Dear Mars Hill, It’s late here in Belfast, Northern Ireland (we are eight hours ahead of Seattle), and before I went to bed I felt compelled to write a quick update. On Sunday I left with my dad, Joe, to visit Ireland—a place we’ve both always wanted to go. We started out in County Cork in southern Ireland. We traced our family heritage as far back as we could go. The records were destroyed amidst civil unrest in the early 1900s, though, so anything before 1800 is tough to get. But I still learned a ton.
The O’Driscolls ruled for three hundred years with around ten castles in southern Ireland, near the city of Baltimore, which we visited. I actually got to see one of the remaining castles, which was a moving experience. After three hundred years of rule, a new king whom we fought against overtook our land and made us peasants.
Apparently we were also sea pirates who were fond of seizing ships filled with wine. We also liked to take castles from the Norse and have a lot of children while drinking stolen wine. In 1845–1890, a massive famine hit Ireland. The nation had been 8 million people until 1.25 million died, and 1.5 million fled the country. I went to the ship dock where my great-great grandfather, James, at the age of forty-eight, sailed from Ireland with his sixteen-year-old son. His wife died, probably of typhoid or starvation. The walk to the ship took weeks for James, and the sailing took months and many died on the "coffin ships." They landed at Ellis Island, where the Irish were not welcome. So, likely after dropping the "O" from "O’Driscoll," he moved to Ontario, where he married a nineteen-year-old at the age of fifty-one and had seven kids while dairy farming. She hated that life, so they moved to the U.S. and settled in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He homesteaded his land and built his own home at the age of seventy-one. My dad was born on that farm. I was born there also.
My dad moved to Seattle when I was about a year old so he could get work in construction—something he continued until he broke his back over twenty years later, feeding me and my four siblings while my mom stayed home to tend to us. As many of you know, I met Jesus at the age of nineteen after having been a non-Christian Catholic. Some Catholics are Jesus-loving Christians; I was just not one of them. My dad also met Jesus. Last summer I had the honor of baptizing him in the Jordan River along with my son and his grandson, Calvin Martin Driscoll. He and my mom, Debra, are with us at Mars Hill, which is a great blessing.
My whole family has been saved and is walking with Jesus. It’s pretty surreal to see what God has done in my life, and tracing my ancestors’ journey was been a bit emotionally overwhelming since God’s grace is so obvious in my life. From pirate to pastor is a lot of grace. From County Cork we headed up to Dublin. There we saw the Book of Kells exhibit, learned a lot about the political "troubles," visited a prison and a few large churches, and had a ton of fun—including a pint and some stew at the Guinness Storehouse. We also visited Cashel Rock, which was a magnificent ancient church and monastery built in the lush rolling hills of Ireland and is where Saint Patrick baptized the king of Munster.
Tonight we are in Belfast of Northern Ireland. Tomorrow I am preaching to a few thousand men at The Mandate conference in downtown Belfast. Your prayers would be appreciated. That God would take the great-great grandson of an Irish peasant who was starving to death from a long line of drunkards and wife beaters to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to a few thousand fellow Irishmen is very emotional for me and an overwhelming grace of God in my life. On Sunday I will not be at Mars Hill. Instead, I will be preaching at Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in Belfast. Monday and Tuesday I will be training Christian leaders and yelling at young men like I do the guys at Mars Hill. Then we will return home by God’s grace and I’ll be preaching my final sermon of the year at Mars Hill before taking some time off to write a book and enjoy my high school sweetheart and our five blessings.
So, if you think of us, pray that the gospel goes forth by God’s grace. This is one of the most religious cities in the world. It is filled with ancient churches and nearly everyone says they are a Christian—half claiming Catholic and half claiming Protestant commitment. The nation is torn between the north, which is British, and the south, which is independent. There is a great need for real revival—true, deep, heartfelt, passionate, uncompromising mission to see people meet Jesus and not just be moral and religious. Lastly, I want to thank the elders for granting me the kindness of taking this pilgrimage with my dad. The gospel of Jesus Christ is making more sense and bringing me to tears more often than any other time in my life.
A Nobody Trying to Tell Everybody about Somebody, Pastor Mark O’Driscoll