Sunday 15 May 2022 at 10.30am

Reading: Matthew 24: 6-14


Over the past two years our lives have been dominated by Tests.

Covid tests. The swabs make you gag, your eyes water as your throat and nose are poked and prodded. Pretty unpleasant. Then waiting for the result, hoping that just one line will appear.

Life is full of tests: school tests, driving tests, eye tests, blood tests, pregnancy tests …. More

During the Covid restrictions and lockdown, we’ve all been tested by a measure of isolation and restriction. We have had to meet as scattered believers, doing church at home or on line, masked and worshipping in silence; few of us could have predicted how much could change. Fortunately, we now are able to get back to more ‘normal’ church worship, fellowship and meetings.

Just imagine: What if this testing of isolation and restriction were permanent? Tests can be really hard, unpleasant and sometimes extremely painful.

Persecuted Church – IMAGINE

What if ‘lockdown’ was more severe and your faith put you in prison?

What if spies were watching your every move?

What if your family threw you out because of your faith?

What if owning a Bible was illegal?

What if following Jesus meant violence or even death?

This is the persecuted church. More than 360 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution and discrimination for their faith.

1 in 7 believers globally. That equates to about 10? of you here in church today.

These are really testing times. And it always has been so for Christians. Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth:

‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.’

2 Corinthians 4: 8


At the start of every year Open Doors issues its World Watch Report on the latest trends in the persecution of Christians and includes the World Watch List Top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

The WWL 2022 Handbook includes a map and gives details and stories of courageous faith from the Top 50 countries. Please take a copy.

Our Christian brothers and sistersare being tested to the limits. Beaten. battered, broken, bleedingyet they show us what genuine faith is like.

The persecution of Christians has reached the highest levels since the World Watch list began nearly 30 years ago.

For the first time Afghanistan has become No.1 on the Open Doors World Watch list. This doesn’t mean persecution has eased elsewhere – it’s still desperately hard to follow Jesus in all the top 10 and in many other places.

Afghanistan (1)

Under the protection of allied forces life in Afghanistan was relatively peaceful under Islamic rule and had been improving particularly for the recognition for women and girls to have a place in society.

But the Taliban (a branch of IS) rapidly took control of the whole country in August and have introduced an ultra-strict interpretation of Sharia law. We have witnessed the panic as families tried to find ways out of the country, particularly the distressing scenes at Kabul airport. The extremist rule tightens with the recent legislation requiring all women to wear the full burka.

It’s very hard to know precisely how many Christians there are in Afghanistan, because they must keep their faith completely secret, but it is only a small number perhaps 5000-8000. These are in even more danger now as under Taliban rule, the punishment for apostasy is death for males and imprisonment for females. It is known some have managed to escape and Christian organisations are desperately trying to enable others to safe refuges across the border.

Zabi is young, well-educated and a human rights activist: all dangerous qualities that make her a target for the Taliban.

Thankfully, God led Open Door’s field partners to Zabi, when she found refuge in a neighbouring country, and thanks to the support of people and churches like you, Open Doors has been able to give her food, pay her rent and give her money to stay safe and survive, but for Christians like her, life and hope hang by a thread. She told Open Doors: ‘You are a strand of hope to me. There’s a chance I may live.’

In similar times of testing, Peter wrote these words of deep encouragement

to a scattered group of believers in an increasingly hostile world:

‘In all this you greatly rejoice, though for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials and testing. These have come so that your faith – of greater value than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ 1 Peter 1: 6-7

North Korea (2)

Until 2022 North Korea had been at the top of Open Doors World Watch List for 20 years. It is very difficult to know the real situation in the country as the borders have been closed due to Covid. Kim Jung Un has been showing his strength to the world through his annual military parades and increased missile testing.

Life is tough for the majority with a huge shortage of food – many depend on foraging for grass or bark to make basic soups to survive. If you are discovered to be a Christian you could be sent with your family to one of the country’s notorious prison camps.  It is thought that there are up to 70,000 Christians locked in these prison camps where the outcome for most is death through starvation, torture or execution.

Every morning, in the village she’s forced to live in, Bae spends the day working in the fields. She has a daily quota to meet. Bae was sentenced to a lifetime of back-breaking labour – her crime – owning a Bible. Like everyone else in her village Bae is close to starving. The authorities give them just enough to stay alive. It’s partly a punishment, and partly a reflection of the terrible food shortage in North Korea.

This isn’t Bae’s real work. That starts at night. Sticking to the shadows, she steals back through the village to the forest, where she finds a tree with gnarled roots and scrapes away a thin layer of dirt. Pulling out her Bible, she tucks it under her cloak. When she gets home her housemates are waiting – they’ve already covered the windows and lit a candle. They sit in a tight circle. Bae begins to read…

This is Bae’s real work. This is the North Korean underground church. Open Doors estimates there are about 400,000 secret Christians in North Korea. And where’s Jesus? – right there in the fire, tested with them.

It’s been reported this month that several dozen believers from a secret church have been discovered and killed, and some 100 members of their families sent to the country’s notorious prison camps. These secret believers were gathered for a meeting and once they began worshipping, security guards broke in and arrested everybody. The information had been deliberately leaked to the authorities. This persecution is part of a major sweep against underground Christians.

China (17)

In common with many other countries, China is increasingly using sophisticated and oppressive technology to monitor citizens for their own ‘protection’ and ‘security’. China is now in the top 20 of the World Watch List for the first time in a decade. It was No. 48 in 2018.

The crackdown on Christian activity is intensifying – churches are watched as never before. However over 1 million people are coming to faith each year and the Church can’t train pastors fast enough – in fact there is just one pastor for every 6,700 Christians in China. Increasingly the church is moving ‘underground’ especially amongst the younger generation.

Last September four Christians were given prison sentences of between 15 months and 6 years for selling audio Bibles. These are hugely popular in China and contain sermons, songs and other Christian content.

The government is making unprecedented attempts to control the content of church services and online resources. Under the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services which came into force on 1 March internet users now require a permit to post religious content.

The new measures mean that online services, sermons, bible studies or any other religious messages in the form of texts, pictures, audio and video can only be accessed through state-approved channels with content checked to ensure it reflects and supports China’s Communist Party. The measures extend to social media, leading to concerns that mentioning anything connected with Christianity could get people into trouble.

West Africa

Christian communities in Nigeria and across West Africa are suffering the rapid spread of Islamic extremist violence. It’s a hidden crisis in which thousands of our brothers and sisters are being killed. And in much of the West it’s not even reported as news.

Nigeria (7)

Nigeria is the epicentre of this trend of violence and attacks by Boko Haram, Fulani militants or other Islamic extremists are growing in severity and in number. Last year 4,650 Christians were murdered because of their faith – more than in the rest of the world combined.

Pastor Andrew vividly remembers the attack on his village, Guyaku. ‘At about 7pm the treasurer of my church ran to my house to tell me to run. Fire was consuming the whole village.’ Everybody fled. From a mountain hiding place Pastor Andrew could see Boko Haram militants banging on the door of the church and of his house. He hid with members of his church not knowing the fate of people he loved.

In the morning everyone left their hiding places and tried to find missing friends and family members. Several believers had been killed ad all but six of the houses in Guyaku had been burned down. Boko Haram had stolen their possessions, and what they couldn’t take they burned. ‘The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church,’ Pastor Andrew says. ’We lost everything.’

Despite this Pastor Andrew’s faith stayed strong. Many Christians left for nearby towns, but he and other church leaders stayed to help rebuild the community and to re-establish a church with Open Doors’ aid.

If you go to Pastor Andrew’s church today you will find a crowd of believers worshipping – the noise can be heard far and wide, There is loud singing, clapping, steel drums and joyful music. Boko Haram thought they were wiping out Christianity in Guyaku but God had other plans.

Mauritania (23)

Mauritania, formerly in French West Africa, is a large Muslim country with 90% in the Sahara, with a population of only 5 million. Christians are a tiny minority of just 10,900.

Any deviation from Islamic belief is strongly opposed nationally, in communities and through family pressure. The restrictive environment makes it impossible for Christians (especially converts from Islam) to openly meet and worship together. Violent Islamic extremist groups, like Al Qaeda, are particularly active in the country’s eastern border regions.

Mali (24)

There are just under half a million Christians in Mali, a small percentage of a population of more than 20 million.

Violent extremist attacks continue unabated across Mali. Ten years ago in northern Mali, Christians were forced to flee when Islamic extremist groups took control of the region. Though some Christians have trickled back with police protection, the threat of attack still hangs over them. Christian missionaries live in constant fear of abduction by extremists.

The country’s president, Ibrahim Keita, resigned in August 2020, just hours after armed soldiers seized him from his home in a dramatic power grab following months of protests demanding his removal. He announced the National Assembly would be dissolved amid the eight year Islamic insurgency and the growing Covid pandemic.

 Burkino Faso (32)

Around a quarter of the 21 million people in Burkino Faso are Christians.

Jihadist violence has been rapidly increasing in recent years and extremists have exploited the government’s weakness during the Covid crisis to gain control of the country’s infrastructure. This has led to hundreds of church closures – with Christians among those who have fled extremist attacks. Christian women and girls often face sexual violence which is used by Islamic militants as a method of attacking the wider Christian community.

Since 2016 many Christians and moderate Muslims have fled their homes in the face of increasing jihadist attacks. Over 1 million are internally displaced and live in camps where Covid has exposed them to even more hardship. Since the end of 2020 Open Doors partners have been able to deliver aid packages to help 1,000 Christian families.

Niger (33)

Only a tiny percentage of the 25 million people in Niger are Christian – about 65,000. Once a country known for cross-religious harmony, Niger has re-entered the top 50 of the World Watch List.

Historical Christian communities are generally allowed to practice their faith in private but pressure is increasing particularly in regions under Islamic control, Christians must gather with caution because of the increased threat of violent groups like Boko Haram. In the regions near Nigeria churches have been burned and pastors forced to flee their homes.


In 1980s when Ukraine was behind the Iron Curtain under Communist control, Open Doors were smuggling Bibles into the country. Since becoming an independent state in 1991, there has been religious freedom in most of the country. While many Christians are caught up in the devastating conflict in Ukraine, Open Doors does not seek to duplicate the efforts of specialist relief and development agencies who are equipped to respond to crises like these. However….

Testing Times – a battle of good against evil

Good News – Sri Lanka

Since last month Sri Lanka has been gripped by escalating demonstrations against soaring prices and power cuts culminating in the resignation of the Prime Minister.

On Easter Sunday 2019 in Sri Lanka, a day of celebration turned to devastation as three churches were among six places targeted by suicide bombers. More than 250 were killed in the co-ordinated attacks and many more were injured.

Rebekah was at Zion Church in Batticaloa when it was attacked. Her sister, brother-in-law and nephew were killed and she suffered third-degree burns. She spent several weeks in intensive care and has undergone multiple surgeries.

After being released from hospital she began helping to care for her orphaned niece and nephew, grieving the loss of her loved ones, supported by Open Doors. She has clung to Jesus throughout her suffering. ‘I have so much peace in my heart,’ she shared in an interview. ‘I know God does everything for our good because I have experienced it in my life’.

In response to a song that she had published on Facebook she was contacted by Kaushik. They were married this Easter 2022. She says ‘It’s as if the Easter bomb blast never happened. When we face difficulties, we must stay strong and hold on to see what God will do in the end.’

Response – How do you strengthen your persecuted family?

The vision of Open Doors is that no persecuted Christian should suffer alone – no Christian forgotten. For over 65 years Open Doors has stood alongside the persecuted church, strengthening and supporting Christians who dare to follow Jesus, no matter the cost.

Ezekiel 22:30: ‘I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the Lord so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no-one.’

Stand in the G-A-P

G – GIVE Consider giving regularlyto Open Doors to bring vital long-term support and hope to help persecuted Christians like Zabi and Bae know they are not alone.

A single gift of just £7 could give a Bible to a Christian facing extreme persecution – equivalent to a couple of Costa coffees. Any amount you choose to give will help.

A – ACT Support Open Door’s advocacy work on behalf of persecuted Christians – write to your MP or become a volunteer or fundraise.

P – PRAY Your prayers go where you physically can’t. If it’s the only thing you can do, please pray. Receive a prayer diary to pray for persecuted Christians on a daily basis.

Please take at least one copy of the 2022 World Watch List Top 50 home with you and use it for prayer. On the website you find all the latest information and you can sign up to receive the bimonthly magazine and prayer list. As thanks you can receive a free copy of ‘God’s Smuggler’.

Or simply stay in touch with the persecuted church through the Open Doors website or on Facebook or Twitter and get regular updates, stories of God at work, prayer points and ways to take action.

Please Stand in the Gap.


  • What was said in this message?
  • What have you learnt from this message?
  • How are you going to apply this teaching to your life today and as you go forward?

Read Matthew 24: 4-14

  • What here helps to explain persecution?
  • Have “false messiah’s” arisen? What about other religions?
  • How can persecution affect even us? What forms does it take?
  • What “false prophets” are there out there?
  • What ways does this passage say that persecution will affect people?
  • Has this “Gospel” been preached to all nations yet?

Write your own notes here: