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Saint Perpetua

Voice of the Martyrs Interview 


VOM recently interviewed Amy Rachel Peterson about the novel, Perpetua,
and her thoughts on how it relates to the persecuted Church of today.


Voice of the Martyrs:

How were you inspired to write a book about Perpetua?

Amy:
I first heard of Perpetua in a Christian History Institute bulletin. A two-paragraph blurb described her life and quoted her saying "my dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being elsewhere." Her words pierced my heart. I still remember the moment...being alone, sitting down and weeping. I was in my early twenties at the time (about her age when she died), and knew enough history to know what a comfortable, almost delightful life she was choosing to give away. The Lord had been speaking to me for some time about drinking His cup (whether there be suffering or joy, or both, in it). I dug up Perpetua's original diary and read it. For the next year she was continually on my mind. I came to feel I knew her, and knew she had experienced the same disappointments and hopes as I had. After that year I knew I had to write her story. My goal wasn't to have it published; my hope was to explore, as I wrote, how God moves a heart to such amazing love and passion.

Voice of the Martyrs:
What were your biggest challenges as you wrote her story?

Amy:
There was the physical challenge of never having traveled to Tunisia, where anicent Carthage was located. It was too expensive and dangerous for me to go, so I spent a lot of time studying books that described the topography and climate of the area, but I knew nothing could replace the experience of actually being there, seeing it with my own eyes, smelling the sea, feeling the air...

Several of Perpetua's relationships were challenging for me to write. First, her father, who was not a Christian. My own father is an amazing, scripture-bound man. His character taught my young heart that God is loving, kind, wise, generous, faithful. It was hard for me to imagine Perpetua's father as so opposed to Jesus. On the other hand, it was easy for me to understand the deep love her father had for her. I also struggled with writing about Perpetua's courtship and marriage to Saturus. Since I am not married I had to draw a lot on what I could observe in my family and friend's lives.

One of the greatest challenges, though, was the deep historical accuracy I was aiming for. I spent countless hours reading about the history and daily life of Perpetua's time. Even more exacting was the accuracy I wanted to have with respect to everything Perpetua had written in her diary, including the nuances of the relationships between her fellow martyrs and believers. I had to have a right understanding of who these people were, and write each scene of the story with that in mind.

Voice of the Martyrs:
In the “Historical Note,” which introduces the book, you mention reading Perpetua’s diary, which focuses on the events after her arrest. What documents or materials did you uncover as you researched her life that helped you develop your story and the person of Perpetua?

Amy:
I used a number of archaeological and historical books focused on Carthage, North Africa, and the Roman Empire. Joyce Salisbury's book, Perpetua's Passion, written from a non-Christian perspective, helped me understand some of the ways Perpetua's unbelieving friends and contemporaries might have viewed her faith, as well as the enormity of what it meant for her to defy her father in a culture where a woman's strongest relationship was her tie to her father. The most important documents, though, were the writings of Tertullian. He was Perpetua's contemporary in Carthage; I read him extensively in order to understand the social, political, and spiritual climates of the church and secular culture at that moment in history. In fact, some scholars believe Tertullian's "To The Martyrs" was actually written to Perpetua's group while they were in prison.

Voice of the Martyrs:
What interests and inspires you about Perpetua’s life and martyrdom?

Amy:
I am particularly drawn by several things. Perpetua was extremely wealthy and privileged. She had more in common with a very rich Westerner than with an impoverished Christian in the developing world. This is both a challenge and a comfort. The Western church often equates passion, suffering, and martyrdom with the materially poor, wrongly thinking there is an inevitable inverse relationship between money and spirituality. Seeing Perpetua's deep passion for God corrects the idea that since we are "rich" we cannot be as close to Him as our poor brethren. We cannot excuse our lack of passion for Jesus as a reasonable byproduct of wealth and security, and we cannot assume that were we to be poor we would love Him more. It's a challenge to examine our hearts.

I also love the eagerness Perpetua had for heaven. She considered it her real home, and saw this world as a shadowland, worth giving up. In the final moment of her life the gladiator could not bring himself to kill her. She took his sword and guided it to her throat, in effect saying "It's all right. I am willing, even eager, for this."

The hardest thing of all for me is how she was able to give up her baby. I can identify with her passion for God, and with her perspective on the temporal and the eternal. But I know that only the power of God could enable her (or any of us) to leave a child behind. Every time I remember this part of her story I am awash again in wonder at the mysterious strength and comfort our Jesus gives in such situations.

Voice of the Martyrs:
How would you relate Perpetua’s story to today’s persecuted church?

Amy:
In Perpetua's time persecution seemed sporadic. One could live openly as a Christian for years and never be persecuted because of it. Then, in one day, it might all change. Others would be persecuted the moment they professed Christ. It seems to me that it still happens this way for today's persecuted church. One village is spared, the next one is attacked. The ancient church believed that the Lord sovereignly chose who would have the privilege to encounter sufferings.

Perpetua was also enduring a sort of institutionalized persecution, where the government had made it illegal to become a Christian. The individuals who brought Christians to the authorities often knew little about the true nature of Christianity (believers were accused of being canibals and committing incest, among other things). Many of today's persecuted believers also live under governmental regimes that incorporate persecution into the laws and culture of a society.

On a personal level, of course, Perpetua was daily faced with the fact that if she did not give up Jesus, she might have to give up her only child and her life. This is the same choice believers have had to make for centuries, today's persecuted church included.

Voice of the Martyrs:
How is the story of Perpetua relevant to 21st century Western Christians?

Amy:
Perpetua's life and culture were amazingly similar to ours. Her noble status and wealth put her in the top 1% of the world's population at the time. Her life was physically as comfortable (if not more so) than the average American's, and she was highly educated. About 100 years prior to her life the Roman Empire underwent a feminist movement very much like what the West experienced in the last century. Perpetua was not a poor, oppressed woman giving up a hard life. She had everything we do (including indoor plumbing and central heating :) and yet she still prefered to be with Jesus than to stay in that comfortable world. I think this speaks volumes to the Western church.

Voice of the Martyrs:
As Christ used parables (short fictitious stories) to illustrate eternal principles, what eternal principles do you want readers of your historical novel, Perpetua, to understand and apply to their lives?

Amy:
As human beings we have a tendency to codify things. We know what the "good, Christian" ways to act are, and so we follow those rules. But listen to what the scripture (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) has to say about what our heart motivation should be … “if I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profits me nothing.” Love. Love is the reason true martyrs die. It is possible to "do" all the right things - even to the point of giving your life - without love. And the "right" actions done without this deep love for God will be worthless in the end. This is one of the scariest things God has told us about life. If what we do comes out of duty rather than love, we are in a unenviable position! As they watch Perpetua go through this process of falling in love with God, I pray readers will be inspired to pursue God - to love Him - above all other things.

I'm also very aware that the Western church has not experienced much blatant persecution in the recent past. We don't expect it will happen to us and feel a mistaken sense of complacency and security. I pray that as we read stories like Perpetua's we're stirred to understand that as followers of Jesus we can expect to suffer. The church must not be offended at God when we do come under persecution. Right now as Westerners we feel very entitled to our freedoms and well-being. When suffering comes, Westerners often respond with "Why, God? Why did You let this happen to me?" The persecuted church does not respond this way. Their faith is not dealt such a blow when they encounter difficulties. A dear friend of mine traveled to South Asia to assist after the recent tsunami. She found the Christian community, although physically decimated, praising God and joyful, not berating God and full of questions. This faith is a gift the persecuted church can give to the West, and I pray that Perpetua is part of giving that gift and preparing the Western church for what we may eventually face.

Voice of the Martyrs:
Do you have future plans to write a novel about other martyrs from Christian history?

Amy:
Writing is a very spiritually relational process for me, and I couldn't write well apart from the Lord's direction and assistance. I would love to write more about my brothers and sisters who have lived and died for Jesus, but I've learned not to presume about what His plans are for me. I do hope He leads me to write of other martyrs in the future!


Article printed from saintperpetua.com at 11:46 AM on Tuesday, May 23, 2017