I love Christmas and I love Easter, but one of my other favorite holidays is coming up: Saint Patrick’s Day. Did you know that St. Patrick was a real person? I love telling kids of all ages his story. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating!
He was having a great life. His parents were Christians and well-to-do. A great combination, to tell you the truth. A teenager in England. Life was good. And then one ordinary day…everything changed. Kidnapped from his family home, not knowing if he would live or die, or if he wanted to live, Patrick was terrified. He was taken from his home and his country. The pirates, his captors, sailed to Ireland. It was a nightmarish voyage.
The darkness, the smells, the continuous rocking of the ship. Would he be able to get through this? Finally landing was a huge relief, but then he was chained. Sold right there in front of everyone as a slave! “Help me! Help me!” he wanted to scream, but could not. The pirates had no compassion for those in distress. This is not fair! he thought again and again. A shepherd paid handsomely for the young man who had many years of work ahead of him.
Sheep! Everywhere! And no one else. Day in, day out. All alone. How long could he take this? “I’m not strong enough to do this!” he told himself each day. Lonely and afraid, Patrick turned to God. He needed God.
Turning to God did not get him an immediate trip home, unfortunately. That would have been grand! But, it gave Patrick comfort. Peace even. Those stories he had been taught as a child came in handy. David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were completely different now that he was in trouble. Parts of the story of Joseph often wafted in and out of his mind. This was a lot like Joseph, except the part about the pirates. It was Joseph’s BROTHERS who had sold him into slavery.
A year passed. And then another. When will someone come for me? Are they still searching? Patrick only talked to himself…and God.
One night Patrick had a dream. He told everyone later that in the dream he learned how to get away. After six long years, over 2, 000 days in captivity, he managed to escape. But it wasn’t easy, no sir. He had to walk 200 miles to the coast! It took some talking to persuade sailors to allow him passage on one of their ships. Finally, finally he was headed home!
When Patrick got home, he didn’t just sit on his laurels. He didn’t give himself a pass because he had been through a difficult circumstance. When he got home, Patrick had another dream. One report is that it was of an angel calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Another story was that he dreamed a man brought letters from the Irish people asking him to return, while still another was a vision of Irish children reaching out to him in a dream. Whichever is true, we know he had a dream regarding going back to Ireland.
During those six years of captivity, Patrick had learned the language of the Irish. He would use that when he returned. He also learned about the “religious” customs of the people who practiced Druidism. He knew that the Irish people did not know God. His goal now: to return to Ireland as a missionary!
The religious leaders of Patrick’s time in England did not think he was educated enough to be a missionary. He had been a slave there for six years, had learned the language, had a passion for teaching the Irish pagans about God, but they did not think he was equipped! Patrick still would not give up! After years and years of pursuing his dream-and training, he was finally allowed to go. (Can somebody say ‘Praise the Lord!’?)
Upon his return, Patrick used the well-known shamrock (Ireland’s three-leafed plant) to teach the people about the Trinity: God-the Father, God-the Son, and God-the Holy Spirit. It has been reported that 120,000 people in Ireland were saved and baptized because of Patrick’s evangelism.
And we just thought St. Patrick’s Day was about wearing green!
(I’ll admit that I ad-libbed Patrick’s story a bit, but you can find many facts about him at history.com, britannica.org, and catholic.org.)
Dawn Reed is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.