1. The Situation
Picture the situation. You are living in a far-off colony of a huge empire. You live on a thriving farm on the west coast with a beautiful view of the sea, and your family is well-respected in the community. Your colony is prosperous and is kept safe from raiders by the empire’s troops, regiments from the mightiest army in the world.
Life is good, but then some disturbing news reaches your colony. The empire is under attack from hoards of barbarians, who have crossed its borders and are advancing towards the mother country. The army seems unable to stop them. You begin to wonder the future of this mighty empire.
Then comes even worse news: the empire is pulling out all of its troops to fight on the home front, leaving the colony defenseless. Now you are left totally unprotected against the hostile tribes to the north and raiders from across the sea to your west. One morning you wake up and look out the window, and your worst nightmare has been realized. Heading towards the shore are boats filled with raiders. Death or enslavement are imminent and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is the situation 16 year old Patrick faced in the Roman colony of Britannia around the year 405.
II. Captured and Escaped
1. The Capture and Enslavement
Patrick’s life reads like an adventure novel. Those Irish raiders did capture him and brought him to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. He became a shepherd for an Irish chieftain, and during his captivity learned the local customs and language, becoming fluent in Irish. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, this was God’s way of preparing him for his future mission. Although raised a Christian, he hadn’t been particularly interested in it. However, as a slave in a foreign land tending someone else’s sheep, he began to talk to God, looking for answers. Patrick wrote about that time when his faith grew:
“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith … so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
2. The Escape
After six years or so, he made his escape in response to a dream he had telling him to go to the coast. To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he had been held, to the Irish east coast. Despite having no money, he found some sailors who were willing to take him back to England, where he was reunited with his family. Rather than giving him a ride, those sailors could have turned him in and collected a reward for a runaway slave – but they didn’t. You can clearly see God’s hand in his safe deliverance.
3. Patrick’s Calling
After escaping, Patrick experienced a second revelation – an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick then had another dream similar to Paul’s dream of the Macedonian begging him to come over to them as recorded in Acts 16:6-10. In Patrick’s dream the people of Ireland were calling out to Patrick, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”
God clearly put it in his heart that he should return to Ireland and convert the people to Christianity. It is a testimony to the power of God and Patrick’s obedience that he would want to reach out to the very people who had captured and enslaved him. This is truly loving your neighbor, and even loving your enemy. The highest form of love is to introduce someone to Jesus and have their eternal destiny secured.
More on St. Patrick in a future post.