Missionary to Ireland
“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”
Author Steve Addison said, “Missionary movements begin with men and women who encounter the living God and surrender in loving obedience to his call.” Such is the story of one of the world’s most influential and largely misunderstood missionaries.
Patricius, or St. Patrick, is remembered today as the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland (untrue) and has a holiday in March named after him when people dress in green clothing and drink excessively. What is less well-known is that Patrick led a movement that would go on to change the entire spiritual landscape of Ireland and Europe.
The sixteen year-old son of a wealthy, aristocratic family in Britain, Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland in the year 406 AD. He spent six miserable years as a pig farmer under a cruel slave-master. “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “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, and at night only slightly less.”
One day while praying, he perceived God telling him to flee, so he did--200 miles away to the southeastern harbor. There he boarded a ship of traders bound for England. After a few years, however, Patrick felt God calling him back to Ireland to bring good news to those in physical and spiritual captivity.
Patrick knew that he had to recruit people to join him to evangelize Ireland. He began to attract his fellow youth who gladly devoted their lives to the spread of the gospel and to Patrick, their spiritual father and leader. Patrick’s strategy was to reach whole clans with the gospel, not just trying to win isolated individuals. He did this by working through networks of relationships and planted churches all across Ireland. These bodies of believers had a fearless commitment to Christ and to each other, which enabled them to endure fierce opposition from both the established institutions and the barbaric Druids. They shared a profound joy in joining together as a family to reach the lost.
Patrick relentlessly trained new missionaries around him to preach a simple gospel and to trust that God would use ordinary, unlearned people to begin a movement. He structured the Celtic Church for the spread of the gospel and ensured that the missionary order remained at the forefront, unlike the static and self-serving Roman Church he had previously seen.
When Patrick died in 493, only Ireland’s inaccessible south remained untouched by his work. He had trained hundreds of missionaries and saw thousands become believers. Hundreds of Celtic monks followed his lead and left their homeland to spread the gospel to Scotland and the rest of Europe.
Humility deeply marked Patrick’s life as he continually relied upon the power of God to work through him. He would write before he died:
“I am Patrick, a sinner and most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many. Yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself a bishop. I am certain in my heart that 'all that I am,' I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God.”