Not only did the persecution of Christians increase in 2016, it also spread to every corner of the globe, according to Open Doors USA’s latest World Watch List.
The annual report ranks the worst 50 countries for Christians trying to live out their faith, and while some findings are not surprising (like North Korea topping the list for the 16th consecutive year), the group is troubled by the overall rise in the number of incidents considered persecution.
"It is appalling that Open Doors has to report that persecution has increased again in 2016 and we are still at the worst levels of persecution in modern times," David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told Fox News. "The spread of persecution has gotten worse, now hitting nearly every continent in the world. There were 23 Christians killed in Mexico specifically because of their faith.”
Open Doors estimates that at least 215 million Christians around the world face some level of persecution.
“Our report is conservative because it only calculates incidents that are reported and can be validated,” Curry told Fox News. “It is likely that there are thousands of incidents that are never reported and nobody knows because Christians are often fearful to tell anyone – even their own family members."
Persecution in Asian countries rose, as Christians were increasingly targeted by nationalist religious movements in places like India, Myanmar, and Pakistan. And, surprisingly, North, Central and South America also saw an uptick in persecution of Christ-followers.
As Curry noted, 23 Christian leaders were killed in Mexico, while four others were killed because of their faith in Colombia.
And while it’s important to understand the list and its implications, Curry hopes people will look beyond the stats.
"It is vital to remember that the Open Doors World Watch List is not just about numbers. Rather, this represents a real life that was either taken or harmed. It is someone's mother, father, brother, sister, friend, etc.,” he said. “This is one of those issues that really are about life and death. It matters what we do as Americans and it is time that we took a stand and said that we will not allow this to happen anymore."