(1) Ruth Tucker. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corporation, 1983), 38-40.
There is no doubt that the spiritual legacy of Celtic Christian pioneers like Patrick and Columcille inspired missions in their successors. And it was indeed those Celtic Christians who would have a hand in converting one of the most brutal people Europe has ever known, in a way they would never expect.
Some of the most unlikely converts to Christianity were those people who were collectively known as the Scourge of Europe and even of Christendom itself. Threatening the whole of European civilized society with their brutal raids, ransacking, and wholesale destruction of the towns and villages they plundered, the Vikings were eventually undone by some of the very people whom they settled amongst and enslaved in their crushing conquests.
The Viking Age officially began in 793/4 AD when Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of Northumberland, England, that served as one of the main centers of Celtic Christianity that was birthed through missionaries coming from Iona, Scotland, was suddenly attacked. Marauding Norsemen hit the small island near the Scottish border with an early form of shock and awe, devastating its inhabitants with overwhelming force as they came ashore in their strange-looking boats.
Ransacking and looting the small island, which was inhabited by Celtic Christians involved in study and prayer, they carried off many of its treasures and took captives as slaves back to Scandinavia. As the Vikings continued their attacks in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and began to establish settlements throughout those lands, a strange thing happened: “Under contacts with the peoples they were attacking, the inherited religion of the Vikings was disintegrating and they were adopting both the faith and much of the culture of those they conquered.” (Latourette, A History of Christianity)
Here we can see the amazing paradox of the verse: “…The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength,” (1 Cor. 1:25) played out through real-life events. God used those in a position of military weakness, Celtic Christians, to reach those Vikings who were, militarily and politically speaking, much stronger than themselves. The One crucified in weakness on a cross would, through the power of the Gospel, be the beginning of the undoing of the Viking’s violent culture. Missionaries, who themselves would go willingly to Scandinavia later, would help complete the process God had begun in such a paradoxical fashion. Much like the Roman Empire itself which was conquered by the Christians whom the Romans spent so long persecuting.
We had the privilege of visiting the beautiful little Island of Lindisfarne on our last trip—all via divine appointment, more on that in a future post—it was not a place we were originally planning to go. However, God hooked us up with some awesome families in the North of England and our friend Al insisted on taking us up for a visit that we were more than glad to do!
Walking along the shores of Lindisfarne we reflected upon what a significant place of history we were standing on. Lindisfarne became over time one of the main centers of Celtic Christianity in its day. It was also where the infamy of the first Viking raid marked the official beginning of the Viking Age. It was an incredible moment to walk on a place so rich in history, and reflect on that great cloud of witnesses who went before us—such triumph and suffering—seen so radically in one spot.
Celtic Christianity had spread throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the British Isles, and Lindisfarne had become a center for missionary training and Bible Scholarship. Missionaries had come directly from Iona, Scotland to establish a center there. Pioneers of the faith like Patrick and Columcille had inspired succeeding waves of missionaries and mission activity that had carried the purer form of the faith (*see footnote below) well into lands on the lower part of the continent of Europe as well.
Many of the far northern areas in Europe had been left unreached though, with the exceptions of some attempts by people like Anskar, who went to Scandinavia as a missionary. But because his mission work was never followed up on, Scandinavia, by and large, remained firmly in the pagan grip. And yet the weakness of God is greater than man’s strength…
When invading Vikings took captives from places like Lindisfarne in their raids and began to settle in Celtic lands, they unwittingly took captives home to be used as slaves, not realizing they were actually taking home those who’d be missionaries to them. Isn’t it divine irony that those they settled around and those they took home as slaves and captives would eventually end up evangelizing them.
It was, however, an incredible form of suffering to be endured for those who were invaded as well as captured: first witnessing the brutal destruction suddenly unleashed by these invading hordes come on shore in strange foreign ships along with the slaughter of friends and loved ones, then for some to be captured and taken from their lands and to be put into servitude like this. The utter devastation visited upon the land, which seemed shocking and unthinkable, was in the end redeemed by God and used as a means to bring forth the Gospel into the forsaken and frozen territories of the extreme north. The extreme north had bred extreme men in the Vikings, which required extreme means to bring forth God’s redemption.
The Extreme North
It is interesting to notice that the areas in the northern British Isles and Ireland lied outside what had been the boundaries of the former Roman Empire, consequently lacking some of the usual defenses the Romans would have built in earlier days. Lindisfarne, in fact, lies just an hour north of the huge defensive wall and other defenses built by emperor Hadrian during the Roman era in Britain.
Ireland, given the name of Hibernia (“land of endless winter”) by the Romans, had in fact been ignored altogether by the Romans who didn’t want to bother with the constant rain and cold there (those old Roman tunics didn’t repel rain like your North Face jacket—no Goretex back then.)
The Vikings, however, came from an even harsher climate and were an adept seafaring people who had the fastest boats in Europe. They swept in with speed and ferocity to these unprotected Celtic lands, plundering and looting as they went and making settlements and taking captives with them. They continued to expand their barbary further and further out throughout these lands.
Dublin itself, Ireland’s capital city, is in fact a Viking name given by its conquerors which means Blackpool, further indicating what an incredible imprint the Norsemen left upon the Celtic landscape.
The conquered Celts however, ended up causing the very demise of the Vikings’ savage violence, and the Celts left a deeper and longer-lasting imprint with the power of the Gospel than the Vikings ever did in all their ruthlessness and savagery. The weakness of God is greater than man’s strength. (It is worth noting that the Scandinavian lands once known for producing “The Scourge of Europe” later became, comparatively speaking, one of the more peaceful regions in all of Europe, thanks largely to the strong and lasting Christian permeation effected there).
Signs and Wonders
God also brought forth conversions to the Vikings through signs and wonders in some amazing ways to aid in bringing the Gospel back to Scandinavia.
A Viking leader named Olaf Trygvassen was on a raiding venture when he heard of a fortune-teller in the Isles of Scilly, which lie off the coast of Cornwall in Britain. Deciding to pay a visit, he ran upon what instead turned out to be a Christian prophet.
Olaf received a prophecy that he would be wounded in a mutinous battle and carried back to his boat on his shield by sailors faithful to him. He would lay seven days wounded, and then would recover, turn to Christ, and take the Gospel back to Norway.
After Olaf was wounded and survived just as the prophecy had foretold, he then visited the prophet again in amazement, who then led him to Christ, baptized him, and sent him back to Norway to proclaim the Gospel.
Olaf began to proclaim Christ, leading many to salvation throughout Norway, where he eventually became the first Christian King. Latourette says: “He converted many by persuasion, but sometimes by force when he saw neccessary.” He was, after all, a Viking trying to rule in an equally violent Viking land and this was a violent age; furthermore, believers not always acting exactly as they should after conversion is just part of the whole saga through and through in Christian history from beginning to end and what the Scriptures speak of as the remaining battle of the “old man.”
Another Christian King would also have a dramatic effect upon Norway’s process of conversion. Olaf Harraldson (lots of Olaf’s to keep straight here) was another Viking out “going a-viking,” meaning out pillaging and plundering more innocent victims throughout Europe, when he had a strange dream “of a great and important man saying ‘return home, you shall become king of Norway.’ ” Olaf had a conversion and did become King of Norway and proclaimed the Christan faith throughout the realm and built churches. Though he stood firm and strong against enemies, he preferred peace and law, and was used to spread the faith even more, as well as to further the process of dismantling the pagan stronghold in Scandinavia.
“The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” God worked through the conquered Celts as well as using signs and wonders to begin the process of converting some of the most ruthless and unlikely people Europe had known—the very scourge of Christendom—in bringing them to Christ.
*Footnote - Celtic Christianity was much more similar to later Protestant Christianity that held to justification by faith through grace and upholding scriptural authority while Catholicism at that time was descending into a spiritual and political morass.
A baby hearing the news of the Savior and leaping in the womb, women getting filled with the Spirit and prophesying, old men being led by the Spirit and proclaiming that the salvation of God has arrived—the Kingdom of God is at hand in the coming of the Savior and the Holy Spirit moves as radical events took place!
The whole Christmas story is supernatural and miraculous from beginning to end. The Kingdom of God continues to be at hand for those who believe in the Savior, and the Holy Spirit’s power is available and works in those who have the faith to continue to believe for miracles.
May Christ’s Spirit work miraculously in your life at Christmas and all through the New Year, for the One who was born in a lowly manger to meet us in our spiritual poverty, gives us living water that springs up to new life, healing, and prosperity, as He leads, guides, and directs our steps.
Christmas blessings to you – Be filled afresh today and as you begin the New Year!!!
Ministry News: Brief Update
Europe Ministry Trip
We have been experiencing the miraculous in dramatic fashion: We recently returned from a three-month mission trip in Europe.
We started off in England, a country we haven’t been in over ten years even while doing other ministry trips to Europe over the years. We originally expected to only spend perhaps just a few days in England on the way to other places where we would be ministering. However, God opened door after door, and we ended up spending a month ministering throughout the whole country. We drove 2000 miles in England alone, going through every corner of the nation and even into other nations like Wales and up to the border with Scotland.
We ministered in London and in many other places throughout England. One meeting in particular exemplifies how God supernaturally opened doors for us as we went, where we ended up ministering at a rather large church in North Yorkshire (large for that area of England with around 250-300 people) which wasn’t scheduled at all. A sister we were staying with felt led to call the pastor the very day they had a meeting to inquire about having us preach that very same night. I must say I had no expectation that a last minute call on such short notice to a pastor of a rather large church would result in anything happening at all on the same day, since most places are usually very busy and require things set up far in advance, especially in Europe and that goes double for the UK—the miraculous nature of what took place reflects how God desired to lead us continually in what was impossible with man and was made possible by Him.
The pastor replied to our friend that he had a very unusual situation: A scheduled speaker who never confirmed and whom he didn’t know personally was set up for that night, so he thought we should come over to the church that evening and be ready to do a song or share just a short testimony. However, if the scheduled speaker didn’t show up, he said we may end up doing the whole meeting. Well, whomever Daniel—the scheduled speaker—was, he never showed. The pastor even called his name a few times from the pulpit. After no response, he said, “Bryan and Mercedes if you’re up for it, I feel led to have you do the whole message and then have you minister to the congregation.” We were blown away at such openness to the Holy Spirit’s spontaneous leading in this pastor—not the norm in Europe—and went on to have an incredibly blessed message that we both shared giving, and a very, very powerful ministry time going very late into the evening. The pastor said afterwards, “I felt like God’s anointing was on you when I met you before the meeting and that was definitely confirmed when you preached and ministered together—wow what a team!” We were definitely blessed, buoyed, and blown away at how God did all that with one phone call of faith from our friends Diane and Dave who we were staying with.
We had many other powerful things happen like this in England as well as in France, Sweden, and Norway as we ministered throughout what has become the world’s least evangelized continent. We’ll share more in our upcoming newsletter shortly—yeah, I think I said that before but the holidays get pretty busy so we’ll have it out soon.
Back in the States
We just did a conference on the Reformation up in Santa Barbara a couple weeks ago as well as preaching in the church there in Isla Vista. We had a radical Holy Ghost visitation as we shared about the Revelation of the Grace of God that revived the European continent centuries back and the outpourings of the Spirit that followed in its wake.
We also shared about our recent ministry trip to Europe and how the Lord guided our steps, including to the places where the Reformation took place.
God moved powerfully in the conference to the point that even we who were leading it found ourselves on the ground getting min- istered to by the Holy Ghost—just mind blowing!!!!! The Word of God is a double-edged sword that swings back upon those wield- ing it sometimes—Glory!!!
We also had the opportunity to witness and even lead some people to the Lord while out on the streets doing some outreach in the middle of the college party mayhem in Isla Vista that same weekend—Praise God!!
The Lord continued to move in power as we ministered in the church there on Sunday; we just had such an awesome visitation of God's presence the whole time.
We recently ministered at a conference on the Jesus People in the desert and had an awesome time sharing about some of the wild times out in that area with Lonnie Frisbee. In fact we took a hike up old Tahquitz Canyon and ended leading a young lady we met to the Lord and her friend into the filling of the Spirit and had a powerful encounter with the Lord under the waterfall up there where I was reminded of a vision I had after an accident in France of God taking us higher!! All right in the same spot where Lonnie had his encounter with Jesus years back.
We also preached at the Laguna Niguel Vineyard's Hispanic service a few weeks ago, as well ministering at the youth group there before that; we had an awesome move of God at both services. In fact, a fresh wind of the Spirit blew through the congregation as we ministered at the main La Viña service as the Holy Spirit filled many with fresh fire. Our friend said he'd never seen the pastor get so enthusiastic—he jumped on the microphone and encouraged everyone there to come forward and press in to receive all that the Lord was pouring out as a fresh wave of power washed over the congregation with glory and power.
We’ve also continued to see the Lord touch quite a few unlikely folk who you wouldn’t normally associate with a move of the Spirit—those with quite varied backgrounds like Nazarene and other mainline denominations who have been getting filled with the Spirit and ministered to and even healed. In fact, a young guy named Brandon just had his shoulder healed when we prayed for him at a Prayerfest at our friend Jeff’s place, where we were having this time of God moving amongst us. Praise God!
We just had an awesome time doing the Christmas service with Peter and Colette Crawford out at Goodnews church in Riverside where we had a great time experiencing the Christmas joy of Jesus perfect love as we reveled in the righteousness he has credited to us who have believed upon him and his finished work given to us by faith alone!!!
Patrick is in 6th grade now and continues to enjoy surfing both long and short boards and skateboarding and biking and playing army with his friends. He even spoke at his first meeting at the La Viña youth group. We are continuing to catch up on things after being gone for three months which has a way of turning life a bit upside down. We had the opportunity to visit Colorado for a family wedding after returning from our Europe ministry trip which also gave us the chance to do a little hiking and fishing (the best freshwater fishing we’ve ever experienced) as well as a 24-mile bike ride that ended with a 1,100 foot climb straight up a mountain that definitely gave those legs a good burning, not as bad as Bryan’s recent sting-ray encounter but still quite the burn!!
We truly appreciate all your prayers and support and pray you have a Merry Christmas and blessed New Year!!!!
Bryan, Mercedes, and Patrick Marleaux