In the vast continent of Asia there are only four countries that do not yet have an Adventist presence. Each country presents serious challenges to all Christians trying to spread the Gospel.
Bhutan: A small country tucked between China and India, Bhutan has Buddhism as the state religion. Bhutan’s landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The country is reported to be 38,394 km2 or about 14,824 square miles.
According to Article 3 of the 2008 Constitution, "Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance". "The Druk Gyalpo [or King] is the protector of all religions in Bhutan". Article 3 stipulates that "It shall be the responsibility of religious institutions and personalities to promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics in Bhutan. Religious institutions and personalities shall remain above politics."
One French source estimates there are about 1000 Roman Catholics and 11,255 Protestants representing about 0.5% of the population of 691,141. 74% of the citizens are Buddhists, 20.5% Hindus, 3.8% Animists and 1.2% other/uncategorized.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the country expelled or forced to leave nearly one fifth of its population in the name of preserving its Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist culture and identity. More than 107,000 Bhutanese Hindu refugees of Nepali origin were living in seven camps in eastern Nepal as of 2008 according to UNHCR.
Open Doors ranks Bhutan 14th on its 2011 Watch List "which ranks countries by the intensity of persecution that Christians face for actively pursuing their faith around the world" Conversion is illegal and Christians can be expelled from the country and stripped of citizenship. Churches are generally banned and groups are broken up. Worship must be done in secret.
Brunei Darussalam: A sultanate on the island of Borneo surrounded by East Malaysia and the South China Sea, the Abode of Peace is largely Muslim and Islam is the official state religion.
The country of Brunei Darussalam has an area of 2,200 square miles (5,700 km2) and a population of 994,000 citizens including 671,892 Muslims, 32,901 Buddhists, 32,530 Christians, 972 Catholics, 9,932 Baha'i, 531 Hindus, 9,823 Atheists, 22 Taoists, 18 Sikhs, 17 Jews, and 3 Nasrani; as well as 32 individuals of other faiths and 7,884 who did not state their faith. Among permanent residents, according to the same statistics, there are 713,911 Muslims, 99,088 Buddhists, 89,088 Christians, 1,322 Catholics, 4,890 Baha'i, 1,999 Hindus, 4,891 Atheists, 18 Taoists, 15 Sikhs, 30,871 Jews, and 899 Nasrani, as well as 31 of other faiths and 26,910 who did not state their faith. Not covered are in these totals are the large expatriate population of temporary residents that included Muslims, Christians, and Hindus from many countries.
The government reports 109 mosques and prayer halls, 23 Christian churches, 3 Chinese temples, and 2 Hindu temples officially registered in the country. There are also some unregistered places of worship (usually in houses).
Proselytizing by faiths other than the officially sanctioned branch of Islam is not permitted. The government encourages the teaching of Islam and makes the teaching of any other religion very difficult. There are no missionaries reported working in the country though easy entry from Malaysia does not preclude attempts at entering. No non-Islamic religious literature is permitted and magazines see Christian symbols blocked out.
The Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea/North Korea: This reclusive dictatorship is not run by or for the People, is hardly Democratic, is not a Republic and only covers 1/2 of Korea. It is very difficult to even get a tourist visa to the DPRK, and than visitors are restricted from any contact with the population. All visitors are accompanied by government minders and you can also expect electronic surveillance. Obviously prostilizing is not acceptable in a country that worships the late Great Leader, the current Dear Leader and maybe his son the next Leader.
Accurate population numbers are hard to come by in a country that experiences famine regularly and who has an official news service that spins falsehoods daily but reported population is just over 24 million in what is essentially the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world.
Historically Korea has a Buddhist and Confucian heritage, with a pre-war recent history of Christian and Cheondoism ("religion of the Heavenly Way") movements. The traditional religions of Buddhism and Confucianism still have some effect on North Korean spiritual life.
The North Korean constitution states that freedom of religion is permitted but independent sources suggest that there is no religious freedom and Christians face persecution from authorities. Buddhists in North Korea reportedly fare better than other religious groups because they are given limited funding by the government to promote the religion as part of traditional Korean culture.
- Irreligion: 15,460,000 (64.3% of population, the vast majority of which are adherents of the Juche philosophy)
- Korean shamanism: 3,846,000 adherents (16% of population)
- Cheondoism: 3,245,000 adherents (13.5% of population)
- Buddhism: 1,082,000 adherents (4.5% of population)
- Christianity: 406,000 adherents (1.7% of population)
Pyongyang was the center of Christian activity in Korea until 1945 but from the late forties 166 priests and other religious figures were killed or kidnapped (disappeared without trace), including Francis Hong Yong-ho, bishop of Pyongyang and every Catholic priest. All churches were destroyed and no foreign priests were permitted in country.
There are now four state-sanctioned churches thought by freedom of religion advocates to be simply showcases for foreigners. Official government statistics report 10,000 Protestants and 4,000 Roman Catholics in North Korea but official statistics are very unreliable.
Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians, ranks North Korea as the country with the most severe persecution of Christians in the world. Open Doors estimates that 50000 – 70000 Christians are detained in North Korean prison camps. Amnesty International also expresses concerns about religious persecution in North Korea and the poor human rights record.
Afghanistan: See this article on Christianity in Afghanistan for details on the struggles that Christians face in Afghanistan.
Here are the only other places where Seventh-day Adventists can not be found yet: