn at the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) in Molepolole in the outskirts of Gaborone on March 29, 2024.
Relatives of the victims of a bus accident mourn at the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) in Molepolole in the outskirts of Gaborone on March 29, 2024. | MONIRUL BHUIYAN/AFP via Getty Images

In a world where comfort often silences the cries for justice and religious freedom, Ryan Brown, CEO of persecution watchdog Open Doors U.S., is highlighting the realities faced by believers in hostile regions and challenging the Western church to awaken from its slumber of comfort and materialism.

“People often assume that, when we come alongside the persecuted Church, the goal is to pull them out of their persecution and that context,” Brown told The Christian Post. 

“That's not what they're asking for. As we come alongside the persecuted Church, they want to be the hands and feet of Christ, right there in the context of their persecution. What they're asking for is that we remember them in prayer, that we lift them up, that they would be faithful in their testimony. They believe that Christ has put them there for a reason and that they want to be faithful to that purpose that Christ has called them to.

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Certainly, there are circumstances where it's a necessity that the people be pulled out, but that’s not their first request. Their first request is that they'd be resourced and supported so that they can be the hands and feet of Christ right there.”

According to Brown, many Christians in persecuted countries prioritize their faith over cultural conformity, often at great personal sacrifice — something the Western Church would do well to emulate. 

“We need to be woken up, we need to strengthen what remains and is about to die within our own context,” he said. “It’s a testament to the way that Christ has designed His Church. When He brings us all together, we have the opportunity to lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer, to provide appropriate types of support, to allow them to be the hands and feet of Christ right there in their context … they have an understanding of this pearl of great price, they know that the Kingdom of Christ can cost us something.”

It was this conviction that the Western Church can learn valuable lessons from its persecuted counterparts that first drew Brown to Open Doors, which works in more than 70 countries, supplying Bibles, training church leaders, providing practical support and emergency relief, and supporting Christians who suffer persecution and discrimination for their faith. 

“I think that very few of us here in the U.S. would argue that we're increasingly living in a post-Christian culture,” he told CP. “That is such new territory for so many of us. Yet, we have our persecuted brothers and sisters around the globe who have gone before us in this, and, at great cost and a great sacrifice to themselves, have made that decision to utilize their faith to determine how they're going to engage their culture, rather than using their culture to determine how they are going to engage with their faith. And that is something that we need here in the West.”

One of Open Doors' key contributions to raising awareness is the annual World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution.

The most recent list, Brown said, highlights the distressing trend of increasing violence, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where nations like Nigeria see believers killed for their faith in staggering numbers.

“What is going on there can be considered an epicenter of what has happened throughout the region, where the complexion of persecution continues to turn increasingly violent,” Brown said. 

The list also saw a significant increase in the persecution of Christians globally, marked by a notable rise in the destruction of their homes, churches, schools and hospitals, he said. The number of Christians forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution also grew exponentially, according to the World Watch List.

Open Doors USA was founded in 1955 by a Dutch missionary named Brother Andrew, who at the time helped smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain to persecuted believers in Poland, which was at that time part of the Soviet bloc. Brown shared how today, Open Doors has adapted to meet the changing face of persecution, addressing contemporary needs such as livelihood and education.

“Christians are denied access to opportunities for livelihood, they're denied access to opportunities for education,” he said. “When somebody cannot provide for their family, even though they're desiring to be the hands and feet of Christ right there, they have to leave. So, you have to come alongside the local Church and equip them. 

Sometimes, it’s creating opportunities through microfinance or giving individuals an opportunity to earn a livelihood and continue to be the church in those areas. Other times, it's providing access to education so that your folks can read the written word of God.”

To support Open Doors and the persecuted church worldwide, Brown encouraged Christians to engage with the World Watch List as a starting point for awareness and prayer. 

“Each of those countries is profiled and gives some information as far as the realities on the ground, but it doesn't stop there. It actually gives specific prayer points that we can be lifting up our brothers and sisters in prayer,” he said.

“Awareness is a starting point. But if awareness is where it ends, we've fallen short. Ideally, it drives us to our knees. We should be lifting up our brothers and sisters in prayer.”

As for the future, Brown said his hope for the global Church, particularly those under persecution, is rooted in faithfulness. He noted that persecution is inherently linked with the Christian faith, as evidenced by the experiences and teachings of the New Testament.

Some of the regions experiencing the most significant growth of the Church today, he said, are also those facing the most severe persecution. 

“Persecution and the Christian faith are linked,” he said. “Even right now, the areas of the globe in which the Church is most exploding are where persecution is the greatest. My prayer is that we pray for safety, absolutely, and advocate for justice for  religious freedoms and those basic human rights Absolutely. … But the prayer is that in those realities of persecution, myself and others would be faithful in our witness and testimony to what Christ has called us to do and who Christ has called us to be.”

Learn more about Open Doors U.S. here.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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