On 13 January, Open Doors UK released its World Watch List 2021, ranking the 50 countries in the world where following Jesus costs the most. The findings are sobering, with increased persecution in certain regions, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, with one in eight Christians globally experiencing systematic discrimination, unfair treatment and persecution.

Some of the facts revealed in this year’s report

  • This year, for the first time ever, all top 50 countries score levels of at least very high persecution, while the top 12 score extreme levels of persecution;
  • there was a 60 per cent increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa;
  • persecution of Christians around the world has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with followers being refused aid in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance, and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, the report says;
  • in North Korea, which is in the number one spot for the twentieth year running, 50,000 – 70,000 of persecuted Christians are in horrendous prisons or labour camps

How should Christians in the UK respond?

Grieved but not surprised


Our brothers and sisters across the world are experiencing immense suffering, and we should share in their grief (Romans 12:15). In the promotional video that goes along with the report, Open Doors UK warns against seeing Christians who are persecuted for their faith as strangers or statistics, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. So when we read stories such as Peninahs, it should move us. However, we should not be surprised.

Jesus said, You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Time and time again Jesus warns His disciples that following Him will lead to a life of hardship. Jesus was hated and rejected, so why would His followers be treated any differently (John 15:18 – 25)? He did not belong to this world; He was rejected. As Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, they will be rejected too. When Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me”, He meant it. There is a cost to following Jesus, and our brothers and sisters know that better than anyone. 

Pray that the world would notice

Fellow Christians are suffering because they believe and understand that knowing Jesus is of greater worth than anything else, including life itself. How wonderful would it be if out of their suffering many more came to know Jesus and know life to the full (John 10:10)? Therefore, we want the world to notice the persecution they face. We want people to ask questions as they see Christians suffering for following Jesus, where it cannot be accounted for by culture or tradition.

The Bible teaches us that through enduring suffering, others will come to know God and glorify Him. Peter instructs us, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

We want the world to see the worth that is to be found in knowing Jesus that far outweighs the cost. Here are just two ways you could do that:

  • write to your local MP. The parliamentary launch of the 2021 World Watch List has taken place. So far Open Doors has registered that 94 MPs attended the launch, and the remaining 556 MPs are yet to receive the World Watch List report. The report will inform them of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian and what they can do to advocate on their behalf. Open Doors has provided a form that’s easy to fill in so that you can write to your MP, either to invite them to watch the launch, or to thank them for doing so;
  • share the report, information and statistics with your friends, through social media and conversation. Pray that they would ask questions about Jesus and why He is worth risking everything for.

Pray that our brothers and sisters would be encouraged 

Pray that they would know Christians all around the world are praying for them and standing with them. Pray that they would keep going for Jesus, and that He would be their source of true comfort in the face of suffering. Pray that they would be protected, and that more people would come to know Jesus because of their bravery. Pray that they would receive the aid they need. 

Be challenged

Christians should not be actively seeking persecution, and in the UK we are in the very fortunate position where being a Christian brings relatively little opposition. But as we read the World Watch List there is a challenge for us: do I know the cost of following Jesus? For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Let’s ask ourselves, have I ever risked anything for the sake of Jesus and the spread of the gospel? Do I always keep my mouth shut to avoid awkwardness? Do I keep my faith life totally separate from my work life? Do I believe that Jesus is worth the risk of being open about my faith?

Praise God for the precious gift of free speech

Here in the UK, we are able to safely confront challenges to our freedom of religion or belief. This is an anomaly in the history of the UK, and in the world. This has not been the case for very long, and perhaps it will not be the case forever. Let us not waste the opportunities we have to speak of Jesus now, when the cost is small, so that we might be prepared to speak of Him later, when the cost may be great.

Open Doors has produced the watch list annually for the last 29 years, as a record of the countries where Christians are most severely persecuted, and where freedom of religion and belief is most violated. The countries are scored based on violence levels along with persecution in private, family, community, civic and church life. The levels of persecution are split into three different groups: high, very high, and extreme. Please read the full report here.

"Let us not waste the opportunities we have to speak of Jesus now, when the cost is small, so that we might be prepared to speak of Him later, when the cost may be great."