By Laura McKillip Wood
Near the end of his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul made an extraordinary statement: “I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9). Despite great opposition to the gospel in the city that even included a riot by goddess worshippers (Acts 19), Paul considered Ephesus a great opportunityfor growing the church. Perhaps the opposition was so strong precisely because of the people’s great need for the good news.
Following is a list of 10 countries where life is most challenging for Christians, according to Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org). These are places where Christians face great difficulties, but these are also places where God is working to draw people to him despite those difficulties. This list can serve as a prayer guide for these countries, their leaders and people, and for the Christian agencies and cross-cultural workers serving them.
1. North Korea (Asia; population, 25 million; religion, Juche (a state-promoted atheistic ideology)
World War II and the Korean War left the Korean Peninsula divided between the communist North and free-market South. The North severely persecuted religious believers of all faiths, indoctrinating the population into atheism and a cult of personality around the ruling Kim family. Although the leadership claimed to have eradicated religion entirely by the 1960s, today an estimated 400,000 Christians still hold to their faith in secret. At the same time, in the South, Christianity has grown explosively until nearly one in three South Koreans professes belief in Christ.
PRAY: Thank God for the incredible opportunity presented by millions of Korean Christians who can evangelize the North in their own language. Pray that North Korea would open to visitors from the South who could take the gospel to them and that Christ Reaching Asia Mission Worldwide (cramworldwide.org) will continue to find open doors for their work with youth and with food assistance in the North.
2. Afghanistan (Asia; 39 million people; Islam)
Afghanistan is one of the most forbidding geographic areas in the world. Its high mountains and searing deserts have challenged generations of foreign armies, from the ancient Persians to American forces of the 21st century. The radical Islamic Taliban regime came to power in the 1990s and provided haven to international terrorists, while within the country they destroyed holy sites and places of worship of other religions, killing their leaders and persecuting their adherents as enemies of Islam. After two decades of engagement, the United States military pulled out of Afghanistan over the summer, and the Taliban regained power. Many of the Afghan people fled for their lives, with thousands finding refuge in Europe and America.
PRAY: With the withdrawal of Western military forces, pray for peace for the suffering Afghan people. Pray for women, who have been a target of particularly harsh repression. Pray for those left behind whose lives are in danger and those scrambling for protection in other countries. Pray for the Crescent Project (crescentproject.org), which provides Christians around the world with training in sharing faith with Muslims, and pray for opportunities for American Christians to use this training with Afghan refugees brought to the West. Pray for Afghan Christians who now live in a society that violently opposes the expression of their faith.
3. Somalia (Africa; 15 million; Islam)
Somalia is one of the least-evangelized countries of the world, with 99 percent of the population Sunni Muslim and only about 1,000 national Christians. Since the 1980s the country has been fractured by civil war. The nation’s chaos has made it a haven for terrorists and pirates, and created an extraordinarily dangerous situation for foreign aid workers. Workers and immigrants from other East African nations are some of the only long-term Christian influences in Somalia.
PRAY for the African Christians working in Somalia in all kinds of employment, for wisdom to reflect Christ in their words and actions every day. Pray for Somali immigrants to the United States, particularly those living in large numbers in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, Nebraska). May the Holy Spirit guide churches and parachurch agencies to share Christ with them in bold and culturally sensitive ways.
4. Libya (Africa; 6 million; Islam)
Following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya fragmented into dozens of warring tribal regions. The main factions signed a cease-fire in 2020, but there are no guarantees it will last. During the anarchy, Libya has become an area of operations for ISIS and other terrorists, as well as human traffickers who enslave some of the refugees trying to leave the country by boat to Europe. Libya is overwhelmingly Muslim, but the country has up to 200,000 Christians; these are mainly immigrants and refugees but include an estimated 70,000 people converted from Islam.
PRAY: Missionaries across North Africa report meeting local believers who have experienced dreams and visions of Jesus that have led them to seek Christians and be converted. Pray that God will continue to intervene powerfully in the lives of those who have not yet heard the gospel.
5. Pakistan (Asia; 220 million; Islam)
Although Pakistan is an Islamic nation, up to 1.5 percent of the population—some 3 million people—are Christian, mainly in the Punjab region. Pakistani Christian girls are sometimes forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men, Christians are periodically arrested for allegedly breaking blasphemy laws, and churches are burned. Nevertheless, several Protestant ministries and church-run schools and colleges are actively serving in the country.
PRAY for New Hope Christian Ministries of Pakistan and other ministries that have opportunities for work in church planting, education, and business development to show Pakistani people the love of Jesus in practical ways. Pray that God would draw those who are most receptive to hearing the gospel message to these outreaches.
6. Eritrea (Africa; 3.5 million; Orthodox Christianity and Islam)
Eritrea was formerly part of Ethiopia, but since 1993 it has been a fully recognized independent nation. Given that up to 63 percent of the country identifies as Christian, it may seem a strange nation for this list. However, most of the Christians are members of the Eritrean Orthodox church, which works closely with the authoritarian Eritrean government to control other denominations. Hundreds of evangelicals have been arrested and forced into hard labor.
PRAY: Ask God to bring deep spiritual renewal to the Eritrean Orthodox church so it will shepherd its people and the broader community in Christlike ways. Pray for people of peace within the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant denominations who might work together and demonstrate the unifying power of the Holy Spirit in a region of the world desperately in need of peace.
7. Sudan (Africa; 44 million; Islam)
Located immediately south of Egypt, Sudan was once home to several million Christians and thriving churches and ministries. Under a series of Islamic leaders and military dictatorships, Christian churches were destroyed and members killed, arrested, and scattered. After decades of civil war, the predominantly Christian south seceded in 2011 and formed the new country of South Sudan, affording believers there greater protection. Peace remains elusive, however, as the two Sudans continue to clash over border disputes and unstable internal politics.
PRAY for the ministry of Christian Arabic Services (christianarabicservices.org), which offers college classes in theology and church leadership on-site in both Sudan and South Sudan. Pray for Mercy Partners (mercy-partners.org), which provides relief, aid, disciple training, and education. Pray that God would ease transportation and communication problems that are significant obstacles to these ministries. May God raise up more national evangelists who can take the gospel where it is most needed.
8. Yemen (Asia; 30 million; Islam)
The people of Yemen are considered among the most religious of all Arabs, with 99.5 percent identifying as Muslim. Estimates of the numbers of Christians in the country range from 1,000 to 40,000, but many of those believers are foreign workers or immigrants. Yemen has permitted foreign religious organizations to provide for humanitarian needs, which are especially great as the country is embroiled in a civil war that has caused massive suffering. The government strictly controls the curriculum of educational institutions to ensure that everything taught is compatible with the officially sanctioned interpretations of Islam. Converts to Christianity must worship in secret to avoid persecution and death at the hands of their community.
PRAY that adequate food and medicine will reach all the people of Yemen and that Christians will not be discriminated against in the distribution of vital resources. Pray that foreign aid workers may find opportunities to point the suffering people of Yemen toward hope in Jesus. Pray for the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs (persecution.com/), an organization that brings awareness and advocacy to the persecuted church around the world.
9. Iran (Asia; 84 million; Islam)
Iran is in the biblical land of Persia. After 2,500 years of continuous monarchy, a revolution in 1979 brought to power Islamic clerics who implemented a repressive religious social agenda, sponsored international terrorism, and began pursuing nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Iranian Christians have continued meeting in secret and sharing their faith effectively, giving Iran the highest growth rate of evangelical Christianity of any country in 2020, according to Operation World.
PRAY that Islam’s repressiveness would stand in stark contrast to Christianity’s gospel of peace and grace and that many millions of Iranians will have the desire and opportunity to turn to Christ. Pray for Christian evangelists who are pioneering new ways to reach Muslims that do not raise cultural barriers to conversion.
10. India (Asia; 1.3 billion; Hinduism)
Christians have shared their faith in India since the first century, but evangelism there has always been difficult in the face of a deeply entrenched Hindu worldview. Many Christians in India came to faith through the activity of foreign ministries, especially Christian schools. In recent years, the rise to power of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, has increased the harassment of Christians across the country. Many foreign Christian ministries and workers have been expelled to limit their influence in Indian society.
PRAY that God would raise up capable Christian Indian leaders to take the place of foreign missionaries so the church might have a more secure future. Pray for the medical and development ministries of HASTEN International (hasteninternational.org) and CMF International (cmfi.org), and pray for Lakeview Bible College and Seminary (lakeviewbcs.com), which trains church leaders for India and neighboring countries.
This list only touches the surface of the places in the world where Christians risk their lives by practicing their faith. We have sought to provide an outline for prayer and a reminder to look for ways God is at work in unexpected places. Many other faithful ministries operate in the countries we have mentioned (plus other countries), but we cannot mention the ministries by name because of the likelihood of persecution. We ask that readers pray for all of the Christian ministries and workers that serve in these closed countries, for all are known by God.