Persecution against Christians is ranked "extreme" and "severe" in the seven countries whose residents President Donald Trump's recent executive order on immigration has temporarily banned from entry into the United States, based on 2017 rankings by the nonprofit Open Doors USA.
Six of the countries—Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen—are ranked in the top 10 nations where persecution of Christians is highest, with Libya ranked 11th, according to Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List.
Upon the release of the list on Jan. 11, Open Doors encouraged Christians to remember these nations in prayer.
In addition to the 90-day travel ban on the seven countries, President Trump has suspended for 120 days the entry of all refugees, regardless of their home country, and from Syria indefinitely. As many as 20,000 refugees tracked in statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) might have been resettled to the United States during the refugee suspension timeframe, the UNHCR said in a Jan. 30 press release.
Among other stipulations, Trump said in his Jan. 27 order: "I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP (U.S. Refugee Admissions Program) to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest."
The UNHCR described refugees it tracks from various nations as "fleeing war, persecution, oppression and terrorism," including "people needing urgent medical assistance, survivors of torture, and woman and girls at risk."
Among the seven countries covered under the travel ban, Somalia leads in persecution of Christians, ranked second only to North Korea by Open Doors. Rankings of others banned by the presidential order are Sudan, 5; Syria, 6; Iraq, 7; Iran, 8; Yemen, 9; and Libya, 11. Persecution against Christians in the top 10 is described as "extreme," with persecution in Libya and other countries in the remaining top 30 ranked as "severe."
In addition to North Korea, other countries in the World Watch List's top 10 are not included in the ban, namely third-ranked Afghanistan, fourth-ranked Pakistan, and 10th-ranked Eritrea. While Trump's executive order does not list the countries by name, the order references the countries as those listed in section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Pray for Somalia
Somalia's population of 11.4 million includes only a few hundred Christians, Open Doors reported, and described Christians as having "no voice" in the society hostile to democracy.
"Islam was already firmly established in Somalia before the arrival of Christianity, and as a result, life for believers is defined by hostility," Open Doors reported. "The mere suspicion of one's having renounced Islam leads to a rushed public execution."
Open Doors urges prayer for Christians there who risk martyrdom if their Christianity is discovered. Pray that God would give them boldness, a sense of His presence, and wisdom and discernment in sharing the Gospel.
Pray for Sudan
Sudan's population of 42.2 million includes 2 million Christians who are subject to Islamic oppression and dictatorial paranoia under the presidency of Omar al-Bashir, Open Doors said.
"The ethnic-cultural landscape is complicated and divisive: Arab versus Ethnic Africans, Muslims versus Christians," Open Doors said. "Historically, Islam is deeply embedded in Sudan's society and the government is strictly implementing a one-religion, one-culture and one-language policy, which results in the persecution of Christians. Arrests, attacks and murders plague all Christian communities in the country, particularly those living in the Nuba mountain region."
In addition to prayers for the safety of Christians there, Open Doors encourages Christians to pray that the hearts of Sudanese leaders would be radically changed by the Gospel.
Pray for Syria
Syria's population of 18.9 million is estimated to include nearly 800,000 Christians, although the population is changing in the midst of civil war.
"The geographical concentration of remaining Christians in strategic areas is an important factor in their vulnerability to attack, as is their alleged support for the government" of President Bashar al-Assad, Open Doors said. "Most churches are in ruins, yet some Christians make a deliberate choice to stay and reach out to their fellow countrymen with the Gospel."
Pray that Christians who remain in the country would be strong witnesses of Christ's love to fellow Syrians, Open Doors urged, and that "the justice of Christ" would draw oppressed Syrians to Himself.
Pray for Iraq
Iraq's population of 38.65 million includes 230,000 Christians in the parliamentary democracy led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"The overall persecution situation in Iraq is characterized by impunity, the threat of attacks and second class treatment by the authorities," Open Doors reported. "Historical Christian communities and Protestant Christian communities are seriously affected by persecution, especially from radical Islamic movements, authorities and non-Christian leaders."
Open Doors asks Christians to pray that Christianity would spread in Iraq and for the wellbeing of internally and externally displaced Christians attempting to rebuild their lives, Open Doors recommended.
Pray for Iran
At 800,000, Christians comprise nearly a 10th of Iran's population of 80.9 million.
"Christianity is considered a Western influence and a threat to the Islamic identity of the Republic," Open Doors said. "Converts to Christianity from Islam make up the largest group of Christians and experience the most persecution. Other Protestant Christian communities who evangelize Muslims are the second most persecuted group."
Also mistreated are expatriate or migrant Christians from Asia and the West, and Armenian and Assyrian Christians, although the two latter ethnicities are technically protected by law.
Prayer is urged for the safety of Christians persecuted daily by their own families, for imprisoned Christians to have genuine love for their guards and fellow inmates, and that persecuted Christians would be bold enough to share the Gospel with other persecuted minorities.
Pray for Yemen
A few thousand Christians are estimated among Yemen's 28.1 million people. While war has forced most Christians to leave, reports show that more Muslims are turning to Christ in Yemen than ever before, Open Doors said.
Suffering political turmoil and violence since 2012, Yemen is facing a dire humanitarian crisis with 80 percent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than half of the population described as "food insecure." Ostracized, Christians suffer the greatest risk of hunger.
Open Doors encourages Christians to pray that secret gatherings of Christian converts from Islam would glorify God. Open Doors encourages prayer for Christians to be able to minister to fellow malnourished Yemenis.
Pray for Libya
Libya has suffered anarchy since 2011 when Muammar Gadaffi's regime was toppled. Various militant groups control different parts of the country that is home to only 20,000 Christians among 6.4 million people.
Expatriate Christians and converts from Islam experience extreme pressure and high levels of violence, Open Doors said.
Christians are encouraged to pray that persecuted Libyan Christians would remain steadfast in faith as God comforts them and equips them for ministry.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.