You never know how those preacher’s kids will turn out, especially when their father is not only a deacon in the church, but a respected judge in the community. So when at the age of just barely sixteen, a boy named Maewyn was grabbed off of his father’s farm by kidnappers… well, some folks today would probably have said that he must have been into something that he shouldn’t have been doing anyway.
Only in this case, the boy genuinely was innocent of any wrongdoing. What’s more, something which his folks had taught him over the years had apparently sunk in. For when he ended up sold into slavery in another country, the subsequent years of servitude that he spent as a shepherd there somehow didn’t leave him bitter but better, producing maturity and not meanness.
Indeed, his Christian faith was not only not derailed by the disaster that happened to him—“six years a slave,” as Hollywood might call it– but it actually deepened. For during the long lonely hours spent tending to his master’s herds on the slopes of Slemish Mountain, Maewyn discovered the inexplicable comfort that can come in prayer. In his own words, “the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.”
When he finally managed to escape, thus, sloshing through the bogs and scaling the mountains which separated him from the sea, Maewyn returned home until something inside him convinced him that he should do the unthinkable. For they say that he had a dream in which he heard the voice of his former captors calling, “We beg you, young boy, to come and walk among us once more.”
And so after preparing himself as thoroughly as he could, that preacher’s kid left his family in England and returned back into the wilds of a country not yet civilized or strongly touched by the positive influences of Christianity. Only this time, Maewyn, who had taken the name of Patrick after becoming a priest, went to Ireland not as a slave, but as a missionary.
He returned first to the very pagan chieftain who had bought him as a boy, but rather than be embarrassed by a former slave, that man set fire to his house and threw himself into the flames. And so Patrick then went to Tara, the seat of the high king of Hibernia, arriving at the castle there just in time for a pagan celebration which happened to coincide with Easter that year. In full view of all, Patrick chose to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ instead, kindling an Easter fire on a nearby hill called Slane, a name now used for the hymn tune associated with “Be Thou My Vision.”
A confrontation ensued, but Patrick stood and called out simply, “May God arise and His enemies be scattered.” And so God did, marking the beginning of a remarkable thirty-year mission to the Emerald Isle in which Patrick baptized tens of thousands and established hundreds of churches across the land. Twice imprisoned, he continued despite all manner of opposition and obstacles, fearing neither because of “the promises of heaven.” In his words, “I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty who rules everywhere.”
And indeed, by the time of his death in 460 A.D., Ireland, a once pagan island, became a Christian stronghold sending missionaries back to Scotland and England and even beyond to the continent of Europe. For Patrick plainly put into practice the words that he once inscribed upon his breastplate: “Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
Of course, we call him a saint now and have reduced the remembrance of him each March 17 to a vague and often corny celebration of all things Irish. But maybe what’s really worth remembering on that day is the example of an individual who not only understood the strength of forgiveness, but the transforming power of the gospel to turn those who don’t know God into His very sons and daughters.
Some might say that it took a slave thus to set a nation free. But then,maybe we should similarly never underestimate what a preacher’s kid can actually do with a faith of their own worth sharing.