On 15 July 1955, a young Dutch Christian man called Andrew took the train to a mass communist convention in Warsaw, Poland. In his suitcase, he carried booklets, titled ‘The Way of Salvation’, to make sure that he could share the Gospel in the midst of communist rhetoric, oppression and thinking.
A country behind the Iron Curtain, Poland steered towards the end of the severely repressive Stalinist era. In the country, Andrew heard the story of the persecuted Church firsthand. He began telling the story of this persecuted Church back home and supporting them, bringing Bibles in a Volkswagen Beetle. It was the beginning of Open Doors, sixty years later grown into an international ministry serving the persecuted Church around the world.
Nowadays, the World Watch List is Open Doors’ main tool of measuring persecution and listing where Christian faith costs the most. In 1955, such a list did not exist. However, looking back over sixty years of serving the persecuted Church – and with today’s knowledge – what countries could have ended up in a 1955 World Watch List?
THE SOVIET UNION (USSR) – An estimated 15 million Russian Orthodox Christians died in prison camps from 1921-1950.
POLAND – From 1947 onwards, all Christian schools, organisations and churches were closed or taken over by the state.
ROMANIA – After World War II, a million Russian soldiers occupied Romania and Christians were treated with hostility.
ALBANIA – State-imposed atheism left Christians to suffer discrimination and risk imprisonment.
CHINA – Under Mao Zedong, religion was swiftly quashed. Missionaries left, churches closed, and priests and pastors were killed.
NORTH KOREA – Christians were heavily targeted and either fled south, hid their faith, or faced torture, imprisonment or death.
NORTH VIETNAM – After Vietnam was divided in 1954, the Christian population in the north halved as people fled to the south.
SAUDI ARABIA – Even in 1955, Saudi Arabia was the protector of Wahhabism (purist Islam), forbidding the practice of other religions.
COLOMBIA – In the civil war (1948-1958), Catholic Christians were targeted, and 300,000 evangelical Christians were murdered.
SPAIN – Under Francisco Franco’s reign, Christians, particularly Catholics, were attacked and killed, and churches were burned.
KENYA – Christians faced pressure to support the Mau Mau rebels, or risked being killed. Church membership dwindled significantly.