A new ministry partnership has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the fact that an estimated 176,000 Christians around the world were martyred – killed for their faith – in a one-year period from the middle of 2008 to the middle of 2009.

That’s 482 deaths per day, one every three minutes.

Martyrdom didn’t go away with the Middle Ages, according to reports from Open Doors USA, which now has combined efforts with actor Kirk Cameron of “The Way of the Master” ministry as well as evangelist Ray Comfort of Living Waters ministry to focus on those who are being persecuted for their faith.

The groups have announced a webinar on Thursday, an interactive Internet-based seminar, featuring Cameron, Comfort and Carl Moeller, the president of Open Doors USA.

Registration is open to the public and free of charge.

Emeal Zwayne, executive vice president of Living Waters, said that few Christians in the U.S. are even aware “that an estimated 176,000 Christians were martyred from mid-2008 to mid-2009.

“It’s so hard to believe that in this day and age so many Christians are losing their life for their faith. It’s as though we in the U.S. live in a different world from the rest of the Body of Christ,” he said. “We want to ask the question that is on a few people’s lips – will persecution ever come to America? And if so, what can we do about it?” he said.

Zwayne said the ministries have been working together “to try and draw attention to the plight of the Persecuted Church, because Scripture tells us to remember those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ.”

“Open Doors is a wonderful organization, and together we want to do all we can to highlight this often forgotten cause,” he said.

The one-hour event is scheduled from 2:15-3:15 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday.

WND reported earlier this year when Open Doors USA released its 2010 World Watch List.

The report cited North Korea, which reportedly uses Christians as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons, as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.

Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirzadeh were arrested in Iran during 2009 just for being Christian

The report said Iran, which may be using Christians as scapegoats for internal opposition to its president, is No. 2 on the Open Doors 2010 World Watch List.

The report said Iran is among eight nations in the top 10 of the group’s ranking of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians in which Shariah, the Islamic religious law, is dominant. A total of 35 nations on the list are under some form of Shariah.

“We can classify that as a growing trend,” Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for the ministry that works to serve persecuted Christians around the globe, told WND. “We’ve seen more countries (on the list) from the Muslim world.”

The World Watch List, which is detailed on the Open Doors website, was started by the Open Doors Research Department in 1991. It seeks to understand the unique persecution fingerprint of each country.

The ranking is derived from a questionnaire of 53 questions sent to Open Doors workers, church leaders and experts in 70 nations.

It examines every aspect of persecution, including the degree of legal restrictions, state attitudes, how free the church is to organize itself, church burnings, anti-Christian riots and the murders of Christians that make headlines.

Open Doors is positioned uniquely to provide the research as it is the world’s largest mission agency working on behalf of the persecuted, operating in more than 45 countries worldwide.

Iran, at No. 2, is the highest-ranking nation in the top 10 in which Islam is the dominant religion. Following are No. 3 Saudi Arabia, No. 4 Somalia, No. 5 Maldives, No. 6 Afghanistan, No. 7 Yemen, No. 8 Mauritania and Uzbekistan, which ranked at No. 10. Laos, another communist nation like North Korea, is ranked No. 9.

Open Doors estimates there are 100 million Christians worldwide who suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation.

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