Patrick of Ireland—Frank Johnson

This post is by Frank Johnson, a friend and Pastor at Chestnut Street Baptist Church. I thought I would share it in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.


Imagine: You are 16 and walking along the beach with your family. You see about 50 longboats sailing toward shore. Fierce soldiers get out of the boats and form bands on the shore. They wear helmets and carry long spears. You run home. By the time you get there, these pirates have fallen upon the town. They set houses on fire. Everyone is running for their lives. As you dart between burning houses, you run into some warriors. They drag you back to their waiting boats.

Before you know it, you are sailing away. It’s a long trip west. You realize where you are going: Ireland. You heard about these Irish marauders who capture slaves from England and Scotland. Now you have been taken as a slave to Ireland!

Shortly, you are sold to a king in Northern Ireland. He doesn’t treat you well. You are sent out to tend pigs. For weeks, sometimes months, you are alone. You follow the pigs as they search for water and food. You live off whatever you can find, often going days without food and water.

But something else happens. You have nowhere to turn, so begin to pray. Before this, you knew about God and Jesus Christ from your parents. But you never took it seriously or personally. Later, you write, “I would pray constantly…. The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers.” You begin trusting God to provide for and guide you.

After six years of slavery, you have an unusual experience: “You do well to fast,” a mysterious voice says. “Soon you will return to your homeland”. Before long, the voice speaks again: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you”. You escape and run 200 miles to a southeastern harbor. There you board a ship of traders (probably carrying Irish wolfhounds to the European continent).

After three days, you arrive in France. Before long, you make your way to Britain and are reunited with your family. This is glorious; you thought you would never see them again, and die in the wilderness, alone.

This all happened to a young man named Patricius, whom we call Patrick. He was carried into slavery in Ireland around AD 430. Here’s what happened next:

Perhaps 30-40 years later, Patrick tells us: “I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland. His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish’. And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut…and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us’. I was deeply moved in heart and could read no further, so I awoke.”

How could he possibly go back as a missionary to the very people who stole him from his family and enslaved him?? Well, by the grace of God!

With courage and grace from God fueling his heart, Patrick returned to Ireland. When he arrived as a bishop, there were already churches. He began to work with them, nurture them, and lead them to reach out to others. Over several decades, God used him to bring the Good News of Jesus to the entire island. Thousands came to Christ; the control of druid paganism was mostly defeated. Despite death-threats and setbacks, he persevered and brought many into God’s kingdom.

Patrick faced criticism from Christian leaders in Britain. They tried to call him back from Ireland in his later years, but he didn’t want to leave. A trusted friend who paved the way for him to become a bishop turned on him and tried to undermine his ministry in Ireland.

So that brings us to our celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Wear the green or get pinched! But when I put on the green, I remember this amazing guy who lived around 1600 years ago. His legacy of loving those who mistreated him is powerful. He opposed slavery at great personal cost and risk. He learned this from his hard experience and careful reading of Scripture. We have great reason to celebrate his memory. We might also do well to avoid too much pinching and green beer!

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