Christianity has historically faced persecution in many parts of the world for hundreds of years. Even today, there are some countries where being a Christian carries a higher risk of imprisonment, murder, and other harsh forms of persecution; many still cling to their faith despite the difficulties.
According to Jared Malsin, Saba Imtiaz, Tom Phillips, and Peter Beaumont of the Guardian, the persecution of Christians is particularly bad in Egypt, Pakistan, China, and even the Holy Land itself. Malsin talked to 26-year-old Mina Fayek of Egypt, whose Christian faith limited his options in society despite being in a higher social status.
"My parents and I knew this is not going anywhere, and I had to choose another game," Fayek said about how his soccer coach would ensure that no Christians make it in the squad.
The software engineer and blogger told Malsin that poorer Egyptian Christians suffered the worst forms of persecution; he believed his social status somewhat shielded him from those tactics. However, as a Coptic Christian, he realized that he would never serve in the intelligence branch during his 13 months of compulsory military service.
"It pushes you to feel disengaged from your country," Fayek said. "How could someone maintain his love for his country - and be passionate about building it - while at the same time he can't be whatever he wants to be, whether a military commander or a police commander."
According to the Guardian, Copts are estimated to be about 10 percent of the population in Egypt, which is home to the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Although Egyptian president Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi has vowed to fight extremism and for religious unity, some Copts indicated that they face both official state persecution and violent threats from militants.
"You're getting attacked now by extremists and by security, so in addition to the old-time discrimination in state bodies. It's getting worse," Fayek said.
Imtiaz talked with 31-year-old Anthony Ibraz of Karachi, a priest in Pakistan who preaches tolerance to his flock. Ibraz told the Guardian that his own family has suffered for their Christian faith, which included extortion, beatings and facing discriminatory attitudes at school and the shops.
"Persecution is not [only] about the blasphemy law," Ibraz said. "There are different kinds of persecutions. There is discrimination, when we go out, in education and jobs ... sometimes slavery in Sindh and Punjab. There are people who come to us who say they are educated and capable but they don't get jobs. The reason is religion."
According to Imitaz, Christian persecution in Pakistan is driven by the country's blasphemy laws, ingrained discrimination in society, and the rise of militant networks. Christians make up only 2 percent of Pakistan's population and lack political influence.
"We do stand for our rights, and we raise our voice," Ibraz said. "The Christian community - or the minorities - are more aware now about blasphemy cases and persecution. They are more aware now of sending messages, or to appear in the media. They know what the result could be."
Despite the seemingly endless persecution, Ibraz has stuck to his message of patience and tolerance.
"Maybe something good will have [to] come out [at some point]," Ibraz said. "At the same time we tell them that this persecution becomes a reason to unite. If we are together, you can do something."
Pastor Xu Yonghi, 55, told Phillips that he remained unintimidated by Christian persecution efforts from China's Communist government. Police installed CCTV cameras outside his home in 2006 to monitor his movements.
"You get used to it," Xu said of the surveillance. "It won't stop me practicing Christianity."
According to Phillips, Xu has spoken out against the Communist party's persecution of China's Christian community for more than 25 years; the government officially recognizes atheism. He has spent a total of five years in prison for living out his Christian faith.
"Please give me the strength to hang on," Xu said during his imprisonment. "Please let the policemen confess their crimes and repent their sins."
Phillips reported that the government has forcibly removed crosses from the roofs of hundreds of state-approved churches. UCA News reported that one of those crosses came down from a church headed by Chinese Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang of Wenzhou.
"They were moved to see the bishop leading the struggle to retain the symbol of their faith," a source said to UCA News about 89-year-old Zhu's protest outside government offices.
Although China's constitution has freedom of belief on paper, Xu told Phillips that the situation between the Chinese government and Christianity has deteriorated dramatically over the past two years. He contended that "their repression will only serve to help the spread of Christianity."
"The people who are in power now - the Red Guard generation - view Christianity as the embodiment of anti-scientific ignorance," Xu said.
Beaumont talked with Friar Matthias of the Benedictine order in the Middle East. The priest talked about the fire damage from "suspected Jewish extremists" against the Church of Multiplication, located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
"They came in the middle of the night," Matthias said. "We're not sure if they came by boat or climbed over the wall. We think there must have been at least three of them because they lit the fire in two places while someone else painted on the wall."
According to Beaumont, most attacks against Christians in the Middle East have come from Islamic extremists. However, Matthias highlighted that the attack of the church in Israel "is an unprecedented phenomenon," which has even drawn condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Freedom of worship in Israel is one of the foundation stones of our values and is protected by law," Netanyahu said. "We will exercise the full weight of the law with those responsible for this criminal act."
According to Beaumont, Matthias made a distinction between the majority of Israelis and those behind recent attacks on churches. However, he did echo a concern among Christian leaders that the Israeli government has not done enough to crack down on extremist settlers "most often linked to the attacks."
"We need to put it in perspective," Matthias said. "We know this isn't Syria, where Christians are frightened for their lives, but what we are asking, as a first priority, is that they bring them to justice so no one else will be inspired to do this kind of thing."