Article
Comment
Freedom of belief
3 min read

Where it's dangerous to believe

In the symbolic heart of a liberal democracy, a list is revealed of where it is dangerous to believe. Belle Tindall reports on the annual World Watch List.

Belle is the Reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness, writing for Seen &Unseen 

A huge communist monument consists of a red flag wall rising from left to right over a column of statues.
Mansu Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Just as they do at the beginning of each new year, this January saw the charity Open Doors descend upon the House of Commons to officially launch its World Watch List for 2023. That is, the list of the fifty most dangerous countries to be a Christian in the world this year.  

As well as producing this list, the advocacy group also revealed a number: 360 million.  

That’s the number of Christians who are living under extreme pressure and persecution because of their religious identity. That’s 1 in every 7 of the 2.4 billion Christians in the world right now. For statistical context, that 360 million is larger than the current population of the USA. The enormity of such numbers can be a challenge to digest, so perhaps it would be more effective to summarise the research this way - 2023 the most dangerous year to be a Christian on record.  

Only a quarter of the story  

It’s a powerful image: there, in the grand epicentre of British government, where a verse from the Bible is literally carved into the floor of the main entrance way, was an evening dedicated to the 360 million people for whom a spiritual alignment to that very same verse exposes them to danger and discrimination.  

When we think of religious groups that are facing daily persecution, it’s likely that Christian communities aren’t at the top of our list of assumptions. And that’s relatively understandable when we’re viewing Christianity through the lens of our own Western contexts. In May, the UK is going to come to a communal standstill as we witness the Archbishop of Canterbury, the figurehead of the Church of England, place a crown on the head of our new King, thus ushering in a new phase of history. It can seem as though, as a society, the scent of Christianity is in the very air we breathe. Many of our most cherished landmarks are sites of religious significance, it’s not unusual for our local schools and hospitals to be named after Christian Saints, while our public calendars are shaped by Christian celebrations.  

And yet – 360 million people.  

While Christianity has a (rather recent) reputation for being a Euro-centric religion, European Christians are actually the minority, making up only one quarter of the global Christian population. We are inclined, because of our own experience of Christianity as enjoying a prominent role in public life, of having a rather narrow understanding of the global Christian reality.    

A more global perspective  

Christians are by no means the only faith group to face the danger of religious persecution, but year after year, they are continuing to face it on the largest scale.  

The World Watch List shows that the global reality for Christians is anything but static. In 2022, Afghanistan was considered the most dangerous country to live as a Christian. However, largely due to the Taliban’s attention being lured away from its Christian population, Afghanistan has dropped to ninth place. North Korea, which is home to approximately 400,000 Christians, has thus regained its position as the most ‘brutally hostile place’ to be.  

Following North Korea, the other top nine countries in the list are: Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan.  

Not only has this persecution seen a numerical increase, but also a significant increase in the extremity of the danger posed. Violence, imprisonment, and even death, are very real possibilities for Christians living in these countries. However, religious persecution also includes more subtle social segregation, economic discrimination and national isolation. These 360 million people are being exposed to a spectrum of pressures to denounce their Christian identity and cease living out their Christian faith.  

A paradox

And yet, one of the most staggering findings that Open Doors continue to present, is that it is in these places that the Christian church is experiencing its most rapid growth. According to their extensive research, the rising danger surrounding the Christian faith doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect; stories of persistence, faith and courage are unceasing.  

This pattern is not anomalous, As Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, once famously reminded the world, ‘persecution is an enemy the Church has met and mastered many times. Indifference could prove to be a far more dangerous foe’.

A dangerous faith does not equate to a disappearing faith.  

 

Article
Comment
War and peace
3 min read

Letter from Lviv

Loss, resilience, and a hope one day to count blessings not missile intercepts.

Iryna Dobrohorska is Christian Aid’s Country Response Director for Ukraine.

A woman stands at the back of an armoured military vehicle, the door of which is open.
Iryna stands by a displayed military vehicle.

Ukraine is only two years older than I am. My personal history is intertwined with Ukraine’s history. Instead of the carefree fun I should be having as a young Ukrainian woman, on Saturday I was reflecting that my last two years have been dominated by war since Russia began its full-scale invasion. Over those 730 days, I have witnessed the best and worst of humanity.  

I was evacuated from Kyiv to the sounds of explosions nearby, fearing I would be raped or murdered by Russian soldiers if they entered the capital. I’ve wept over losing university friends in combat. I’ve despaired at how Ukrainian writers are being deliberately targeted by the Kremlin.  

But I also observed the speed that we Ukrainians built trust and social connections with unknown people. I was proud of the warmth of my hometown, Lviv, which welcomed people from the east of the country - it crushed the myths that Russia was trying to ooze into our national life that we were a divided country that didn’t have the right to exist except as part of Russia. 

Not just in Lviv but all over Ukraine. This month in Odesa I felt the same warmth extended to elderly displaced people when I hosted a visit to our local humanitarian partner Heritage Ukraine by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He saw for himself how the team, funded by the Scottish faith charity Blythswood, had opened their doors and their hearts to these traumatised strangers facing an uncertain future. 

One of those displaced people, Nadia, told me: “We want to go home, but our home is being shelled. At least here we stay with dignity.”  

The violence inflicted by Russia is not becoming any easier in the prolonged war we now face.

t’s a scene of resilience I’ve grown accustomed to as I’ve crisscrossed the country to play my small part in the astonishing humanitarian effort powered by the UK public’s incredibly generous donations.  

The Iryna I saw in the mirror in 2021 wouldn’t recognise the young woman I see looking back at me today.  

In Kherson, I was recording the stories of illegal detention of civilians to the sound of artillery fire. In Mykolaiv, my window view was an apartment block with the roof blown off and clay-coloured water was the only drinking option.  

I never thought that I would learn the types of weaponry used in modern warfare. Now I know the difference between the motorbike sound of a drone from the missile whistle above my head followed by the clank when it detonates nearby.  

Security awareness is an everyday reality in Ukraine. We often debate during an alert whether choosing to sleep in our own beds instead of going to a shelter may turn out to be our last night. A six-months pregnant teacher friend of mine in Kyiv was killed in her sleep from a drone strike.  

The violence inflicted by Russia is not becoming any easier in the prolonged war we now face. Yet I also sense the paradox that we’ve accepted the war becoming everyday normality and so has the rest of the world. 

Global attention today is not focused only on Ukraine. A host of other crises are taking precedence in the need for a humanitarian response. My biggest fear is that the long-term nature of our crisis reduces global actors to sympathizing observers.  

What I do know is that my generation of young Ukrainians who have lost so much will not allow that to happen. More than ever, I feel the need for a just and resolute peace for Ukraine. With the help of our international friends, the day will come when those who have suffered can go back to rebuild their homes and communities.  

As I move on to engage further in Ukraine’s recovery efforts, I feel privileged to have worked for Christian Aid as part of the humanitarian response. I’m most proud of our role in being a catalyst for local people to help themselves by setting their own community priorities in the kind of support they need, giving them a sense of dignity and self-worth.  

It’s that kind of world that I dream about - where one day I will count my country’s blessings instead of how many drones and missiles were intercepted the night before.