The Open Doors World Watch List is an annual survey of Christian persecution around the world, carried out by the charity which works on behalf of the persecuted church. It highlights the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. The top ten countries for 2015 are 1. North Korea, 2. Iraq, 3. Eritrea, 4. Afghanistan, 5. Syria, 6, Pakistan, 7. Somalia, 8. Sudan, 9. Iran, 10. Libya.
These are the places where followers of Christ must keep their beliefs hidden and where living the gospel means facing death, beatings, imprisonment, discrimination and abuse. Open Doors reports that persecution became more intense in more parts of the world in 2015. While North Korea remains the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian, persecution is growing most rapidly in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Eritrea, the ‘North Korea of Africa,’ has entered the top five for the first time.
Islamic extremism remains by far the most common driver of persecution. In eight out of the top 10, and 35 out of the top 50 countries, it is the primary cause. Islamic State violence in Iraq and Syria has increased the pace of the exodus of the Christian population from the region and is also having a global impact. Islamic extremism has caused Pakistan to reach its highest position ever, and Libya to enter the top ten for the first time. It’s not just about Islam. A rise in hardline Hindu nationalism has seen churches and pastors attacked with impunity, causing India to enter the top 20 for the first time.
Open Doors records show that worldwide there were over 7,000 Christians killed for faith- related reasons in the year – almost 3,000 more than the previous year. (These are conservative estimates and exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.) Around 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged – over double the number for last year. In terms of violence against Christians and Christian property, Nigeria and Central African Republic top the list. The world has watched aghast as millions of refugees risk the hazardous route to Europe from the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Their number includes tens of thousands of Christians fleeing war and persecution.
Beneath these ‘headline’ events, there is constant, low-level, localised persecution. Christians are driven out of their communities, refused burial, denied jobs or education. Churches are torn down because of local opposition or mob rule. For millions of Christians, the everyday persecution happens in their village, or even among their family.
However on the frontline of suffering there is also great faith. Christianity is about victory, more than victimhood. There is also courage and hope as Christians around the world stand beside their persecuted brothers and sisters, providing practical aid, speaking up on their behalf, and demonstrating mercy, compassion and forgiveness, rather than hatred, exclusion and revenge. http://www.opendoorsuk.org
Drought and Famine
Many experts are worried that 2016 will be an unusually bad year for hunger around the world. El Niño is being blamed for rains failing in eastern and southern Africa, Central America and parts of the Caribbean.
Some parts of Ethiopia are currently facing the worst drought in 30 years. More than 10 million people in the country will likely need food aid this year. A state of disaster has been declared in Zimbabwe following severe drought in rural parts of the country. Currently, an estimated 2.4 million people are affected by the drought that was brought on by El Nino, with low abnormally low rainfalls destroying crops and killing livestock. Though Zimbabwe is the most devastated country, there are an estimated 14 million people in southern Africa who have been affected by the drought, including South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Venezuela is now running out of food. After several years of rationing, and shortages, the country does not have enough food to feed its population, and the government has declared a ‘nutritional emergency.’ The main reason for this is the socialist government’s mismanagement of the economy.
The Zika virus in Latin America poses a global public health emergency requiring a united response, says the World Health Organization. Currently, there is no vaccine or medication to stop Zika. The only way to avoid catching it is to avoid getting bitten by the Aedes mosquitoes that transmit the infection. The WHO has already warned that Zika is likely to ‘spread explosively’ across nearly all of the Americas. More than 20 countries, including Brazil, are reporting cases. The Zika virus outbreak currently gripping South America and could have been sparked by the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in 2012. The insects were engineered by biotechnology experts to combat the spread of dengue fever and other diseases and released into the general population of Brazil in 2012. Experts expressed concerns about the programme at the time of its inception, arguing that further studies were needed on the potential consequences.
On another front, medical experts are contemplating the end of antibiotics being effective to bacteria in the treatment of disease. Many go so far as to say that this will be the end of modern medicine as we know it, and it will become a reality in the next decade, at the very latest. This will result in people dying of conditions once thought trivial and could rock the world as much as a major war could and will have longer lasting repercussions. The World Health Organisation has warned that ‘…many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, could kill unabated.’ The U.S. Centres of Disease Control has pointed to the emergence of ‘nightmare bacteria.’ The chief medical officer for England, Prof. Dame Sally Davies has evoked parallels with the ‘apocalypse.’
Rumours of wars
Syria. Despite the ceasefire in Syria, the potential for a wider conflict remains. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are active on the ground seeking to keep the Assad regime in place. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the western alliance wish to see him removed from power. In February Russia accused Turkey of planning a ground invasion of Syria. Saudi Arabia launched ‘Northern Thunder,’ described as the ‘largest military exercise in the history of the Middle East’ in northern Saudi Arabia, with around 350,000 troops participating. The Saudis have said they are prepared to send troops to Syria if President Bashar Assad does not resign and be replaced with a Sunni Muslim dominated government. Such a move would lead to direct conflict with Iran, Hezbollah and the Russians. If Turkey were also involved and Russia responded by attacking Turkey, the U.S. and Europe could be dragged into war. Turkey is a NATO member and the NATO alliance is bound by Article 5 of its treaty to collectively defend its members. Collective defence means that an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.
North Korea. In his annual New Year’s speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is ready for war if provoked by ‘invasive’ outsiders. North Korea tested a nuclear device on 6th January and launched a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in February. As well as threatening neighbouring South Korea, these developments were seen as a direct threat to the USA. Peter Pry, an expert on electromagnetic pulse weapons (EMP), said Pyongyang’s latest test showed North Korea could launch a missile carrying a nuclear device designed to explode at a high altitude over the United States. Such an explosion would be capable of knocking out the nation’s electrical grid system and all of the life- sustaining critical infrastructures that depend on it. The result would be mass deaths and the collapse of the society.
China. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has warned China against militarising a disputed island chain in the South China Sea and threatened ‘specific consequences’ should Beijing not wind down its activities in the region. China has laid claim to islands in the sea, but the rights to the area, which is at the heart of economically important shipping routes in the South China Sea, are being contested by Taiwan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. The US has increased its regular naval patrols and air surveillance in the South China Sea and held war exercises with its Asian allies. China warned the US that it risks sparking war after one of its destroyers was reportedly travelling with a Navy surveillance airplane near the contested Spratly Islands.
ISIS and Islamic conflicts. The hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia is increasing conflict between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East. There is war in Yemen, Iraq, the Sinai, and conflict between Turkey and the Kurds. Islamic State and other radical Islamists are destabilising governments, killing civilians, and radicalising local populations in numerous areas: northern Nigeria and surrounding areas (Boko Haram) Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania (al-Shabab), the Sahel and north Africa (AQIM), Pakistan and Afghanistan (Taliban and ISIS). Libya is in chaos as rival militias fight for control and ISIS has occupied part of the country. In addition Islamic radicals are active in South Asia, the Caucasus and threatening terror attacks in Europe and USA.
Elsewhere conflicts and civil war have been taking place in various parts of Africa, particularly Congo, south Sudan and Central African Republic. In Europe the Ukrainian crisis has brought civil war to Ukraine and increased tensions between Russia and the West.
Israelis sceptical of peace process
The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, proposed on 29th January that France will seek to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at an international conference. The conference will aim to bring together the two parties and their American, European and Arab partners in order ‘to make a two-state solution happen.’ If this attempt faces a deadlock, Fabius said, ‘France will have to recognise a Palestinian state.’ Israel reacted with anger to this proposal calling it a threatening ultimatum which would encourage the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be unbending in its demands. ‘Israel will not negotiate under threat,’ Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz stated in response.
Most Israelis want genuine and productive peace talks, but have lost hope in the diplomatic process with the current Palestinian leadership. A survey published in Israel on 2nd February revealed that only 29% of Israelis felt the peace process would ever be successful. 45.3% of those surveyed support annexing Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), thus ending the ‘dream’ of a Palestinian state. Such a move which would provoke intense international condemnation of Israel and possibly war.
Ze’ev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet, has given another reason why there will not be a peace settlement: the Palestinian Authority is going to collapse. He said, ‘The breakdown of the PA is not a question of if,’ but ‘when.’ Israeli citizens will pay the price for anarchy in the PA, and we must prepare for more difficult attacks.’ He accused the PLO of using the powers given by them by Israel to incite hatred and violence against Jews through their school system, media and mosques. He said ‘This has led to a situation in which a new Palestinian generation has been raised on hatred and has spawned 13-year-old children who leave school and go out to kill Jews.’
Jerusalem remains ‘the burdensome stone’ of Zechariah 12.2-3: ‘And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.’
Meanwhile we await the coming of the only one who can bring real peace to Israel and the world, Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.
In a letter written towards the end of his life Paul wrote that in the last days (i.e. the days before the second coming of Jesus Christ) ‘perilous times will come’ (2 Timothy 3.1-5). Looking up ‘perilous’ in Thesaurus we find the words ‘dangerous, unsafe, hazardous, terrifying.’ So as we get nearer to the second coming of Jesus we should expect the world to become more dangerous, unsafe, hazardous and terrifying!
Jesus said that in the last days ‘there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.’ (Matthew 24:7). He warned of a world crisis at the end of this age, describing it as ‘the distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ Luke 21.25-6. He warned that there will be a crisis with no human solution coming which will bring about the final period of great tribulation preceding His second coming to the earth.
The Book of Revelation (chapters 6-19) describe the seven year period of the great tribulation in detail, beginning with the famous ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ riding out 5 (Revelation 6.1-8). The first horseman is the coming antichrist who comes ‘conquering and to conquer’ riding on a white horse offering a false peace. The second horseman on the red horse brings war as he ‘takes peace from the earth and causes men to kill one another.’ The third horseman riding a black horse brings famine and scarcity to the earth. The fourth horseman riding a pale horse causing death on a huge scale as a quarter of the people on earth are killed ‘with sword, with hunger, with death and by the beasts of the earth.’ This period is brought to an end by the coming in power to the earth of the Lord Jesus Christ described in Revelation 19.
In the passage from 2 Timothy 3.1-4 where Paul speaks of perilous times coming at the time of the end, he goes on to say: ‘For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!’
Human sin and rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour is responsible for the time of trouble which is coming on the earth. The reason things are going this way is that the majority of people have rejected God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
However there remains a future and a hope for all those who turn to the Lord Jesus. He is coming again in power and glory, with all the power of God to judge the world in righteousness and rule in the coming Messianic kingdom. In that day ‘the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ / Messiah and He shall reign for ever and ever.’ Revelation 11.15. The 1000 year reign of the Messiah on earth is a prelude to the eternal state in which God will make new heavens and a new earth where the redeemed will dwell forever.
Whether or not you have a place in this coming kingdom depends on how you respond now to the message of Jesus Christ. Now is the day to repent and believe the good news, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour and the Lord who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. If you make this step of faith you will know forgiveness and peace with God and have a glorious future in His coming kingdom.
Here is a prayer to accept salvation in Jesus’ name: ‘Dear Heavenly Father, I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus the Messiah died in my place, shedding His blood to pay for my sins, and that He rose again from the dead to give me eternal life. I am willing right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus the Messiah as my personal Saviour and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to send the Holy Spirit into my life, to fill me and to take control and to help me become the kind of person you want me to be. Thank you Father for loving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.`