Women’s History Month: Christian martyrs

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By Stan Counsell

PREVIEW Columnist

Isn’t it kinda sad that women are officially recognized and celebrated in life and deed only in March? It should be a daily event from the hearts of those who value them. But, in various cultures, religions, families and media, the value of a woman is tragically give and take. If we are honest, it is more “take” with one excuse after another. 

In writing this, I’m certain that many eyes are wide with wondrous excitement while there are brows aplenty that are furrowing with apprehension. But, as one theologian friend repeatedly says on sensitive topics, “It is not my purpose to cast any negative reflection upon differing views, their sincerity or religious calling. The other person may have rich stores of knowledge, on other Christian doctrines, which we ourselves may lack.”

In Genesis, when man and woman were created, there was glorious harmony between them. Each appreciated and needed the differences of the other. Never was there any lording supremacy, demeaning or condescending thought. But, when sin entered the picture, that harmony and behavior became distorted. Those distortions continue to morph, giving birth to today’s sexual insanities.

It didn’t take long for the Hebrews to misrepresent the Mosaic Law, thus bringing further dissidence between the sexes. But, the developing early church eventually brought their own disharmony to this conundrum.

In the Old Testament, many women were mightily used of the Lord, even as prophets, in a society that loved but limited them. A common prayer of Jewish men was, “Lord, I thank you that I was not born a Gentile, or a woman, or a slave.” Imagine how the Lord felt about such “piety.”

Just what were the mighty deeds of these women in the early Christian church? This new religious faith was violently opposed by governments, religions, families, neighbors and friends. Such hateful aggression ran the gambit: verbal shaming, being disowned, divorced and the children taken. It could graduate to tenacious beatings and horrible deaths because of their deep Christian faith.

There isn’t enough allotted space to bring honor to but four women/girls who showed their witness, and ultimate glory, in following Jesus at any cost. Their shed blood and piercing cries of agony mingled with that of boys and men for the sake of Jesus. 

Here are those few esteemed women that many of today’s churches would be so privileged to have in their membership. Imagine their giftings being fully recognized as leaders, counselors or being theologically respected. 

These fallen women furthered the cause of Christ, became heroes of the faith and examples to others who were beginning to wither with fear. I just regret not being able to name more of these women and girls. But, some being named is better than none at all. 

In 164 AD, there was a wealthy widow who had seven sons that shared their mother’s mighty faith. This woman, Felicitas, was tremendously gifted by God in converting hundreds of hardened unbelievers to Christ. 

As the conversions continued to mount, she eventually was brought before the authorities for her “crimes.” Her sons were also questioned, disparaged and ordered to renounce Christ. All stood firm in their faith; Jesus was their Lord and Savior. 

Felicitas was forced to see each son executed. After each death, she was asked if she would now recant her faith, but she wouldn’t. She was put before wild animals that maimed but did not kill her. Still not recanting, she was put to death by the sword. What faith in Christ she presented to this young Christian religion.

In 177 AD, a sickly 15-year-old slave named Blandina was apprehended for not divulging the names of other Christian believers. She was sentenced to death by torture. A Roman citizen could not be slain in such a manner, but a noncitizen slave could. 

She was forced to witness the horrible deaths of others, yet she would not renounce Christ. She made a continuous declaration, like a blaring horn being heard by all, “I am a Christian and we commit no evil.” She was lashed and hung on a post that resembled a cross with lions released upon her. She continued to cry out, “I am a Christian and we commit no evil.” 

Not having been visited by three days in her stifling hot cell, and the Roman guards growing faint for Blandina would not die, she contined to be tortured. She still wouldn’t recant her faith or die. 

She was repeatedly thrown, and gored, by a wild bull, but death was still at arm’s length. Eventually, a sword put her into the loving arms of her beloved Savior. For six days, her body was left to rot in the hot sun before being burned like trash.

In 1847, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman lost her life while being the first woman to venture into Oregon to evangelize and medically treat the Cayuse and Nez Perce tribal nations. She spent 11 years serving Jesus and providing medical assistance to those Jesus loved. She was eventually put to death by a tribal chieftain for her dedicated efforts of faith and medicine.

Lastly, Esther John was but a 17-year-old Muslim girl that converted to Christ after reading the Book of Isaiah in a Christian school for young girls. Fearing an arranged Islamic marriage, she fled from her family and changed her name. She became a nurse in Pakistan and continued to share the good news. In 1960, she was found murdered, slain for dishonoring Islam.

There are untold thousands of women just like them who stood firm unto death. We would be mightily blessed to have met such endearing women and girls who kept the faith. Oh, to be just like them. Do you agree? 

This column may include both fiction and nonfiction, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of The SUN. Submissions can be sent to editor@pagosasun.com.