In March we remember Saint Patrick. 1,600 years ago, as a youth he was kidnapped and sold as a slave to Ireland. After 6 years he escaped – but he took with him an understanding of and love for the people of Ireland. He returned as a priest and bishop – a missionary to people no one else really wanted to go to. That in itself is a very good example for us – love and care about people who are different, or who no-one else thinks worth the time.
But he set a good example for us in two other ways.
First, he carefully maintained a close personal relationship with God. To him that was crucial not just to his work as a priest-missionary. It was part of who he was before he became a missionary. And it provided the courage, flexibility, persistence, love, vision and integrity without which he could never have succeeded in bringing Irish tribespeople to faith in Christ. He would not have lasted, or he would not have had the love required to succeed.
He wrote, “After I had arrived in Ireland, I found myself pasturing cattle daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised.”
Second, though he was a foreigner to their ways, he had watched and learned a lot while he was a slave among them. So when he returned he could speak as they spoke, care about what they cared about, and even knew their techniques for managing cattle. He understood and respected them and their culture as much as he possibly could. And that in turn won their respect for him and attention to what he had to say.
Writing about Patrick’s work, George G Hunter III says, “There is no shortcut to understanding the people. When you understand the people you often know what to say and how. When the people know that the Christians understand them, they infer that maybe Christianity’s High God understands them too.” (in The Celtic Way of Evangelism, p8)