As many as 215 million followers of Christ around the world are being persecuted because of their faith, according to Open Doors USA's annual World Watch List, which was released Wednesday. The report identified the top 50 nations where Christians are most targeted.
"It's easy to move through life disconnected from what happens to believers in other parts of the world. But this report helps us close the gap between us," said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors, in the full report.
"After all, the World Watch List isn't about the numbers, but the people these numbers represent. I hope you see their stories of victory and resilience, and—more than anything—I hope you see the powerful Kingdom work God is accomplishing in some of the most difficult countries in the world."
In total, Open Doors found that 3,066 Christians were killed last year. Also, 1,252 Christians were abducted, 1,1020 were raped or sexually harassed, and 793 churches were attacked.
North Korea was ranked as the worst country for Christians for the 16th consecutive year, though Islamic oppression was the main source of persecution for eight of the top 10 on the World Watch List.
Life in North Korea remains extremely repressed by the Kim Jong Un government, with Christians arrested for something as simple as owning a Bible.
Afghanistan rose to second place in the 2018 list, with believers there unable to express their faith even in private.
"Converts can experience loss of personal property and businesses, beatings, and even death at the hands of their own family members and communities," Open Doors stated.
Third on the list was Somalia, where Islam is the state religion and public expression of Christianity is illegal. All citizens are expected to be Muslims.
Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran rounded out the top 10.
India, which came in at 11th place, scored 81 points on the persecution scale, which the group said was "one of the fastest and most intense increases we've seen."
Nepal not only appeared on the list for the first time, but landed at No. 25, in part because of India's "religious nationalism spilling into the country."
Mexico, at 39<sup>th place, and Colombia, at 49<sup>th, were again the only two countries outside the Middle East, Asia and Africa to make the top 50 list. Believers in both nations suffered mostly due to organized crime, corruption and governmental instability.
Overall, 30 countries saw an increase in persecution in the measuring period between November 2016 and October 2017.
One of the persecution topics that received particular attention was the sexual harassment of Christian women.
Open Doors said that every day, "six women are raped, sexually harassed or are forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith."
"Research for the World Watch List documented 2,260 such incidences against women — and this number only covers those who had the courage to report such an incident, representing only a fraction of those actually raped and harassed in this way," the group explained.
Curry said earlier this week that there has been some good news for Christians, such as U.S. promises to improve aid distribution.
"With Vice President [Mike] Pence's support to give direct aid to the Nineveh Plains, Open Doors USA is hopeful that all Americans will take notice of the horrific conditions for Christians across the world that are highlighted through the Open Doors World Watch List," Curry stated.
Pence announced in October that Christian communities in the Middle East will start receiving direct aid from the U.S. government to rebuild their war-torn homelands.
"Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly," Pence stated at the time.
"And tonight, it is my privilege to announce that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations. And from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through [the United States Aid Agency.]"
Last year's World Watch List by Open Doors also identified Islamic extremism as the top driver of Christian persecution, and was the primary reason for the oppression of Christians in 35 out of the 50 nations listed at the time.
Open Doors ranks countries by severity of persecution of Christians, calculated by analyzing the level of violent persecution plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life, including church life, community life and private life.