A new report from a Christian advocacy group says that Christianity continues to thrive and grow despite brutal repression and attempts by governments, groups, and individuals across the world to quash the faith.
The 2023 “Persecutors of the Year” report was released this month by the advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC).
ICC’s report sheds light on the suffering of hundreds of millions of Christians in 10 of the most heavily persecuted countries in the world. Despite these persecutions, the report said that the faith is growing in some of the world’s most persecutory countries such as Iran, China, and Nigeria.
According to the report, the Islamic Republic of Iran has “one of the fastest-growing churches in the world.”
Christians currently make up only a small minority in Iran, numbering somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000, according to ICC’s report. Though the government, ruled by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, enforces strict adherence to Sharia law, ICC’s report said that hundreds of thousands of Iranians “from all different kinds of walks of life” have converted to Christianity.
Christian religious expression in the country is heavily restricted and converts to Christianity from Islam face arrest, torture, and execution.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is at the vanguard of the government’s attempt to extinguish the light of the faith in Iran, “is merciless in its efforts to stamp out Christianity,” according to the report.
Additionally, ICC said that a “skewed” justice system targets Christians for practicing their faith and keeps them in “exceptionally harsh conditions,” including “extreme torture.”
Joseph Daniel, ICC’s Middle East regional manager, said in the report that “for more than 40 years the Iranian regime has persecuted Iranian Christians through banning Farsi-language Bibles, imprisoning church leaders, and falsely accusing converts to Christianity as national security threats.”
“But through it all,” Daniel continued, “God is working a miracle, and the underground Iranian church continues to grow rapidly.”
In China, the report said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “requires that citizens worship the state, co-opting every religious structure possible into a mouthpiece of CCP propaganda.”
Despite the government’s attempts to control all religious expression and worship, the report said that Christianity in China, lived out primarily in underground church communities, is “rapidly growing.”
Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the penalties for living out one’s Christian faith have continued to increase. Amid the persecution, the report said that there are now 70 million to 100 million “underground Christians” who have refused to follow the CCP’s mandate to “worship the state,” choosing instead to risk their lives by following Christ.
According to ICC, Nigeria is “arguably the most dangerous place to be a Christian in the world today.”
Though Nigeria is nearly 50% Christian, the country’s approximately 100 million Christians live under constant threat of torture, kidnapping, and execution.
Acts of extreme violent persecution are a regular occurrence for Nigerian Christians, according to the report. The hardships Christians face in the country are due to a combination of extremist groups and government targeting.
Radical Islamist groups such as Boko Haram, the ISIS offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province, and the Fulani herdsmen continue to prey on the country’s large Christian population, despite government promises and claims that religious targeting has been solved in the country.
The persecution has continued for decades now with no signs of improvement in 2023. ICC President Jeff King said in the report that the government’s inaction to Christian persecution amounts to “aiding and abetting” the “genocide” of Christians in the country.
Though King said that the violence “will only worsen unless the international community steps in,” the report also said that Christianity in Nigeria continues to grow in regional pockets.
CNA reported earlier this year that despite the escalating persecution, Nigeria has by far the highest Mass attendance in the world.
Ninety-four percent of Catholics in Nigeria say they attend Mass at least weekly, according to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of the Diocese of Makurdi in Nigeria’s Benue state told CNA in June that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”
“Persecution has been part and parcel of the life of a Catholic,” Anagbe said. “But then it doesn’t stop the faith of the people.”
“We constantly keep on praying,” Anagbe said. “God will surely hear our prayers. So, that’s why the Mass is so important and why we pray. We have to trust God in the midst of this crisis.”
‘The resilience of the body of Christ’
ICC also highlighted the plight of Christians enduring persecutions in North Korea, India, Pakistan, Eritrea, Algeria, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan as well as some of the leading persecutory groups and individuals such as the Taliban, Jinping, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
While the purpose of ICC’s annual report is to bring attention to the suffering of Christians across the world, King said that it also “unveils the resilience of the body of Christ.”
King noted that “our brothers and sisters are murdered, imprisoned, or tortured the world over, simply for identifying as a follower of Jesus,” but he pointed out that these believers “hold onto and even thrive in their faith while enduring unimaginable pain.”