There are estimated to be more than 360 million Christians facing persecution for their faith around the world today, according to Open Doors USA, an organization that advocates on behalf of the persecuted church.
While persecution of Christians is severe in nations like North Korea, there are about “50 to 60 countries where there is intense levels of persecution,” says David Curry, the president and CEO of Open Doors USA.
Curry joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share stories of the persecuted church across the globe and to explain how Americans can support those facing tribulation for their faith.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: According to Open Doors, more than 360 million Christians worldwide experience extreme persecution and discrimination for their faith. And here with us to talk about that today is the president and CEO of Open Doors USA, David Curry. David, thank you so much for being here.
David Curry: It’s a pleasure to be with you. I look forward to the conversation.
Allen: Open Doors advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith. As I was looking at your website and I was reading about the work that you do, I was really blown away by that fact that there are 360 million Christians around the world experiencing persecution for their faith. What exactly does this persecution look like?
Curry: Well, it can be anything from oppression, discrimination, all the way over to people who are being killed for their faith. Now, when you hear 360, you’re like, “How is that even possible? There’s 360 million?” Well, let me give you one case.
China, which is ranked No. 17, as the 17th-worst place to be a Christian, has 100 million Christians. And all of those Christians now are being surveilled using technology—facial recognition, using artificial intelligence—and they are being punished for going to church too often, for trying to take their kids to Sunday school. There’s a social score in China and a deduction to be a follower of Jesus and to practice that faithfully.
So you’re talking about 100 million people there. Are they going to be lined up against the wall and shot? No, they’re not. So they’re not exposed to that high level of violence, but they could lose their job. Their kids might not be able to go to school if their social score is lowered too far. There’s certainly a loss of privacy greatly because even Zoom churches [are] monitored in many cases now in China. So there are all kinds of levels of persecution.
You have some situations—I met yesterday with a group of folks that had just escaped from North Korea. They’re followers of Jesus. There, if you’re caught, you’re going to spend the rest of your life and die in a labor camp because you have a Bible, because you want to go to church. Not that they have a church, but do you want to talk about Jesus or have a small group or a conversation? And they’ll be executed in some cases.
So it ranges in many things. When we say 360 million are under high levels of persecution, that means they have some sort of physical threat. They could be beaten, harassed, raped, forced into a marriage. That still happens nowadays in many parts of the world. So it varies greatly but it’s all tragic.
Allen: Now, about how many countries is this taking place? We hear about China, we hear about North Korea, maybe some countries in the Middle East. How widespread across the globe is this persecution of Christians?
Curry: We put out a list every year that measures the top 50. We work in about 60 and we measure in about 75.
So there are always individual incidents where within a country, let’s say that’s relatively peaceful and people have the right to practice, someone can still walk into a church and hurt somebody because they don’t like that particular faith. You’re really talking about 50 to 60 countries where there is intense levels of persecution or significant enough that it measures.
Allen: So then how does Open Doors go into these nations and get connected with these faith communities, with these churches, with these persecuted individuals? And how do you go about providing them with the help and support that they need? What does that look like?
Curry: Well, part of our origin story is we started during the Soviet Union days. We had a really dynamic personality. You took a code name, Brother Andrew. That wasn’t his real name, but he became like this James Bond. And the whole idea was, just take people Bibles.
So we’ve been at it for decades and what we do is we build a network of believers in that country. So we’re not trying to make them American or, Open Doors really started as a Dutch company, we’re not trying to make them Dutch. We just want to get people access to a Bible, stand with them, and speak for them if they’ve lost their voice. If they’re under some kind of political or physical torment and pressure.
So we really just connect with believers that are there and try to help them. And that helps us find a path to best serve them.
Allen: Could you maybe tell us about one of the churches that you-all are working with right now? What some of their needs are, what they’re experiencing?
Curry: Well, I’ll use an example of the church in Eritrea. Eritrea is right around the Horn of Africa, just above Ethiopia. They have an Islamic theology that’s part of their government. And while there’s a constitution that says you can practice your Christian faith, the reality is Christians are greatly persecuted there, imprisoned for years.
I met with some of them. Four years, six years, eight years, in really horrible conditions. And what was their crime? They had a Tuesday afternoon small group at their house.
So the story of what’s happening to the church in Eritrea is tragic, but here’s the good news: These are people of great faith. They love studying the Bible. They love helping each other. They’re taking food to each other when they’re imprisoned.
You can do that there because they don’t have food in prison. Your family or your friends or your community are helping to feed you because you may not get enough nutrition. You may starve to death in there.
So you really, in the picture of Eritrea, you see the pole, the polarity here. You’ve got real pressure, real tragedy, real physical danger, but you’ve also got the strength that comes from their spiritual connection and their faith that makes these just really remarkable people.
And I love spending time with them. I love hearing their stories. And surprisingly, most of the people under great persecution when I talk to them, they’ve got a great sense of humor. They love to laugh. They’ve got a lot of joy. And that’s part of that spiritual transformation.
We’re so fortunate here and we’re always bogged down with every kind of anxiety and whatever. But these people have lost everything and they found out that their faith, that Jesus, is enough. That’s how I would say it.
Allen: Well, I think we could just end it right there. Jesus is enough. I love that.
When you talk to people and you ask them, “Why is it worth it to you?”, what do you hear most commented, whether you’re in China or Africa or the Middle East?
I think for so many of us who have the privilege of living in a country like America where we’re not persecuted for our faith, it’s that you have that question of, why not just maybe keep your faith entirely to yourself and don’t ever join a church community? … It’s all the question of, why don’t they really just try to self-preserve? Why are they willing to be somewhat vocal about their faith, to be a part of a faith community even if it means persecution and risking their lives?
Curry: I’m sure there are some people for whom their religion is their identity and it doesn’t go much further than that. And I think that’s where you have people who struggle under the pressure.
The answer to your question, “Why is it worth it?”, is because, the stories I hear, is because they’ve had this transformational experience. It’s made their life better. It’s deeper, more sense of value and purpose. It’s helped them, in many cases—let me give you an example.
I met with an Iranian believer. He lived in a beautiful part of Iran but he got totally addicted to drugs and was racked with drugs. It was a transformational experience when he was introduced to Jesus by a family member that got him out of drugs, helped rebuild his family. His wife took him back. She became a follower of Jesus.
So their faith wasn’t just an identity thing. It was like something that transformed their life.
And then they got in trouble because they started going to a small group. Now their family had been reunited, been rebuilt. All of a sudden now, instead of a drain on society, he’s adding things of value to society. He’s working, he’s paying his bills, all these kinds of things. But yet that was illegal.
And so the question is, why don’t you just not go? That’s not an option. This saved their life. So that’s the idea, is like this true, authentic faith adds texture to life. It adds value to life. It helps you through the hard times. It’s this root, fundamental thing that you lean on in the hard times.
Allen: So, so powerful. Now, congratulations to you because you were recently, just in May, you were appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
What do you think is the role of the U.S. government to be intervening or helping the persecuted church, helping persecuted Christians across the world? Is there a role for the government or do you think we shouldn’t necessarily be looking to politicians to fix these issues?
Curry: I think the government in every day and every way sets rules that reward or punish behavior. When they don’t want you driving too fast, they put up a sign to say you’re going to be fined if you drive too fast. In international relationships, we are saying we are going to do business with you because we think our money investment is going to come back and we think it’s going to benefit the American people and your people.
So we’re making decisions doing business every day with countries around the world that we’re, on some level, we’re trying to find some connected, shared values.
If the value is commerce, everybody wants to make money, but there’s no shared value of trust. You don’t think the product is going to be safe or you don’t think that they’re going to be paying people the right amount, then we have to have these discussions.
Right now, we’re doing business with Vietnam, with Uzbekistan, with Saudi Arabia. I could go on, with China, with India. India’s a massive—the government itself is a massive persecutor of Christians because they want a Hindu government.
So we need to start with our friends. Let’s start with India. Hey, friends don’t let friends commit these kinds of atrocities against religious minorities. We need to have some sense. You have a shared value. And use the pressure and the strength of the United States government to bring about some connection there for the betterment of the Indian people and for everybody else.
Allen: And then when it comes to what American citizens can do, whether it’s getting involved in Open Doors, what are some practicals that everyday Americans can do as we hear stories of the persecuted church across the globe?
Curry: Well, I think for people of faith, Open Doors and other work like this, there’s projects. There’s things you can do to help Indigenous Christian communities to survive, hopefully, and then over time, thrive in these really tough places.
I think for the American population as a whole, politicians and even corporations that are downstream from the population, when you use your voice to say this is not acceptable, if enough people do that, the government will do something. The politicians will get onboard with it. And corporations will as well.
We have a lot of corporations that are woke when they need to be because they sense that they’ll lose business because of it. And there’s a lot about that that I don’t like. The sense that the squeakiest wheel, even if it’s wrong, is going to get that attention.
But I think the principle there is pretty human. That if people of values who care about religious freedom collectively share on social media, speak out, support these kinds of projects, people will take notice and I think it’ll change things.
Allen: That’s a huge element of just raising awareness and making people aware of what’s happening. And like you say, where maybe even private companies are somehow giving money to these countries and maybe there’s a lack of accountability that we can be a part of bringing that accountability I think is huge.
Curry: There’s about 80 companies that are doing business in the northwest of China right now, major corporations. They’re using forced Uyghur Muslim labor. Eighty companies.
There are tea companies in India which use forced Christian labor to make their tea. Now I don’t drink tea, I drink coffee. But I guarantee you, if there’s a coffee company that was using forced Christian labor or Uyghur Muslim labor, I would not drink that tea. I would not drink that coffee.
Allen: Are you willing to name any of those brands?
Curry: It’s all online. Yeah. I would encourage people to Google because, first of all, I don’t remember things off the top of my head like that. But secondly, it’s much easier if you just Google companies that are using Uyghur labor. It’s all on there. And people should let those corporations know, “Hey, we’re aware.”
Allen: What do you think the biggest need of the persecuted church across the globe is right now and can we be a part of meeting that need?
Curry: I think the first thing is for people of faith, prayer, they always ask for prayer: “Would you pray for us? Pray with us?” That’s interesting. It’s a spiritual solution they’re seeking because I think there is a sense, when you’re talking about North Korea, when you’re talking about Afghanistan, these big problems seem intractable. So I think prayer is important.
But I think then finding the thing that stirs your heart. I’m not somebody who believes that everybody should give to everything. Find the thing that stirs your heart and support that.
Allen: Great. We so appreciate your time and you joining and just bringing us the stories of individuals who are standing for their faith and who are persecuted across the globe. Please, for all of our listeners, check out Open Doors, the work that they’re doing. David Curry, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
Curry: Thank you.
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