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Patrick: From Slave to Missionary

Patrick: From Slave to Missionary

I sat alone, always alone, inside a small cave during one of Ireland's frequent thunderstorms. Although I was protected from the rain and lightning, I knew that a pack of wolves or warriors could attack and I would be trapped, with only one way to escape.

I reached for the few berries I had found in the wilderness yesterday. To take my mind off my hunger, I squeezed my eyes shut and remembered my parents' faces. I wondered if they too had been captured, or if they were still alive in Britain.

Captured by Irish pirates
I shivered at the memory of the day fierce pirates, armed with horned helmets and spears, attacked our home. I had been captured and taken to Ireland where I was sold to a cruel warrior chief who killed any slave foolish enough to try to escape.

Watching my only companions, the sheep, huddle together only intensified my deep longing for human friendship. My loneliness was so intense that I hugged my knees and rocked myself for comfort. I guess it looked silly to be doing that at seventeen years of age, but I had no one to watch me. That is, no one but God.

Friend of God
In the midst of those sad, lonely days tending the sheep, I began to know God. One day I bowed my head inside that small cave, and felt God's love comforting me! I stopped my rocking, as I sensed that I was no longer alone! I laughed with joy to realize that the God of the universe was with me in that tiny cave!

Days turned into weeks. As the seasons changed, I moved the sheep from one green pasture to the next. My love for God grew as we walked and talked together on those hillsides. I faced dangers from wild animals, warriors, and my own master's anger when he came by to check up on his sheep.

But God surrounded me. My spirit was so moved that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. I rose for prayer before daylight, even when frost covered the ground or the snow fell. After a while, the snow and rain didn't bother me any more. I delighted in God's friendship. He led me to places that were special to him and taught me how to forage for food there. He miraculously provided for me as I tended the sheep.
So many times, I regretted not learning more about God when I was younger! I had been too busy having fun with my friends. God was good to me in spite of my childish attitudes.

Voices in the night
As I slept under the sky one night, I dreamed I heard a voice say, "It is well that you fast (go without food for a time). Soon you will go to your own country."

From then on, I thought about going home. A short while later, I was stunned to hear a voice say, "See, your ship is ready." A ship? I thought. There wasn't a ship or sea for 200 miles! For six years I had lived on Ireland's rocky pastures, with God as my friend. I knew it was His voice telling me about the ship, so I went in God's strength to find the ship.

I found the ship, but only after much prayer did the captain agree to let me sail with them. I was finally leaving Ireland, the land of my captivity! When I reached my home, I found my parents alive and delighted to see me. I was eager to learn more about this God who walked with me on the lonely hills of Ireland. Even though I was home with the people who loved me, I couldn't forget Him.

Visions from God
One night at my parents' house, I saw a vision of a man named Victoricius. He came to me from Ireland and his arms were full of letters. He gave me one of the letters and I opened it. "The voice of the Irish," it said. As I read the letter, I heard the voices of people near the Western Sea in Ireland calling together in unison, "We ask you, holy boy, come and walk among us once more."

Was God calling me back to Ireland? Back to the land of my captivity? Back to those who worshipped idols and sacrificed human beings?

I couldn't stop thinking about the dream. I thought Victoricius may have been an angel and perhaps those letters were real prayers of the people of Ireland. I didn't know, but I was thrilled that God was still speaking to my heart! I was glad I hadn't left him when I left the sheep in Ireland!

A few nights later, the voices from Ireland called me again as I was praying, but I couldn't understand what they were saying. At the end of the prayer, God said, "He that has laid down his life for you, it is he that speaks in you." Now I knew for sure that God was calling me to return to Ireland--not as a slave this time, but as an evangelist to tell his wonderful gospel.

Return to Ireland
Once in Ireland, I preached first to the kings who ruled the island's many kingdoms. The people naturally followed their king's religion, so I walked among the Irish, preaching, working, starting churches, and training new converts to become leaders of the churches. More importantly, I prayed continuously to God for guidance. God enraptured me and I loved his sacred scriptures. I loved to talk to him under trees, in caves, on high hills, and under the crevice of mountain rocks. He offered me his friendship and, when needed, he gave me dreams.

I had eight dreams that guided my path from Ireland to Britain and back to Ireland again. God gave me such grace that many thousands of Ireland's poor sinners were saved and brought into God's kingdom. Some call me a great missionary because of this. But I am happier to be called the friend of God who walked with God on the green hills of Ireland.

His Lasting Legacy
During Patrick's 30 years in Ireland, he evangelized and baptized thousands of people--as many as 100,000! He helped to establish some 200 churches. Within a few hundred years, the Irish became leaders in both spreading and preserving the Christian faith. Patrick's decision to return to the land of his captivity to spread the gospel truly had a lasting impact.

Make It Real! Questions to help you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

  1. What made Patrick so sure that his dreams were from God?
  2. How did Patrick become tuned in to hearing God's voice?
  3. Does your school or family celebrate St. Patrick's Day in March?
  4. Why do you think the color green is the color of St. Patrick's Day?
  5. Do you think that our modern day St. Patrick's Day celebrations have much to do with the story of Patrick? Give examples.
  • Video:
    • Patrick: Brave Shepherd of the Emerald Isle is an animated version of Patrick's story that you can buy from Vision Video with a parent's assistance.
    • Patrick is a docu-drama from Faith & Values Media that your parents can order from Vision Video online or by calling 1-800-523-0226)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nheyob