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North Korea and Iran Top the 2010 World Watch List: Communism and extremist Islam pose huge threats to Christians

ICC Note: Open Doors USA releases 2010 Watch List, details and updates on status of persecuted world

2/18/10 USA (OpenDoorsUSA) – “Are Christians being sent to jail, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals because of their faith?” “Do they have the freedom to print and distribute Christian literature?” “Are their meeting places and homes attacked because of religious hatred?”

Once a year, Open Doors learns the answers to these and 47 other questions as we compile our international World Watch List of countries where Christians are most likely to be persecuted for their faith.
The list is topped again by North Korea for the eighth year in a row, with Iran moving up into second place. We publish these results as an information source, but also as a guide for prayer. Each country on the list is home to thousands, if not millions, of Christians who are brutally attacked, forced out of jobs, isolated, made homeless, imprisoned, tortured or even killed—just for believing in Jesus Christ.
In this special edition of Frontline Faith, we’ll explore the situation in the two places where Christians are most likely to encounter persecution.

North Korea—Dictator clamps down as economy crumbles
Christians are paying a high price in brutal campaigns by Kim Jong-Il to stimulate the North Korean economy. In September, the Communist leader announced a “100-day battle” equivalent to forced labor for virtually all North Koreans. Earlier in 2009, a similar crackdown called the “150-day battle” was praised in an official statement as “a noble achievement brought about by the steel-like will and mature and refined leadership of the respected and beloved Comrade.”

Behind the pompous rhetoric, over 40,000 believers have been interned in labor camps and virtually every citizen is required to work to keep the state running. Food shortages are severe in many areas, and the North Korean agricultural ministry recently announced that 2010 will bring even worse shortages. Families are eating acorns to survive.

“People don’t get the opportunity to keep themselves alive,” said one Christian. “In Hwangae province, it’s normal again to see children lying dead on the street.”
This has a major and ongoing impact on the work of Open Doors. During these economic “battle” periods, everyone’s movements are monitored and restricted. Christians who are already severely persecuted must keep an even lower profile because anyone found on the street without a reason is sent to a labor camp. Virtually every citizen must work for the state so people illegally trade at night to survive, and still report to work the next morning.
“During these clampdowns, it is much harder to spread Bibles, Christian books, food, medicines, and other emergency goods among the Christians,” says “Simon,” a Christian worker whose real name we can’t reveal. Simon explains that when the most recent “100 day battle” was announced, “The North Korean Christians held a secret prayer meeting. They came to the conclusion that it was important not to avoid danger. The local Christians wanted to continue with our projects. We agreed.”
He goes on to say, “North Korean Christians are very brave. Secretly they share their faith with others. They also support other North Koreans, Christians and non-Christians with practical help. We know of a woman who doesn’t have enough food herself and still puts aside some food for people who need it even more.”
North Korean believers have asked us to pray, not for their safety, but for their continued strength, boldness, and outreach to the poor.

Iran—Christian converts oppressed by society and pressured by authorities
How could a country where Christians are a recognized minority and are guaranteed religious freedom be second on our World Watch List? Because most believers in Iran are free only to be silent and invisible. If they are not, they are targeted. Believers in the growingly anti-Christian and anti-Western country report imprisonment, harassment, physical abuse and discrimination.

Churches are constantly monitored by secret police, especially in houses like Marmar’s (see article below). Christians find it extremely difficult to find employment, and are easily fired. They are banned from ministering to Muslims in Farsi, the official language. Most house church members meet in secret to avoid the gaze of authorities, militant Islamists, informers and religious vigilantes.

Marmar says she turned to Christianity because Islam quite simply failed her. “I was scared to convert,” she recalls. “But I felt a great emptiness in my heart that made me look for the Lord.”

She searched Islam for compassion after her first son died at the age of two and her sister was killed in a car accident shortly after. She felt Allah wouldn’t hear her grief. “Allah had no answers for me. He never communicates with sinners.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that she embraced Christianity wholeheartedly when a friend shared the verse, “All who are weary, come to me and I will give you rest.” Finding her rest in Jesus, Marmar has never stopped working for Him. She has already converted no fewer than 16 members of her family. “Our house was like a church. The Lord said to me, ‘nothing is yours. This house is mine, so let it be a church.’”
But such activity could never pass unnoticed. Enforcing Islamic law, the police burst in one day and Marmar was thrown in jail. Brought before a high judge, she declared, “All you can do is kill me, but then I will go straight to Christ.”

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