In a world ruled by men, one young mother had the courage to write her own story. During a government crackdown on those believed to have angered the gods, Vibia Perpetua is arrested, along with several other new Christians. Sacrificing to the gods will earn her freedom - allowing her to go home, save her family's honor, raise her infant son - but at the cost of abandoning the One who already set her free, giving her an identity beyond "wife of," "daughter of," or "citizen of." In her words, "I cannot be called anything other than what I am: I am a Christian." Thus begins a test of loyalties, with everything she loves - her faith, her familial relationships ... and her son - at stake. Imprisoned in the North African city of Carthage around 203 CE, Perpetua chronicled her arrest, her trial, her visions from God, and her love for her family. Her prison diary, passed down by Tertullian, is one of the oldest known female-authored documents and tells a remarkably human story that still resonates today.
Today, over 340 million Christians around the world live out Perpetua's story, suffering discrimination, physical and sexual assault, torture, arrest, and death because of their faith. Still Small partners with The Voice of the Martyrs with this show to raise awareness and funds for our brothers and sisters whose stories sing today.
Exercises for Reflection and Discussion
Why is Jesus worth it to me?
One of the questions that frequently arises when we hear the stories of martyrs is "could I do that?" We wonder if we'd have it in us to be martyred for Jesus, or if we'd cave under the pressure and the fear. But asking "could I do that" is like asking "have I studied for my exam": it doesn't really help us prepare for the exam, it just gets us more worried about it. The question that will really prepare us is "why is it worth it to give my life for Jesus?" After all, every Christian is called to give up his or her life, whether by dying for Jesus or by living for Jesus. This is an exercise that every actor in this show goes through - thinking through, journaling on, and later discussing not just why Jesus is worth it in general, but "why is Jesus worth it to me?"
Why not recant?
In the play, Perpetua's father (sometimes played as Perpetua's mother) asks her in frustration, "Why does it matter so much?!" The question is an important one to think through. Why does it matter? What is so special about Christianity that it's worth holding on to? And why not simply lie about your beliefs, while still believing privately?
What does it mean to love our enemies?
This is one of the identifying marks of a Christian, according to Jesus - and one of the most challenging! How do we obey the command to love our enemies? In a culture in which "love" is often interpreted as agreeing with people, how do we hold on to the unique truth of the Gospel that taught us to love them in the first place? Bonus food for thought:"Stephen: A Love Story"
Praying in character:
One of the exercises we've used in rehearsal is that of "praying in character." Although it's partly an actor exercise to help us connect with our characters, it ends up being so much more than that. Not only does it become a powerful way to obey the command to "remember those in chains as if you were their fellow prisoners" (Heb. 13:3), but also the prayer is real: we do the exercise in faith that although we may not know the names of the people we're praying for, God can take our prayers, expressed with the names of the historical persons we portray, and apply them to those who need them today. If you'd like to give it a try, choose a person (you can find some current prayer requests here or take a fun little quiz to get to know a Diary of Perpetua character here), and pray in first-person, as if you were in their shoes. Who is on their mind? What pressures or challenges do they need God's help with? What are they unexpectedly thankful for?
Some Great Websites to Check Out
The Voice of the Martyrs - founded by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor imprisoned for 14 years for his faith, VOM serves the persecuted Church by telling their story, bringing aid to those who suffer, providing resources for persecuted Christians to continue sharing their faith, and mobilizing prayer. They offer a prayer app, a radio podcast, books, opportunities to help, conferences, and much more.
Open Doors International - founded by "Brother Andrew," who smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, Open Doors similarly provides advocacy, aid, and prayer for the persecuted Church. They publish an annual "World Watch List" which provides detailed information on where and how persecution against Christians is occurring, and also offer a prayer app, stories, and ways to help.
iCommitToPray - the prayer website of VOM, this site allows you to view current requests, post prayers for persecuted believers, and receive a weekly e-mail prayer update.
Heart4Iran - Iran is the site of some of the fastest Church-growth in the world! Heart4Iran works to give Iranians access to the Gospel through satellite broadcasting, a 24-hour Farsi-speaking call center, and much more.
A Few Great Books
Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand - This book not only tells the story of Wurmbrand's imprisonment, but makes the case for remembering the persecuted and joining in their whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.
The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken - Reeling from the realities of evil he saw while doing relief work, plagued with questions about how God could possibly be at work in such dark situations, the author set out to learn from the persecuted Church on how they answer questions of evil and suffering. What he learned is nothing short of transformative.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - When the Germans invaded Holland, the ten Boom family hid Jews in their cramped house, motivated by the love of Jesus. When they were caught and imprisoned, Corrie and her family became lights in some of the darkest places, finding that the Gospel isn't extinguished in the face of evil - that's where its truth is finally seen.
God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew - As a boy, Andrew longed for adventure. He didn't expect to encounter the living God - and he certainly didn't expect the adventure God had in store for him! For years, he smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, and met Christians whose faith and struggles hold vital lessons for our own.
"I can't say my life turned out how I expected but I can't say I have got any regrets..." - Perpetua, The Diary of Perpetua