The Story of Perpetua

   It was a hard time for the early church. In the year 202, the Roman governor at Carthage in North Africa ordered that Christians be arrested. They could show their allegiance to Caesar by burning incense to a pagan god… or die.
   Among the Christians arrested was a young woman named Perpetua. She came from a noble family. Her father was a pagan, her mother a Christian. Perpetua’s husband had either died or abandoned her, and she was left with an infant son.
   Perpetua and four Christian friends, including her pastor, Saturus, were held under guard in a private home. Perpetua’s father came to her, pleading with her to reject Christianity and save her life, “for the sake of your child and our family.”
   “Father,” Perpetua said, and she pointed to a vase, “can that vase change its name?”
   “No,” her father said.
   “Neither can I call myself anything other than what I am—a Christian,” she told him.
   Perpetua’s father grew angry, grabbed her shoulders, and shook her, trying to make her deny Christ.
   “I am a Christian,” she said again.
    Finally, her father left, seeing that he could not persuade her.
   A few days later, the Christians were moved to a crowded dungeon with cruel guards. The stench was terrible, the soldiers cursed and whipped the prisoners at will, but worst of all was Perpetua’s concern for her baby. She was very glad when, after a few days, they were moved to a less crowded part of the prison and a friend brought her son to her. Perpetua thanked God for the opportunity to nurse her baby and then asked her friend to place the child in the care of her mother.
   When it was said that the Christians would soon stand trial, Perpetua’s father came to her in the prison. His eyes were red and swollen from crying, his face weary. “Daughter,” he said, “have pity on your father, if I still deserve to be called your father. Do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Think of your mother and your brothers. Have compassion on your child that cannot live without you. Lay aside your courage and resolve—for we cannot bear the thought of your suffering.” He knelt at her feet, kissed her hands, sobbed, and begged her to relent.
   Perpetua loved her father. She loved her mother and brothers. She loved her son.  But she loved Jesus more.
   Fighting back tears, she said, “Father, do not grieve. Nothing will happen but what pleases God. Know that we are not placed in our own power, but in God’s.”
   The next day Perpetua and her friends were taken to the town hall and stood before the gawking crowd and the provincial governor. The governor questioned the three men. Each one boldly confessed Jesus Christ.
   While the governor interrogated the men, Perpetua’s father came to her holding her son.
“Perpetua,” he whispered, “please consider the misery that you will bring on this innocent child.” Perpetua had considered it, and it grieved her greatly. But she knew that she could not deny her Lord.
   The governor overheard their conversations, “What!” he exclaimed, “Will neither the gray hairs of a father whom you are going to make miserable, nor the tender innocence of a child which your death will leave an orphan, move you? Just make a sacrifice to the emperor, and you shall be freed.”
    Looking the governor in the eyes, Perpetua said, “I will not do it.”
   “Are you a Christian then?” he asked.
   “I am a Christian,” Perpetua answered.
   The governor ordered a soldier to strike her face, but still she would not deny Christ or offer incense to the emperor.
   “Then you shall all be condemned to die by wild beasts,” the governor said. The Christians would die as part of the Roman games in the arena for the entertainment of the crowds.
    First, they were taken back to prison where they were chained with their hands and feet in stocks. But when the chief jailer saw the Christians’ courage and joy in the midst of their pain, he took pity on them. He removed the stocks and allowed them to have visitors. Once again, Perpetua’s father came and tried to convince her to deny Christ. Still, she told him she could not. When he had left, she wept and said, “I was ready to die with sorrow to see my father in such deplorable condition.”
   One of the prisoners condemned to die was another young woman named Felicitas who was in her eighth month of pregnancy. The Christians prayed that God would deliver her of her child. No sooner had they finished praying, than Felicitas went into labor. When she cried out in pain from the contractions, one of the guards mocked her, saying, “If you cry out in pain during childbirth, what will you do when you are thrown to the wild beasts?”
   “Now it is I who suffers,” Felicitas said, “but then there will be Another in me that will suffer for me because I suffer for Him.”
   When her baby daughter was born, Felicitas put her in the care of a Christian woman who cared for the child as her own.
   The Christian prisoners were a light in that dark prison, and even the chief jailer himself turned to Christ and secretly did what he could for them. Others visited them, curious to see the people who would rather die than give up their faith. Saturus, the pastor, told the people, “If you do not trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you will one day face the judgment of God. Although we face death in the arena, we are happy for we are in the hands of God.”
   When the day of the games arrived, guards led Perpetua and her friends to the arena. An eyewitness said that, “Joy sparkled in their eyes and appeared in all their gestures and words.” Perpetua’s face was radiant, and she sang a psalm of praise as they entered the arena. When they passed the governor’s box, one of the Christian men said to him, “You judge us in this world, but God will judge you in the next.”
   The angry crowd called for them to be scourged. The governor ordered soldiers to lash them with a whip. The Christians gave thanks to God that they were counted worthy to suffer in the same way that Christ had suffered before Pilate.
   A bear, a leopard, and a wild boar killed the men first. Then Perpetua and Felicitas faced a raging bull. The bull hooked Perpetua on its horns and threw her. Perpetua pulled herself up and went to Felicitas, who had been badly gored. They stood together arm-in-arm, expecting another charge from the bull. But it never came.
   Instead, they were led aside while gladiators fought in the arena. Perpetua’s brother came to her, and she told him, “Stand firm in the faith, and love one another. Don’t be discouraged by my sufferings.”
   As the end of the games neared, the crowd shouted for the blood of Perpetua and Felicitas. Guards dragged them to the center of the arena. They died by a gladiator’s sword.



  1. That was so touching! It really challenges me to stand firm in the faith! Thanks for posting it!


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