Bible women aren’t the only heroic women in our life of faith. Today, March 7, we celebrate Perpetua, a young mother who gave up her life rather than deny her love for Christ. Her story reminds me of brave women across the world who are making life and death decisions—often putting their very lives on the line—so that their children may live in both freedom and faith.

Think of being a refugee and crossing a border. Or being given a distressing medical diagnosis that signals the apparent end. There’s no going back. For Perpetua and her companions, crossing the border of faith meant everything–including not seeing her son grow up.

Born into a wealthy family in North Africa in about 181 AD, Perpetua didn’t know much about Jesus or God at first. The more she learned as she prepared to be baptized, however, the more she fell in love with Christ. She decided that nothing else was more important than Jesus, and she decided to put him first in everything that she did.

In those days (c. 200 AD), people did not have the freedom to believe in God that most of us have today. Early Christians often faced life and death decisions. If they did not swear their allegiance to the Roman empire, sadly, they were often killed. Sometimes soldiers put them to death. Other times they were eaten by hungry lions in public arenas.

Despite this threat, Perpetua and her servants, Felicitas (Fel-le-ci-tas) and Revocatus (Rev-o-ca-tus), stayed firm. Jesus was their best friend, and they would be his. Even after they were jailed for their faith, they did not waver. One of the hardest things for Perpetua was her young son. No mother wants to leave her child, but Perpetua decided that the best way to be a mother was to be true and honest and strong about who she was, first and foremost: a Christian, even though it put her life at risk.

Have you ever had a dream that you remembered when you woke up? Perpetua had vivid dreams while in prison that helped her be brave. Once she dreamed she was climbing a ladder to heaven, and another time she saw herself battling the devil—and winning. Even though her father asked her several times to swear that she was loyal to the emperor over God, she would not do it.

Finally, Perpetua was killed because of her faith. To the very end, she kept Jesus at the center of her thoughts and actions. Other Christians were forced to watch her final moments. Her final words to them remain an inspiration to us today: “Stand fast in the faith and love one another!” she said. “And do not let what we suffer be a stumbling block to you.”

Collect for Perpetua

O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Lesser Feasts and Fasts).

Excerpts from Meet the Saints, publisher Forward Movement, 2015. Authors: Lindsay Hardin Freeman and Melody Shobe

Photo: Scott Gunn, Seoul collection, 2017