40 DAY PRAYER CAMPAIGN – WEEK 2
By Cindy McGarvie
National Director – Youth for Christ Australia
Read: Acts 7:54-60
It was the year 203 AD in Carthage, a leading city in Roman Africa or modern-day Tunisia.
The Proconsul scheduled a public event, a day of games and spectacles performed in the city’s amphitheatre to celebrate the birthday of the Emperor’s son. The people of the city came to see the event at the local arena. Everyone was seated according to their importance. And there in the arena were the victims - the animals, the gladiators and the criminals.
Criminals were allowed to be sold to use in the games, an easy way to find live bodies for the deadly sport. It was also an effective warning to the populace, and an effective visual for enforcing the culture of a vertical society.
So, on the day of 7th May 203, the Carthaginians went to the amphitheatre to participate in a public event according to their customs. But on this day they encountered something different, Christians – people who embodied uncommon allegiances and responded in inexplicable reflexes. Their behaviour challenged the values of the day, a culture that celebrated bloodlust.
…can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian
The crowds were emotionally engaged, wavering between fascination, anger, attraction and horror. An eye-witness account was written about this event, particularly focussing on a young lady named Perpetua who was around the age of 22 years and who, unlike the others in her group, was educated and of noble birth. In fact, her pagan father had frantically pleaded with her to renounce her faith and offer sacrifices to the Emperor just to secure her freedom, but she would not. She pointed to a piece of pottery in her cell:
Father do you see this pitcher here?" she replied. "Could it be called by any other name than what it is?"
"No," he replied.
"Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian."
Her father flew into a rage and attacked her physically. He was understandably desperate for his daughter to be saved from this horrific death, he couldn’t understand her devotion, it made no sense.
The group of about six were from a small town about 35 miles from Carthage. They were all Catechumens, new believers being discipled, some preparing for baptism. Their teacher Saturus allowed himself to be arrested so he could encourage them and stand with them to the end. Apart from him, most of the others were believed to be in their teens. They celebrated a last supper the night before in front of onlookers who had gathered to check out the prisoners before the upcoming event.
Whilst incarcerated, they had spent time preparing their hearts and minds for this situation. One young woman Felicitas a slave girl had just given birth the day before. This was an answer to prayer as they had all prayed that their companion would not go to the arena pregnant, according to some sources she was about 14 years old.
On the day, the courageous little band marched into the arena triumphantly without cringing. They had steeled themselves for this, even though they did not fully know what to expect. The officials demanded them to dress up as gods and priestesses. They refused, not wanting to be denied their identity. Perpetua spoke on behalf of the group that they would not wear the costumes, the leaders reluctantly relented.
Some sources state that because they refused, they were forced to be naked. The two women, Perpetua and Felicitas were tossed by a cow that had been provoked to attack them. When Perpetua was able to get to her feet, she went to help her friend Felicitas. The crowd were confused that a noble was helping a slave girl. This behaviour expressing Christian horizontality went completely against the hierarchical structure of their culture and left the audience perplexed.
On the day, the courageous little band marched into the arena triumphantly…
And so the Christians were attacked by gladiators and wild animals until they were bloodied and half dead.
At the very end, they helped each other up, gathered themselves together and gave each other their last farewell kiss. Saturus the teacher admonished a guard who had been converted by them when he was on prison duties, to ‘Remember me and remember the faith.’ He asked the guard for his ring, dipped it in his blood and gave back.
It is written that the prisoners then kissed each other so that they might bring their martyrdom to completion with the kiss of peace, showing love that transcended social barriers. And then they were run through with the sword.
“… Neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”
The crowd reacted in all different ways, mostly indifferent, but some had been jarred from their former ways of thinking and acting. It is reported that some became believers, they were, as it might be expressed awakened to Christ.
Further Reading: Read Acts 6:8-15 and Acts 16:16-40 during the week.
As Perpetua (and Stephen and others) were faced with the temptation of an easy way out, to deny Christ, they would have come under incredible internal pressure to escape a horrifying death.
- Pray for young Christians, that they will be able to stand under temptation of the world, the flesh and the devil, that their faith will not fail.
- Pray that they remain alert. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
- Pray that their spiritual ears are listening to God who provides an escape from temptation. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
(1 Corinthians 10:13)
- Pray that when any believer has withstood a temptation, they return and strengthen others as they should. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:31-32)
Discipleship is vital and unless our young people are discipled well or catechized, they will not understand who God is, who they are and their purpose. They will not be able to stand.
- Pray for the discipling of our nation, that churches, Christian leaders, parents and all the brethren will see the urgent need for catechizing (discipling) our sons and daughters.
- Pray that the world will be turned upside down by the purposeful discipleship of our young people. These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also. (Acts 17:6)
Where are the men like Saturus? Those who would sacrifice for their disciples or voluntarily go to the arena with them to be torn asunder by beasts? We need true shepherds who don’t leave the sheep when the wolves come.
- Just as Christ said, I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11) may our Father raise up true shepherds for His flock, particularly for our young people.
- May those who are already shepherds of God’s flock exercise oversight not under compulsion, but according to the will of God: and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to their charge, but proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 2:5-4)
- “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.” (Jeremiah 50:6). Pray for our shepherds that they will not forget their fold. Pray too that those sheep who have wandered away will not forget their Shepherd.
This story of Perpetua can be found in Foxes Book of Martyrs. I have taken as my primary source on Perpetua for this devotional from Alan Krieder’s book, "The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire" (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan), 2016.
I have also quoted from the Christianity Today article “Perpetua: High Society Believer”
About the 40 Day Prayer Campaign
Youth for Christ Australia is calling for 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting for the youth of our nation to awake to Christ as part of a broader mission to rescue and restore the lost youth of Australia through peer-to-peer evangelism and discipleship.
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