March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, a day Americans focus on good luck and all things Irish. But most of those celebrating don't know that the man for whom this day is named was a Christian persecuted because of his Christian actions.
The following comes from "A Note from the Author to Parents and Educators" that is included in The Story of St. Patrick: More Than Shamrocks and Leprechauns, a book for children published by VOM that tells the true story of St. Patrick’s Day.
Many celebrate Saint Patrick's Day on March 17th and hang pictures of shamrocks and mythical creatures called leprechauns. But who was St. Patrick, and why do we celebrate his life on this day?
Patrick lived a full life, but not without his share of suffering and adventure. He was born in Britain, in the fourth century A.D., during a time of great uncertainty for the Roman Empire. The Roman legions that once protected civilized Britain from barbaric invaders were called away to defend themselves in other regions of the Roman Empire. Therefore, Britain was left vulnerable to attacks.
Just before Patrick turned 16 years of age, he and his family were at their holiday villa by the sea, located outside the town of Bannaventa Berniae when Irish pirates attacked it just before dawn. (Some say the villa was attacked during the day while Patrick played on the beach. Although Patrick's family escaped, Patrick and many of the family's workers did not; and soon they were en route to Ireland, where Patrick was sold as a slave to Miliuc of Slemich, a Druid tribal chieftain.
Patrick was given the task of a herdsman. Though raised in a Christian home (his father, Calpornius, was a civil magistrate and tax collector, as well as a church deacon), Patrick never made a decision to follow Christ until he was kidnapped and made a slave. In his autobiography called Confessions, Patrick wrote: “…‘the Lord opened my senses to my unbelief,’ so that though late in the day, I might remember my many sins; and accordingly ‘I might turn to the Lord my God with all my heart.’” He also wrote about how his faith in God grew as he prayed to Him while he shepherded the flocks: “But after l had come to Ireland, it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day, and, as l did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day. More and more the love of God and fear of him grew strong within me, and as my faith grew, so the Spirit became more and more active... In snow, in frost, in rain, I would hardly notice any discomfort, and I was never slack but always full of energy. It is clear to me now, that this was due to. . .the Spirit within me.”
But Patricks devotion to God did not go unnoticed. He soon earned the nickname "Holy Boy" among his fellow slaves.
One night Patrick had a dream, and in it he heard a voice saying do him, "You are right to fast, soon you will be returning to your own country." In another dream he received a response to the first dream, being told, “Come and see where your ship is waiting for you.” At the age of 22, Patrick escaped and traveled 200 miles to the coast of Ireland. Of his long journey across Ireland, he wrote: "I turned on my heel and ran away, leaving behind the man to whom I had been bound for six years. Yet I came away from him in the power of God, for it was he who was guiding my every step for the best. And so I felt not the least anxiety until I reached the ship.
When Patrick approached one of the men on the ship that was on the coast, he asked to board. The seaman scowled at him, so Patrick began to leave when the man called back to him, saying the other men wanted him on board as a passenger. Patrick wrote. "In spite of this, I still hoped that they might come to have faith in Jesus Christ."
The journey by boat was long, including a stop on land where they journeyed for 28 days. After having run out of food, the captain turned to Patrick and challenged him to ask his God for food. Glad to oblige, Patrick responded: "Turn trustingly to the Lord who is my God and put your faith in him with all your heart, because nothing is impossible to him. On this day, he will send us food sufficient for our journey, because for him there is abundance everywhere." According to Patrick’s autobiography, when the men turned around, a herd of pigs was standing before them. They feasted for days and gave thanks to God.
Two years later Patrick finally made it to his beloved Britain and into the arms of his mother and father who pled with him never to leave them again. Patrick began to settle back into his life in Britain and studied to become a priest and bishop. But one night Patrick had a dream of a man who seemed to come from Ireland and was carrying a letter with the words “The Voice of the Irish.” As Patrick began to read the words, he seemed to hear the voice of the same men he worked with as if they were shouting, “Holy broth of a boy, we beg you, come back and walk once more among us.”
But Patrick's plans to return to Ireland—the land of his captivity—were fiercely opposed by both his parents and the church leaders who, by the way, did not think the Druids were worth saving. His family shuddered at the thought of him returning to barbaric Ireland with the gospel, as the Druids were known to weave criminals and runaway slaves into giant wicker baskets and suspend them over a fire. Of this opposition Patrick later wrote; “So at last I came here to the Irish gentiles to preach the gospel. And now I had to endure insults from unbelievers, to ‘hear criticism of my journeys’ and suffer many persecutions ‘even to the point of chains.’…And should I prove worthy, I am ready and willing to give up my own life, without hesitation, for his name…There was always someone talking behind my back and whispering, ‘Why does he want to put himself in such danger among his enemies who do not know God?’” Patrick had to sell his title of nobility in order to become the “slave of Christ serving the barbaric nation.”
While Patrick was in Ireland, he shared the gospel with his former slave owner, Miliuc the Druid. But instead of turning his back on his pagan gods, Miliuc locked himself in his house and set it on fire while Patrick stood outside the house and pled with him to turn to Christ. It is said Miliuc drowned out Patrick’s pleadings by crying out to his false gods.
But Miliuc's refusal to hear the gospel was just the beginning of Patrick’s challenges with the Druids as he spread the gospel across Ireland and taught the people how to read and write. One story that some believe is legend mentions Patrick challenging the Druid wizards in 433 A.D., on the vernal equinox, which occurred on Easter Sunday that year. Patrick challenged the wizards' power of control by starting a bonfire, which was central to the Druids’ ritual, on a hillside opposite of the barbaric idol-worshippers. Patrick was dragged before the Druid council where he had the opportunity to share about Jesus, the light of the world. Some Druids believed, and others tried to kill him.
Patrick continued his journey across Ireland. He preached at racetracks and other places of worldly indulgences, seeing many come to Christ. However, this was not without opposition. The Druids often tried to poison him. One time a barbarian warrior speared Patrick’s chariot driver to death in an attempt to kill Patrick. He was often ambushed at his evangelistic events, and it is noted that he was enslaved again for a short time. He had to purchase safe passage through a hostile warlord's land in order to continue on his journey. Another time Patrick and his companions were taken as prisoners and were going to be killed, but they were later released. In Confessions, Patrick wrote, “As every day arrives, I expect either sudden death or deception or being taken back as a slave or some such other misfortune. But I fear none of these, since I look to the promise of heaven and have flung myself into the hands of the all-powerful God, who rules as Lord everywhere.”
Patrick journeyed throughout Ireland, sharing Christ until his death on March 17th, around the year 461 A.D. Later Irish mythological creatures known as leprechauns would creep into the holiday celebrations, as well as the symbol of the shamrock, believed to have been used by Patrick to illustrate the Trinity as he preached and taught. Some legends have circulated stating Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Since there are no snakes in Ireland and snakes often symbolize the devil and evil, many believe the "snakes" were a metaphor representing his work of driving the idol-worshipping Druid cult out of the country.
Enslavement, torture, imprisonment and death for one's faith in Christ were not confined to Patrick’s lifetime. Today Christians in communist nations like China, Vietnam and Cuba are imprisoned if caught sharing the gospel with fellow countrymen. In Sudan, a Christian boy named Demare was kidnapped by militant Muslims and sold as a slave. And in Vietnam, when members of some tribal groups have come to Christ, they destroy the altars used to pray to their dead ancestors. When fellow villagers and even members of the government hear about this, these new believers in Christ are harassed and some even imprisoned for turning away from their empty religions of idol and ancestor worship.
We may never be enslaved, imprisoned or beaten because of our faith in Christ, but many may make fun of us for believing in Jesus’ promise of heaven and placing our faith in a God they do not see with their eyes and cannot touch with their hands. I pray this version of Patrick’s courageous life will inspire you to stand firm in Christ and stand strong for Him as you tell others about the greatest gift we can ever be given—salvation through Jesus!
By now you know of VOM’s 2017 IDOP video called Hannelie and have read the October newsletter with her story.
A couple of weeks ago, Andrea H. wrote to us after she read the story in the newsletter:
Hello. I am stunned by this month's cover story of Hannelie and am particularly interested if there are others who are utterly in shock that these two people would endanger their children. I believe what they did is unconscionable; if they were in the United States, they would have had their children removed from their custody. How dare these people put those vulnerable kids in harm’s way. I'm absolutely blown away by this irresponsible act, as well as your tacit approval of all of it.
What did you think? Did you feel the same way Andrea did? Did Hannelie and her husband make an irresponsible choice regarding their children?
On the other hand, Bob S. wrote us this note:
When my wife and I watched the DVD Hannelie, I got depressed. I realized that in my quiet time or during a good sermon or rousing Christian song, I was like Peter and ready to “risk my life for Jesus,” but when faced with a situation like distributing Bibles as a Gideon in Chicago–the murder capital of America for over two years–I was chicken at the thought of what might happen.
Well, yesterday, I went into Chicago with other Gideons in a pretty safe neighborhood and all I suffered was indifference at the offer of a free Bible–plus many were open to accepting the Lord. Pray that Friday I will be a credit to His name and be willing to endure whatever may come when we venture into a place a lot less threatening than the people you support.
Sincerely in His service,
P.S. Keep sending out testimonies like Hannelie.
Bob had a completely opposite response to Hannelie’s story. Her story inspired him to take more risks in sharing the gospel, even in a dangerous part of America. Is it foolish of Bob to take that risk? Please join us in praying for Bob as he shares Christ through the Chicago area, and that his work will result in much fruit.
I’ve written before about trying to bring my young children up by praying for our persecuted family and with the knowledge that persecution could come to us. And if the Lord calls us to Afghanistan, to Saudi Arabia, to North Korea, I would take them with me. Jesus promised us persecution. He said that his message would divide families, and he said that no sacrifice was too great for him.
What about you? Are there some sacrifices that are too great?
Dory P. grew up the daughter of missionaries in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Their family of four shares seven passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband serves with VOM's international department.
Today (September 12, 2016), the Muslim world shifts its eyes to one thing: The lamb.
Today is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.
Marking the end of the haj, the pinnacle event of this feast is sacrificing a lamb — literally slitting its throat while reciting verses from the Quran. After reserving a portion of meat to give to the poor, Muslims will clean the meat and rub it with fennel seed, turmeric and other aromatic spices. Then they will braise or roast it until the tender meat falls off the bone.
In almost every country, new clothes are a must for this special day. In the Middle Eastern country where I live, local men attend prayers early in the morning, and then receive guests as early as 6 a.m. Women with henna-decorated hands pass out chocolates and money to children who knock on their doors. But the lamb takes center stage, and some Muslims don’t even know why.
The event behind Eid al-Adha is Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son. Muslims know that God stopped Abraham as he raised the knife and sent a ram from heaven so the son could go free. But the deeper significance of this story — and how it points to Jesus — most will never know.
Several years ago I had coffee with a South Asian woman near the celebration of this meaning-packed holiday.
A few simple questions led to a topic most Americans would avoid: sin. As a Muslim, Hanna explained to me how she views sin: Everyone sins, at least a little. But the payment for sin is good works.
It gave me the entrance to share about the seriousness of sin, its penalty of death and that no amount of good works are good enough for God. Ever.
The table was silent. Suspense had sufficiently been built. Hanna appeared deep in thought when she looked up from her drink and asked, “So how can anyone go to heaven?”
I was so glad she asked! “You know about Nabi Ibrahim?” I ventured, referring to the Eid ul-Adha story. “The ‘ram from heaven’ was given in place of Abraham’s son, and this sign points us to Jesus.” (As a note, some Muslims insist the son was Ishmael, not Isaac, so I used “son” in general to avoid confusion or an argument.)
After relating the story to Jesus the spotless Lamb of God who gave his life so we could go free, I asked Hanna, “Have you ever heard this before?”
“No. Never.” At the end of our coffee date, Hanna thanked me for explaining about Jesus. She said, “I have always wondered why he came.”
The Quran ends the story of Abraham and his son with this: “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice” (as-Saffat 37:107, Yusuf Ali Translation). So, every year on the occasion of Eid ul-Adha, astute Muslims are left wondering, What is the “momentous sacrifice?” Surely it means more than a ram caught in the brambles.
God in his wisdom tucked this meaning-packed story in the Quran and made it the focal point of the biggest feast in Islam. Having woven this account into the fabric of Muslims’ lives, God has prepared these precious men and women to hear about His provision of the “momentous sacrifice,” Jesus, the Lamb of God.
This Eid, may they not be left wondering.
YOUR TURN: Have you ever taken part in an Eid al-Adha celebration? Do you know any Muslims who are celebrating today?
"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.
If you read the Bible in English, you owe a debt of gratitude to William Tyndale. Today (October 6) marks the anniversary of Tyndale’s execution at the stake in 1536 for the “crime” of translating the Bible into English. Here is Tyndale’s story, as told in VOM’s book, FOXE: Voices of the Martyrs.
William Tyndale was a well-educated scholar who was frustrated at the distance between English education and the Bible, the source of truth. Studying at Oxford and then at Cambridge, he bristled at the barriers and longed for the nourishment his mind and heart treasured. “In the universities,” he said, “they have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture until he be nozzled in heathen learning eight or nine years, and armed with false principles with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the Scripture.” Tyndale’s life would be devoted to overcoming just this obstacle. For him, the Bible “for the people” would become the answer to corruption in the church. The Bible “for the people” meant that all could drink from the truth itself, without pressure or pretext; and most clearly, without a priest to read or interpret.
Tyndale was born sometime around 1494 in Gloucester, England, near the Welsh border. Ninety years earlier the Church had banned the only English Bible in the world, the hand-copied work of John Wycliffe. It was a flawed translation, based on the Latin Vulgate, but it was all English speakers had. And to have it was a crime. Tyndale’s passions eventually settled on a mission as dangerous as any in his century: to work from the Greek and Hebrew texts to create a Bible in vernacular English, so readable and accurate that an Englishman could depend on it, learn from it, and find God’s voice in it. All this was clear to the multilingual Tyndale by the age of thirty.
To do that work, Tyndale had to leave England. No bishop in the realm would protect him, much less encourage the project. Tyndale traveled to Germany where he completed the New Testament in 1525. Then he went on to Antwerp, one step ahead of English agents, where the first five Old Testament books were translated and printed. In Belgium he met a community of English merchants, and though agents were searching the continent to find him, Tyndale felt secure enough to relax his guard. His lack of caution would prove fatal.
Tyndale took up a friendship with Henry Phillips, who won Tyndale’s confidence but secretly sough the bounty offered for his capture. In May, 1535, the trap was set. Tyndale was taken under guard to the castle at Vilvoorde, near Brussels, where he suffered in dank and cold for eighteen months before standing trial for “maintaining that faith alone justifies…that to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and to embrace the mercy offered in the gospel, was enough for salvation.” The complete list of charges included direct attacks on church teaching, among them that “neither the Virgin nor the Saints should be invoked by us.”
Tyndale knew how these trials ran. He would have no chance at defense, and death was the remedy. With his body shaking from cold and the winter’s light dim for writing, he worked to complete the English Bible, helped by a sympathetic prison governor.
In August, 1536, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic and defrocked. For two more months he was kept at Vilvoorde. Then in early October, just past dawn, he was led from prison to the stake. Formalities included placing the Mass once more in his hands, then quickly snatching it back, the offer of last-minute reprieve if he would only recant, and always the shouts of a crowd gathered to witness a “heathen” die.
Secured to the stake, surrounded by brush and logs, Tyndale was heard to pray, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Then the executioner snapped hard on the rope, strangling Tyndale before the blaze consumed his body.
That final prayer was for the bully King Henry VIII, whose pursuit of a male heir had already cost Anne Boleyn her life and Catherine her marriage. So full of his own power and pomp, would the king’s eyes ever fall favorably on Tyndale’s English Bible?
Indeed they did. Two years after Tyndale’s death, King Henry authorized the distribution of the Matthew Bible, much of it Tyndale’s work. And then, on November 14, 1539, all printers and sellers of books were ordered by the king to provide “for the free and liberal use of the Bible in our own maternal English tongue.” Tyndale’s dream and his last earthly appeal had come true.
Excerpted from FOXE: Voices of the Martyrs by The Voice of the Martyrs. Order your copy here.
In one of the most-listened-to episodes of VOM Radio from 2016, "Sister Amber" shares how Christ was with her even as she was being tortured and abused in Tibet.
After more than a decade in Tibet, Amber watched as God orchestrated a great ministry breakthrough: people who'd been totally closed to the gospel message were now asking to learn more about Jesus. But just days after that breakthrough Amber experienced persecution as police came pounding on her door.
Listen as she tells the story, including how God ministered to her in the most painful moments of her suffering. You'll hear how God showed her that her persecution wasn't the end of the story. You'll also hear how God laid on the hearts of people around the world to pray for Amber, including one who drew a remarkably-accurate picture of Amber and the policemen in the interrogation room--and how God’s plans included those policemen.
Your faith will be challenged as you hear Amber's thoughts on what the New Testament calls the "honor" of being persecuted.
Lily and I had been friends for several months and I looked for ways to spend time with her. Christmas was approaching and as I wanted to bake cookies for our family and friends, I invited Lily over with the promise of lots of cookies as payment for her help. She readily accepted.
Lily and I worked to roll cookie dough, melt chocolate, and strategically place tiny Christmas bells on dozens and dozens of cookies as I shared with her the story behind the Christmas celebration. My telling of the Christmas story was sprinkled with comments such as, “Can you hand me the baking soda?” and “Don’t add too much flour as it makes the cookies too hard.” Stories and cookies go well together.
“Have you ever heard that story of Isa (Jesus) before?” I asked Lily. “No,” she replied, and we kept talking as I packed cookies in containers for her to take home.
We continued to meet a couple times a month over a meal, a movie or taking walks around our beautiful city. Our friendship was a strange one at best; she was a Muslim, I was a Christian. I was born in the United States, and she had never left her city. I was twenty years her senior, married with children and she was still single, visiting her parents in the village on weekends. In spite of the differences, our friendship blossomed. We got together often that year.
The next year, I invited her again to make cookies at my house. I asked her if she remembered the story of the birth of Christ and she told it back to me just as she had heard it the year before! Then the questions came: “Do you believe it was a miraculous birth? Why did God plan for Isa to be born in a stable? Why was Herod so determined to kill him? Is this a true story? Really?”
I had invited Lily and several other people over for a Christmas Day meal, but as several things came up, I decided to cancel the meal. A few days earlier my husband had to make an unexpected trip back to the US, two of my children couldn’t make it home for the holidays and our youngest was sick in bed with an unexplained fever. What was to be a day of celebration seemed to be one of calamity.
My mood was cloudy and sullen. I didn’t feel like having company. I didn’t feel like celebrating at all!
“I just can’t do this, Lord. What a poor witness I will be for my Muslim and Christian friends today. I do not have the strength nor the joy to celebrate and tell the story of your birth today. I just can’t!”
I waited for Him to speak. He whispered to me, “My grace is sufficient for you TODAY.” His words flooded my soul with peace and a renewed strength to get to work, His work. As I prepared the meal, I began to think of our lives like a pair of lifeless mittens lying on a table. We are useless unless the hand of God fills us and brings us to life, an abundant life, filled with His Spirit, His strength, His joy.
My thoughts began to turn and give Him praise for all that He is, all He did for me and all that He will do.
My guests came, we prayed, ate, and then sat around the table, laughing, talking, asking questions and discussing the topic of God well into the night.
It was a wonderful day. A day of sustaining grace. A day of amazing grace.
The last person to leave was my friend Lily. As she was putting on her shoes, she looked at me and said, “I want to know more. I want to study your book and go to church with you.”
As she studied God’s Word and learned of his love for her, God touched her heart. My friend Lily is now my sister in Christ. The simple act of making Christmas cookies together, plus a little faithfulness on my part, opened up the possibility for Lily to meet God. Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
TM is a VOM staff member. She lived for many years in Malaysia and Indonesia before coming to VOM.
Earlier this week VOM's Todd Nettleton was a guest on In the Market with Janet Parshall, aired nationwide on the Moody Radio Network.
In the 30-minute interview with Parshall, Nettleton shared about his recent trip to Asia, where he was part of delivering VOM Christmas Care packs to Christian children in a restricted nation. He also shares about a Bible worker he met on his trip, and the story of a Pakistani Christian's amazing journey from being dedicated to idols to being a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ.
Please click here to listen to this interview (a new window will open; Nettleton's interview begins at about the 24:30 mark of the file). We are thankful to our media friends who help VOM share the stories of our persecuted family.
In one of the most-listened-to episodes of VOM Radio in 2016, Australian John Short shares the story of his detention in North Korea.
He was repeatedly interrogated. He was forced to write a “confession” of his “crimes,” including the offense of wanting more North Koreans to follow Jesus. But if God called him today, Short says he would happily go back.
Mr. Short shares this week on VOM Radio how God strengthened him during his captivity, the Scriptures and earthly examples that most encouraged him, and how he managed to take a measure of control back from his captors — and even make them nervous. Mr. Short agreed to only two media interviews after his release; one of them was with The Voice of the Martyrs Radio Network.
Months ago, I had a conflict with a friend at church. There were several conversations and many tears as we tried to work it out. Finally, it boiled down to different values and parenting philosophies. For my friend, one of her foundational values is safety. She sees her main role as a parent to protect her children from harm.
Now, I don’t want harm to come to my kids or even me. But I’ve come to understand that on my list of priorities as a Christ-follower, avoiding risk and staying safe are farther down on my list. I’m not talking about acting foolishly, but I am talking about taking potentially risky actions because it might help further the gospel.
And yes, it does come down to the level of my children.
My oldest son prays for Petr Jasek almost every night before bed. Two nights ago as I tucked him in, I suddenly realized my son’s view of God as a good God could be influenced by Petr’s situation.
“You know, God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us,” I told him. “We don’t always understand why, but God does. Petr’s family obviously wants him home, but they also know that God is using this situation. They would rather have Petr stay in prison and serve God in the best way than to have him home. God’s way is always better than our way.”
I don’t know how much of that made it into his 6-year-old mind, but we’ll keep reemphasizing it.
This idea was brought up again to me in a book I recently read, called We Died Before We Came Here. Author Emily Foreman lost her husband when he was killed by al-Qaida affiliates in North Africa. Their family sacrificed much by choosing to serve God in a poor, undeveloped and hostile area. They were “paid back” by the devastating loss of her husband.
But Emily, her family and husband were already prepared for such a moment. They “understood that ‘safety’ was not a New Testament concept but merely an American one. Jesus never called his disciples to safety but rather to obedience. …He never denied that hardship would be part of the bargain. …Ultimately, it boiled down to one thing: Was he truly worth of our lives?” (pg. 19)
She talks of especially struggling with that concept in regards to her children, and the “balance between common sense and faith,” but ultimately concluded that it was fear holding her back. She chose instead to fight the daily battle against fear.
“We prayed against it constantly,” she writes. “And fear was definitely one of the biggest roadblocks to the growth of the small community of local believers… In this country there were only two choices: Be a Muslim – or risk the loss of your job, your family, and potentially your life. Of course our friends were afraid. But we knew that the church would not grow until they were willing to push forward in the face of persecution – not out of recklessness, but as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Out of love for God and those around them.”
Out of love for God and those around… ME. In spite of her great loss, Emily had her priorities straight. And I pray that I always choose to put love for God first, love for others second, and then farther down the list as I daily die to myself, the hope for safety.
Dory P and her husband both work for VOM. Some people thought it was pretty risky for them to move to Oklahoma for VOM. They hope the prayer of their kids isn’t, “Keep me safe, Lord!” but instead, “How can I serve you, Lord?”