17 Countries Where Christians Are Persecuted

By Randy Alcorn December 18, 2009

I've edited this based on information from The Bible League, Operation World and other sources in 2009. It's intended to help us pray more intelligently for our brothers and sisters. Christians are persecuted in a number of other countries not mentioned here. All suffering believers around the world are in need of our prayers. See the World Watch List from Open Doors USA to see the top 50 persecuted countries for the current year.

CAMBODIA: Persecution in Cambodia reached its most terrifying pitch in the 1970s, at the hand of Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge. People of all faiths tempted fate and invited elimination. Cambodian Christians learned to make themselves invisible.

Today, still, Christians are afraid to take leadership positions or to share their faith publicly. Pol Pot is dead, but the fear he incited lives on. Cambodia's government espouses religious freedom, but Christians still face persecution.

CHINA: According to news reports, Christians continue to be arrested for printing and distributing illegal Bibles.

A house church member died after being beaten in prison. Xu Yongze, a 58-year-old Christian, was tortured during interrogation throughout a three-year labor sentence. Stories like this are common in China, where persecution has increased church growth rather than discourage it.

Christians in China share the Gospel despite the great cost. "Our church planter training seminars teach, in addition to basic church planting skills, these three things: (1) Never turn down an invitation to preach; (2) Look for a place to run when you are finished preaching; (3) Be ready to die that day."

An Amnesty International* report confirms the use of torture in China is "widespread and systematic." China officials continue to deny these findings. Many Westerners, including Christians, have been taken in by the government's persistent propaganda efforts, including using registered churches and legal Bibles to prove (i.e. give the illusion of) overall religious liberties.

COLOMBIA: Congregations are kidnapped, pastors are killed, the church is not allowed to do its work. These are everyday occurrences in Colombia. The ongoing war between the government, the para-military groups, and the guerrillas makes ministry very difficult and very dangerous. Christians, who offer assistance to all, are often in conflict with all.

CUBA: While a Christian pastor and his wife were traveling, the police broke into their home and threw their belongings out into the street. The family was not allowed to re-enter their home. It was confiscated, apparently because it had been used for Christian gatherings.

In spite of the repercussions, it is increasingly common for Cuban Christians to gather as house churches. (Petroleum is no longer available in the country, so they cannot drive to traditional churches.) The government does not fully accept these new house churches.

The church is exploding in growth, and Protestant Christians could number in the millions in a few years. Without Scriptures, though, Christians will not have the comfort they need to face persecution, or confidence to stand strong in the faith. Various missions groups are now making unprecedented inroads into Cuba.

EGYPT: Known as the most open Muslim country because it has legal churches. Persecution comes in social and economic forms, but is sometimes more dramatic. Muslims in Al-Kosheh accused Christians of poisoning the water supply and planning to attack Muslim neighborhoods. A small group of believers responded vocally, and a heated argument erupted. At the end of three days of rioting and violence, 21 Christians were dead.

INDIA: The mutilated body of 52-year-old Yesu Dasu was found in a pool of blood in a cattle shed near Kothakunta. His hands had been tied, and his head had been chopped off with an axe.

Villagers said that Yesu Dasu was popular as a Christian preacher. He also worked among the lepers as a non-medical assistant.

His family—wife, three daughters, and son—said that two people on a motorcycle rode up to their house one evening and took Yesu Dasu away. When he had not returned home by 10:00pm, the family began searching for him in the village. The next morning his body was found on the outskirts of the village.

The government of India does not officially persecute Christians, but it has created an environment in which attacks like this can happen with impunity. Radical Hindus have been emboldened to beat believers, destroy church buildings, burn Bibles, and carry out other atrocities (including the 1999 murder of missionary Graham Staines and his sons). Even so, courageous Indian Christians continue to lead Bible studies and disciple seekers.

INDONESIA: The largest Muslim population in the world. There is great openness to the Gospel in spite of persecution—the church is growing at a rate of 5% per year.

There are more than 25 million Christians in Indonesia, and more than 13 million of them are without a Bible. As more and more seekers convert, the church grows, and the Bible gap only widens.

Christians are threatened and their churches are bombed. Throughout many parts of the country, thousands of Christians have been force to undergo Muslim conversion rituals. Those who refuse to embrace Islam are often beheaded, and their heads are paraded through the village to strike fear into the hearts of other Christians.

LAOS: The government of Laos set a goal of completely eradicating Christianity from the country by the end of 2000. In a September interview, a Laotian Christian said, "They've drawn up plans to eliminate the Christians: first by forcing them to sign a document rescinding their faith, then to close meeting places, and finally to check that they make offerings to the Buddhist priests."

MALAYSIA: Today Malaysia is 51% Muslim and extremely resistant to any other religions. In fact, a new law is being proposed that would make converting from Islam an offense punishable by three years in prison.

The few hundred Malay who believe in Jesus Christ have suffered social ostracism and the loss of legal rights, jobs, and sometimes home and country.

Sadly, due to the economic and political injustices they have suffered, most Malay Christians do not have a heart for sharing the Gospel in their country. Evangelism, discipleship, and church planting are very difficult to encourage.

MEXICO: There is a small evangelical church in Ixmiquilpan's San Nicolas suburb. The town cemetery, though, is open only to Catholics. Mexican law requires burial within 24 hours of death. This means evangelical Christians in San Nicolas, most of whom are poor, must pay to transport their dead to other towns with cemeteries that do not discriminate.

Throughout Mexico, but especially in small villages, Catholic churches tend to mix Catholicism and Mayan pagan beliefs. They oppose Christianity's attempts to undermine their "traditional culture." In the past 30 years, at least 30,000 Christians have been expelled from their homes in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas. Others have been fined, jailed, or beaten.

MYANMAR: The government of Myanmar (Burma) does not allow churches to be built and has declared house churches illegal. It's not uncommon for Christians to be "recruited" by local officials to do hard labor, particularly on Sundays because it's the Christian day of worship. But God's Church is growing!

NIGERIA: Two Christians in northern Nigeria were publicly "caned" by Muslim extremists who said they were enforcing Islamic legal code. The flogging didn't stop until "they thought we were dead," a victim said.

Nigerian Christians are not safe in the northern half of the country, where Muslims dominate government affairs. Many Christians have fled to the south, where the Muslim presence is active, but less aggressive.

During a recent riot in Gombe city, in the north, four people died, and two churches were vandalized and robbed. Fifteen pews were torn out of Bishara Baptist Church and burned as thousands of Muslim youths looked on.

In spite of (or perhaps because of?) the rising tide of aggression, the Christian Church is growing. People are curious about a Book whose beliefs some are willing to die defending.

NORTH KOREA: Despite brutal oppression, around half a million of North Korea's 23 million inhabitants are Christians. More than 100,000 North Korean Christians are imprisoned in concentration camps, sometimes without food, shelter, or medical aid.

Anyone discovered with a Bible is considered to be a "South Korean spy" and is executed, said a South Korean pastor speaking at a missions conference.

PHILIPPINES: In the remote village of Bumbaran, Christians were rounded up by a group of Muslim terrorists. They were shot at point-blank range. Twenty-one people died, and eight were seriously injured.

On Basilan island, a group of teachers and schoolchildren were held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf extremist group. For their release, the extremists demanded that crosses be removed from public places, that Christian values not be taught in schools, and that Mindanao be declared a Muslim state. Twenty-four Muslim hostages were released within three weeks, but 29 Christians remained in captivity. Several weeks later, four were killed when they attempted escape.

Although the Philippines has no official religion, pockets of the country are dominated by Muslims, and life for Christians in those areas is dangerous.

RUSSIA: The world's largest country, spanning 11 time zones. The government is working on reform and eradication of corruption. The Russian mafia continues to be a strong force.

"I have suffered terribly over 32 years for my faith in the Lord Jesus," says Alexei Rogovoy, a citizen of Russia. Recently, says Alexei, he was "so badly beaten about the head by the police that now I cannot walk properly. They left me lying in the street, bleeding." Alexei's crime? He had written to a judge about the way Christians were being treated by the authorities. Alexei lives in Volgograd, where the government authorities make life hard for Christians. Elsewhere in Russia Christians are also persecuted by Muslims, the Orthodox Church, and Buddhists.

SUDAN: Sudan's government is trying to force the conversion of millions of Christians to Islam. Thirty years of civil war have resulted in famine and large numbers of refugees. Slave raids, massacres, rapes, and torture continue unabated throughout the south.

Sudan is one of the world's worst religious persecutors," says Paul Marshall in Religious Freedom in the World. "It practices forced conversion, represses those who do not subscribe to its version of Islam, has applied shari'a law to the entire population, enslaves its opponents, and is engaged in a war thatÉobservers have explicitly labeled Ôgenocidal.'"

The Bible League's National Director says, "The positive thing of the war is that many, many people are coming to Christ. We try to show the love of God through the Word of God. They are very thankful people."

VIETNAM: In 1975 Vietnam became a communist nation with a total population of over 77 million. Religion was seen as a threat to national security, and massive "re-education" campaigns were set in motion. The government is finding it more effective to fine Christians than to imprison them.

A pastor in Vietnam recently reported that Christians there are "always under persecution." Pastors and believers are being imprisoned regularly. Back in November 2000, on the very day that President Clinton met with officials to discuss freedom of religion, police raided a worship service across the city, arrested the pastor, confiscated Bibles, and threatened the worshippers.

"The oppressive and anti-religion policies have been carried out ruthlessly and persistently by the Vietnamese government for almost 50 years." Rev. John Tran Cong Nghi testified before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "Many clergy and faithful suffer for years in concentration camps for just living out their faith."

Vietnamese law does grant religious freedom, but the list of punishable offenses can be interpreted broadly, and punishments are applied according to the whim of local authorities. This uncertain and restrictive atmosphere makes ministry difficult.

* Note from EPM: we cite Amnesty International selectively on our site related to issues surrounding persecution. However, their stance on “reproductive rights” (abortion) is radically opposed to our own, and therefore we cannot recommend supporting their work.

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of fifty-some books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries