What went wrong with the World Watch List?

Saudi-Arabia or Nigeria? Where do you think this picture was taken? The answer is Nigeria. The current World Watch List from Open Doors does however indicate that it is more dangerous to be a Christian in Nigeria than in Saudi-Arabia. Foto: Steinar Opheim

Open Doors is an important advocate for the persecuted church. The organization´s World Watch List is a powerful tool that brings attention to those who suffer for their faith in Jesus. The list will however lose its status unless Open Doors changes the way it is made.

Open Doors released its 2017-overview of the persecuted church in January this year. As expected North Korea «thrones» at the top of the list as it has done for several years. This year the repressive Asian nation is followed by Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan.

There is no doubt that Christians suffer in all these countries and that the authorities provide little or no freedom for anyone who wants to follow Jesus. So this far everything looks good.

Nigeria or Saudi-Arabia?

The problems with the list, and the criteria Open Doors use when they make it, do however become evident when we look at the nations further down. Nigeria is number 12 and thus the conditions for Christians there should be worse than in Saudi-Arabia that is currently number 14. Nigeria is however the home of some of the largest churches in the world, and it is a power house in African missions. In Saudi-Arabia the only acknowledged religion is Islam, and people who leave their Muslim faith may be executed. Tent International´s first tentmaking course this year takes place in Nigeria. It would not be possible to do a similar event in Saudi-Arabia.

According to Open Doors even the Maldives has better conditions for Christians than Nigeria. By law all citizens of the Maldives are Muslims and even personal Bible´s that the tourists bring may be taken by the authorities.

Persecuted majority

Kenya is another nation that apparently is wrongly placed on the list. Behind Kenya, where 82 percent of the population is regarded as Christians, we find the religiously repressive regime in Turkmenistan.

It is true that there have been several incidents of persecution of Christians in both Nigeria and Kenya the past years. In Nigeria Boko Haram´s cruelty has made the organization well-known around the world. In Kenya Al Shabaab has been behind several deadly attacks targeting Christian. The clear majority of the Christians in both nations do however not face any persecution.

One challenge with the World Watch list can be the criteria Open Doors use when they make it. Another one is the way data is collected. It is also causing problems that the list treats nations as one unit. Population wise India is far bigger than Europe. Christians are persecuted in some states, but have freedom in others. No one would however say that Christians in Europe in general are living under harsh conditions just because there are incidents of persecution in Turkey and in some other places. In the same way we should be careful not to paint a picture that indicates that all Christians in India are living under persecution. In the states where most Indian Christians live, the persecution is either limited or non-existent.


Global Opportunities and Tent follow up numerous tentmakers who live and work in nations where the Christians are facing harsh conditions. We appreciate the work Open Doors do to highlight the situation of the persecuted Christians. The credibility of the World Watch List may however be at stake if there is too much disparity between what the list shows and the felt reality on the ground. Most Christians in Kenya, Nigeria, India and some other nations that get a high score on the World Watch List, do not feel threatened in any way. Christians in Saudi-Arabia and Turkmenistan do. That should be clearly displayed also in the World Watch List.