(AgapePress) - Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA says there was a noticeable increase in persecution of Christians throughout the world in 2005. That international ministry has released a review of persecution against believers worldwide across the last year.
The Open Doors review found that there was an increase in persecution of Christians in such countries as North Korea, Indonesia, and Eritrea. Dr. Moeller says many believers in the U.S. and other free nations are largely unaware of the oppression and hostility faced by fellow believers in many parts of the world. He feels some of the countries most hostile to the Christian faith are simply not "on the radar screens" of many in the church.
For instance, the ministry leader notes, "Eritrea doesn't make the news very often because it's not either an ally or an enemy of the United States; but it is a country where millions of people are subjected to a Marxist-influenced government that is drumming up fear in a war with Ethiopia." For Christians in Eritrea, he explains, the difficulty with the government is "primarily that it refuses to acknowledge any religious expression apart from four permitted religions and denominations."
Also, in Eritrea 26 pastors and 1,700 evangelical church members are currently imprisoned, and some have been tortured by government military forces, Moeller points out. Meanwhile, in other nations on Open Doors' watch list, the violence and systematic harassment and maltreatment of Christians either carried out or tolerated by government authorities is similarly egregious.
In North Korea, an estimated 400,000 Christians face daily persecution, including torture in prison camps. That is one reason why that country topped Open Doors' world watch list of countries where persecution is most severe in 2005. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, more Christians were killed and churches burned, and three Christian women were arrested for running a program for children.
Nevertheless, Moeller notes that some positive developments have occurred in the past year. For example, he says the evangelical church is growing rapidly in many of the countries where persecution of the church is common -- even in some parts of Asia and the Middle East that are dominated by Hindu, Buddhist, or Islamic majorities.
The president of Open Doors believes some of this growth can be attributed in part to Christian disaster relief efforts -- particularly the church's response to the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, which killed more than 283,100 people, and the 7.6-magnitude South Asia earthquake of October 2005, which had an estimated death toll of more than 87,350 people.
That earthquake, the epicenter of which was in the Pakistan-governed territory of Kashmir, caused more than five billion dollars in damage, left an estimated 3.3 million Pakistanis homeless and directly affected more than 4 million people throughout the region. Many of the survivors are at risk from exposure and disease, and panic is widespread among them, as the area has experienced some 1,518 aftershocks -- the most recent on Christmas day, measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale.
Moeller says persecution against the church has not stopped its ministry and relief efforts toward disaster victims. "The church has reached out to help rebuild in tsunami-devastated areas," he notes, "and also in Pakistan where the fledgling Muslim-background [Christian] believer church in the devastated area of Kashmir has been a source of hope and healing for many as they've sought to rebuild in that terrible place."
Open Doors' ministry to the persecuted church has likewise gone forward in the past year. Moeller says the ministry was able to send more than three million bibles and other Christian study materials to China for underground house churches, and has continued to send resources and support to persecuted believers in other nations all over the world.
- Allie Martin, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.