He has been arrested numerous times, has an outstanding death warrant, and is daily putting his life on the line. But Wybo Nicolai — the architect of the World Watch List — is eager to continue his work because, in his words, he will “live twice.”
The fall of the Iron Curtain on Nov. 9, 1989, served as the catalyst for Nicolai to develop the inaugural World Watch List, a catalog of the 50 most dangerous countries for devoted Christians to live. Since 1993, the list has been published by Open Doors, a watchdog for persecuted believers.
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Open Doors had dedicated a great deal of its attention to the fall of communism, Nicolai explained to CBN’s Faithwire. So, when the Berlin Wall came down, the ministry had to reexamine its purpose.
At the time, Brother Andrew, the late founder of Open Doors, decided the focus would remain on advocating for and ministering to persecuted Christians living in the most dangerous corners of the world. One of the tools for accomplishing that mission would soon become the World Watch List.
Nicolai, who joined Open Doors in 1985, had been working as a Soviet researcher before transitioning to his new task: Determining the places where Christians face the most severe persecution.
“That’s how it started,” he said. “It was a challenging job. I loved it. Frankly, during 1991, my first year, it also became a burden, because I wanted to make sure I would give the very best advice to the Open Doors leadership. … So I prayed for guidance from the Lord, and I think He gave me this idea.”
By 1993, that idea had turned into a reality: the World Watch List (you can read more about the latest edition here).
More than most, Nicolai understands just how dangerous it is to reveal the truths of the abuses that take place inside the borders of reclusive and closed countries — particularly against Christians. Nevertheless, he remains stalwart in his commitment to the cause, a product of his own faith in the Lord.
“You have to remember, you live twice,” Nicolai explained. “You live now and then you have eternity with Jesus Christ. So I like to do the very best in the years I’m here now and, when God has given me opportunities to help persecuted Christians, even when personal risks are involved, it’s worthwhile. And looking back now, 37 years working with persecuted Christians, happily He has protected me.”
“I have been arrested a number of times — I have a death sentence from one country — but I am still here and I’m enjoying every single day I can serve the persecuted church,” he added.
And the work is just as critical today as it was when Nicolai began it more than 30 years ago.
In fact, since 2010, the persecution of Christians has steadily increased yearly in two concerning ways: The number of countries hostile toward believers and the severity of the persecution in those countries.
“It’s a negative development when you think of freedom of religion,” Nicolai said, before quickly adding, “But at the same time, God is building His Kingdom in the middle of this situation.”
North Korea is, once again, at the top of the 2023 World Watch List after being briefly displaced by Afghanistan last year. The next two countries are Somalia at No. 2 and Yemen at No. 3.
Additionally, persecution against Christians is greatly intensifying in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Open Doors USA interim CEO Lisa Pearce, who told CBN’s Faithwire there is a “vast humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in the region “as a wave of religiously motivated violence nurtured in Nigeria (7) has swept across the region, targeting Christian populations at an alarming rate in countries like Burkina Faso (23), Cameroon (45), Mali (17) and Niger (28).”
Despite this bleak prognosis — and the best efforts of the enemies of Christ — the global church is flourishing.
“In the midst of a lot of persecution, God is building His church,” reiterated Nicolai. “Basically, in many, many countries, in many, many areas where Christianity hardly was present in the past … you still had white spots on the map, you still had countries where there was no national church. Every single country on earth is having a national church now, and this has given me great courage and joy.”
Watch our conversation with Pearce in the video below:
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