I get to meet human trafficking victims on a regular basis and hear their stories. These modern day slaves share powerful and painful accounts of the challenges they must overcome as they shift from being victims to being survivors. Here is the story of a slave I never met.
M. was a teenage boy who was abducted from his hometown by a group for foreign men that preyed on the vulnerable. Like cargo, he was loaded on a ship and taken to a land not his own. There, a wealthy landowner forced him to work on a farm taking care of the livestock. M. was alone, exhausted and powerless. As the years of forced labor passed, he embraced the faith of his parents . . . a faith he had long ignored.
M. realized that if he did not take bold action to change the trajectory of his life, he would die a slave.
He may have lacked every material and social advantage, but he made a plan and acted on it. M. ran away from his trafficker and began an arduous 200 mile journey to the coast where he boarded a ship bound for somewhere else. It didn’t matter where. It took several voyages on different ships to make it back to his home country, but he persevered and was reunited with his family. The boy was now a man. The slave was now free.
That would be a fitting end to any good story about human trafficking. But for M., it was only the beginning. He knew there was more to do. He worked, studied, and learned. Rather than bury his painful past as ugly scars to be hidden from view, his story of survival and newfound faith birthed in him a clear-eyed vision for justice and righting wrongs. Remarkably, M. once again left his home and returned to the country where he had been exploited – this time, of his own free will – this time, to serve the people that once oppressed him. Together, they built schools and churches to care for the poor. He stood up for the weak and spoke out against slavery. The boy slave with no future had become a brave servant and inspiring champion of justice.
Before he chose to return to the dark place from which he had fled, M. became a priest, and when he was ordained, he took the name Patricus – “noble father.”
M. spent his days loving and serving the people of that land as if they were his own, and when he died, those touched by his life of courageous sacrifice declared him a saint. Today, we know him as Saint Patrick.
I love to hear stories of people who are unwilling to let awful circumstances or self-inflicted wounds define them. They take risks to redeem their past by dreaming big about the future. Those are the people I celebrated this Saint Patrick’s Day with.