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March 17 has become an annual tradition of all things Irish. In America, we have 35 million citizens with Irish ancestry which is 7X the actual population of Ireland itself. With so many “Honorary Irishmen,” it’s not surprise that the United States goes green on Saint Patrick’s Day (we even have half a million guys named “Patrick”).

With all the parades and festivities, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there’s a real guy behind all this, and he was an extraordinary hero of the faith and not just for Ireland (he was actually born in Great Britain). Even if you’re not planning to wear green this March 17, you might be fascinated to know “a wee bit” about the inspiring man named Patrick who has us all wearing green every year.

The man who would one day be known as “Saint Patrick” was born in Great Britain in the year 387 A.D. He first traveled in Ireland against his will. He was kidnapped when he was sixteen-years-old and smuggled to Ireland and sold as a slave. This barbaric practice was relatively common in those days, but tragically, human trafficking and slavery is more rampant TODAY¬†than in any other time in history. This is something ALL of us should be fighting against.

Patrick was a victim of human trafficking, but that didn’t define his life or his legacy. He escaped six years later and made his way back home. You’d probably assume that he would NEVER want to return to Ireland considering the tragic circumstances of his arrival there, but after several decades back home, Patrick sensed a calling from God. As he grew in his faith and devotion to Jesus Christ and became inspired by how Christ had shown love even to those who mistreated Him, Patrick sensed an undeniable call to return to Ireland and share the love of Jesus with the very people who had once enslaved him.

Returning to Ireland, Patrick began to evangelize the population by sharing the message of the Gospel with anyone who would listen. By the thousands, the entire country began to turn from pagan practices to faith in Christ. Legend had it that Patrick once baptized nearly 12,000 people in a single day near Killala. Pulling that many people up out of the water would be quite a bicep workout!

As the nation of Ireland turned to faith in Christ village by village and town by town, the culture of the entire nation shifted as a result. Many of the barbaric practices (like the ones that brought to Patrick to Ireland in the first place) began to be replaced by a cultural climate of love, hard work and community.

Sadly, in recent decades, Ireland has seen it’s share of religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants who have focused on their differences more than on what Christ has done to unify us. All nations have their blemishes, but the rich history of the Emerald Isle has consistently been one of hospitality, hard work and a profound faith in Christ that all started when a former slave followed His calling and preached love to those who had enslaved him.

This Saint Patrick’s Day, in the midst of all the parades, revelry, green hats and “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” tee shirts, don’t forget the deeper meaning. We can all learn so much from this real person who had the faith to step outside his comfort zone and he changed one country (and the world) as a result.

As you reflect on his life and legacy, ask yourself, “What might God be calling me to do with my life? Could it be that my greatest opportunity for ministry might be with a group of people who have hurt me or misunderstood me in the past? Have I personally embraced the love and grace of Jesus that changed Patrick’s life and an entire nation as a result of his faith?”

Patrick’s life and legacy reminds us that God’s plans for our lives are almost always different from our own plans, but His plans always prove to be perfect. You and I might never be called to travel to a foreign land to do what Patrick did, but we can all start changing the world right where we are by sharing the love and grace of Christ with the people in our own homes, schools, offices and neighborhoods. An easy way to start the conversation might be to ask a simple question this March 17…“Have you ever heard the story of the real Saint Patrick?”

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