Archives

Cover Story

Joshua & Kelsie Steele

Homeschool grads Joshua and Kelsie have devoted themselves to full-time mission work in western Ukraine. Originally from Texas, the couple now lives in L’viv with their three young daughters. There they serve with Euro Team Outreach (ETO) to teach God’s Word to the Ukrainians.

Joshua and Kelsie with their three daughters

What was your homeschool experience like?

JOSHUA: I am the oldest of six children, all schooled at home… I remember well my mom’s description of her goal for us in school. She said, “My primary goal is to teach you to read. If I’ve done that, then I have succeeded in providing for your education.” While that may sound like an oversimplification, it’s meaning is profound. My mom certainly taught us more than reading, but her philosophy of education was that knowledge comes to those who seek it. She knew that if her children could read, they could potentially learn anything.

True education is not served on a platter in the classroom, but rather is unearthed by those who know how to dig for it. I graduated from high school in 1997, but my education continues even today.

A missionary must wear many hats, and I have learned that the ability to do my own research is key to success… In our organization I am responsible for web development, graphic design, writing, translation, and many other things that require specific skill sets. I did not learn how to do those things in school. My parents wisely structured my childhood education to give me and my siblings the one skill that every child needs most in order to be successful academically: the ability to acquire knowledge independently and use it effectively. Thanks to my parents, the world is my classroom.

KELSIE: My parents began homeschooling me in the 6th grade when I was about 12 years old. The change was very difficult for me to accept. I had started my education in a private Christian school but attended public school for 4th and 5th grades. My heart had been hardened by sins I had committed in response to peer pressure, and I was consumed with fitting into the pop-cultural image of what an all-American teen, or pre-teen, should be. I believe God rescued me through my parents’ decision to homeschool. Over the next many years at home, He did an incredible work in my heart.

I am most grateful for the huge emphasis my parents put on the Word of God during my junior high and high school years. It was part of everything we did, and it’s continual influence brought cleansing and growth to my heart.

The next biggest benefit to learning at home was the quality time spent with my parents. They became amazing friends and counselors for me. They also helped provide exciting out-of-the-classroom experiences for me, experiences I never would have had in a traditional public school. Throughout my teen years I traveled extensively in the U.S., meeting other homeschoolers and taking part in ministries. I was now consistently exposed to people who influenced me toward the Lord instead of toward the ways of the world. I also had the chance to visit Romania, Mexico, and Taiwan. These trips opened my eyes to a world outside of my own backyard.

JOSHUA: Briefly describe your history in missions. How did you know God was calling you to the mission field?

When I was 14, Michael Pearl came down to Texas and taught a Bible study at our church. During the week or so that he was with us, he took a group of young people, myself included, to a park and a mall in the area where we passed out Gospel tracts. Despite the fact that I was raised in a Baptist church, I had never before passed out tracts until that day. The experience was life changing for me, and I consider it to be my formal entrance into mission work. As God led me over the next several years, I took whatever opportunities I could to share Christ with others.

When I was 16 I was invited to join a missionary group in Hong Kong, which was engaged in large-scale literature distribution. Up until that point, I had never been outside the United States, but God orchestrated circumstances such that I was able to go. I spent six weeks in Hong Kong serving with a team of young people led by Jessie Beal. Our average tract output per day for one person was around 3,000 tracts. Again, the Lord used this experience to impress upon me the great need for Christ in the world, and also to give me valuable experience in coordinating large-scale outreaches.

Upon my return from Hong Kong, I threw myself into evangelism in earnest. I began a small Bible study at my church with several friends, and on weekends I would take the group to downtown Fort Worth where we would pass out tracts, preach on the street, and witness to people one-on-one.

During these years I also gleaned a lot from the ministry of Ray Comfort. I got several of his videos on evangelism, and on Saturdays I would show the videos to my Bible study group. After watching a particular video, we would then go out on the street and try out what we had learned.

When I was 18, I received a call from Jessie Beal saying that he was planning a new project in Ukraine. He wanted to know if I would like to join him. Again, the Lord gave clear direction and in June of 1997 I flew to Kiev with a team of seven other young people. Over the next five months, we distributed literature, preached open-air, and learned a fair amount of Russian. It was during this trip that the Lord called me to Ukraine. Three years later, in March of 2001, I returned as a full-time missionary to the city of L’viv, located in Western Ukraine.

People often ask me why I chose Ukraine. How did I know God wanted me there and not somewhere else? I really didn’t. I just knew that He wanted me to preach Christ, and when a door opened in Ukraine I stepped through it. That door is still open, and more have opened since.

In Romans 12:2, Paul challenges us to “prove God’s will.” Sometimes, when we step forward, God changes our path, while at other times He blesses the path we’re on, indicating that we are to hold that course. But it’s hard to direct a person who is not moving at all. The command to preach the Gospel is clear, and in that sense, we as believers are all called to missions. I believe that if we will just move forward and preach Christ wherever we find open doors, God will direct and bless as we obey.

KELSIE: How interested in missions were you before you met Joshua? How did meeting him affect your perspective on world missions?

I wasn’t too interested in missions until my late teens. My study of Spanish in junior high inspired me to take some short-term mission trips to Mexico. I loved it so much that I decided to spend my first year out of high school living in Monterrey, Mexico, serving with a Bible-teaching organization. By the time the year was up I was sure I wanted to spend the rest of my life amongst Hispanics.

But God had other plans. After several months pursuing some further studies at home, a 6-month teaching opportunity in Taiwan opened up for me. Through that experience, I realized that God had given me a love for other nationalities and was preparing me to serve Him on the foreign field.

I believe that God led me toward missions in order to prepare me for my role as Joshua’s wife. When God brought Joshua and I together, I came to a new realization: missions was not my calling in life. Strange as it may sound, the more I searched the Scriptures, the clearer it became to me that my highest priority, even over missions, was to be the best possible helpmeet to Joshua in whatever God would lead him to do.

I began to see that in the Bible, God always gave a commission or a calling to the men. Then he gave the woman to the man to help him. Key passages bore out that married women should serve as helpmeets to their husbands, keeping their homes and training their children while involving themselves in good works. (Titus 2:4-5; 1Tim. 2:10, 5:10, 14; Genesis 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:34, 11:3, 9; Ps. 113:9; Eph. 5:24) Personally, although I participated in the ministry in Ukraine, I came to realize that my chief calling was to support and help Joshua, as well as to make a home for our family.

JOSHUA: Describe your approach to sharing the gospel with the people of Ukraine?

Early in our ministry, we began to realize that traditional approaches to evangelism backfire more often than not. Invite someone to church and they run the opposite direction. Offer them a Gospel tract and it ends up in the garbage, unread. Invite them to a home Bible study and you learn that they have an aversion to religious meetings in houses – especially houses belonging to people they don’t know. Bottom line: how can a missionary reach sinners for Jesus if he can’t convince them to listen to his message?

“Faith cometh by hearing…” and despite our best efforts, the Ukrainians were not hearing. In fact, they were not actually rejecting the message of the Gospel per se. They were rejecting what they perceived as an attempt to convert them to a foreign cult. It wasn’t about faith versus works, or Christ versus the world. It was about our church versus their church. Think about that for a moment: if you felt someone was trying to sweep you and your family away from the church you know into a cult funded by people from overseas, how would you react? Would you attend a few meetings and evaluate their teachings objectively? Unlikely.

As we prayed for answers, we decided to try a new approach. Instead of urging the Ukrainians to listen to us (our tracts, our sermons, etc.) we would urge them to read the Scriptures for themselves. Upon learning that we are American, Ukrainians often ask why we’re here. And we came up with a new answer for them, which we still use today: “We are here to encourage you to read the Bible.”

But wait! Aren’t we here to point them to Christ? Of course. But you can’t do that effectively until you first establish a hearing. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17) There is no more effective weapon against a faithless heart than the Bible itself. Reason with a man using human logic, and you make it easy to reject your message. After all, it’s just your message. But involve that same man in studying the Scriptures and you have brought the very Words of Almighty God to bear on his soul in a way that will cut through his unbelief, his false religion, his love of the flesh, and leave him exposed before his Creator. And in that position, the message of salvation through Christ rings much more clearly.

In late 2004, our team began the development of a Bible correspondence course that introduces Ukrainians to the Scriptures and ultimately to Christ through the book of Genesis. During our summer outreaches, we distribute invitations to our course by the tens of thousands throughout Western Ukraine. To enroll, recipients mail in a sign-up form and request our lessons.

Does it work? As of this writing, we have well over 500 Ukrainians in active enrollment, studying the Bible by mail. Not only do they complete our lessons and send them back, but many include personal letters asking questions about the Bible… And now we have a new problem: the number of Ukrainians enrolling in our course continues to grow. It takes the full attention of all seven of our staff to grade the stacks of lessons we receive each week, answer the letters, and write new material to stay ahead of our students.

The development of our course is nearing completion and soon it will be available in English to anyone who would like to use it in ministry. We call it Bible First. If you’d like to learn more, visit our Bible First! web page.

JOSHUA: In general, how open do you think the people of Ukraine are to the gospel?

That’s a difficult question to answer. In my experience, there are many Ukrainians who are quite open to the Gospel once they actually have a chance to hear it. But most are unequivocally closed to many of the methods used by churches and missionaries to present the Gospel. The end result is that, as Ukrainians turn away in disgust from what they perceive to be a cult, the believers shake their heads and say, “It’s so sad how they are rejecting Christ.” Some are indeed rejecting Christ, but many are just rejecting religious structures, which to them are new and strange.

As I have already explained, this is the reason that we stick to promoting the Scriptures alone. Once a Ukrainian realizes that we’re not trying to sign him up for the latest denominational club, he will often let down his guard. If we can convince him to actually read and consider the Scriptures, his heart begins to soften. We have seen several Ukrainians profess Christ as their Savior before they even finish studying the book of Genesis.

So are they open to the Gospel? It’s hard to tell. Over the years, I have been surprised at how few Ukrainians have actually understood the Gospel to the point of being able to accept or reject it. Many missionaries and churches would do well to ask themselves a different question: “Am I communicating the Gospel clearly to these people, or am I overly focused on boosting my church’s membership?” The two are not the same. If the Ukrainians reject Christ, their blood is on their own head. But if they never have the chance to hear about Christ because the message is drowned in the religious trappings of churches squabbling for ecclesiastical dominance, then the fault lies with the Christians.

KELSIE: What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far on the mission field?

Coming to Ukraine was difficult for me. The weather was depressing, the people were hard and downright critical at times, the language was very challenging. Here I was as a brand-new bride, adjusting to marriage, a new country, my role in missions, and before too long, a pregnancy. The situation did not invoke feelings of joy. I began to learn that my part in missions involved obedience whether I felt like it or not. God was asking me to support my husband in his field, and to joyfully accept the adjustments and difficulties associated with that.

God has a way of giving His own rewards in His timing. Now, 6 years later, Ukraine is like home to me. Virtually all of the struggles that I encountered over the first few years have disappeared, and I now have a place of belonging, friends and people that I love, and a clear understanding of how God wants me to serve Him.

JOSHUA: If you could name one aspect that is vital to effective evangelism, what would it be?

Again, that’s a hard question to answer because there are so many aspects of evangelism which are important. One that I find commonly overlooked by both Christians in the US and missionaries overseas is this: take time to learn before you teach. That is, study your target people group and adjust your approach accordingly.

Often, missionaries arrive on the field full of zeal, ready to plant a church by next Tuesday. Of course, they know well the message of Christ that their people need to hear and they are eager to preach it. What they do not know is the people. Not every method the missionary learned in seminary will work well in this new country he’s come to.

When I first arrived in Ukraine, I found a local Ukrainian church and joined it right away. I threw myself into that group whole-heartedly. I played guitar for their services, I hosted youth meetings at my house, and I joined them on every outreach I could get to. In addition, I took private language lessons three times a week. In so doing, I did not learn anything new about the Gospel itself – I knew that well before I ever arrived in Ukraine – but I did learn who Ukrainians are. I learned their cultural preferences, how they think, and what they believe about God.

In those early days I set mastery of the Ukrainian language as my highest priority – even higher than evangelism. I reasoned that if I could learn the language well, I would be free to talk to anyone in Ukraine about Christ at any time for the rest of my life. To me, that was worth the initial sacrifice of time. In contrast, there are many who rush to preach the message first without taking the time to learn their audience. Jesus came from heaven and lived among men for 30 years before beginning His ministry. How much more should we be attentive to the cultural demands of the people we are ministering to so that nothing may stand in the way of the Gospel.

KELSIE: What is your role in the mission field? How do you strive to be a helpmeet to Joshua as he ministers in Ukraine?

Being a helpmeet to Joshua has involved a variety of things over the years we’ve been married, from taking language lessons to passing out tracts on the street. I remember some pretty funny experiences when I first came to Ukraine. One night as Joshua and I were coming home from a date, we passed by a group of dubious-looking street musicians. The next thing I knew we were retracing our steps, talking to them about Jesus, and singing some gospel songs on the street!

On a number of occasions, Joshua would meet some young man on a train or off the street and bring him home. I would have to be ready at a moment’s notice to feed and house them. The smell they left behind was not often agreeable and opening our home without warning wasn’t easy. But those small sacrifices were worth it when Josh would pull out his Bible and open the Word of God to them for the first time!

Now, my role as helpmeet looks much like that of other women in the U.S. I cook meals, keep the house, train the kiddos, and love on my man so that he has the “fuel” he needs for ministry and a haven to come home to. Additionally, I am involved in writing and editing Bible lessons for our Bible correspondence course. I also participate in other team ministry functions like English Club, staff meetings, and church fellowships.

JOSHUA: What advice would you give young people who feel called to the mission field?

Just before I left for Ukraine in 2001, I was working as a contractor at an insurance company, trying to earn some money to take with me to the field. As far as I know, all my coworkers were unsaved, but all of them knew that I was a believer and that I was on my way to the mission field.

One day, a lady in our group came up to me and said, “I’ve wanted to be a missionary for a long time. Can you tell me how to become a missionary?” In the conversation that followed, I realized two things about this woman. First, she was most definitely not a believer, and second, her definition of a missionary had nothing to do with that found in Scripture. Far from desiring to tell others about salvation in Jesus Christ, her goal was to build hospitals in Africa and the like. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with building hospitals, that is humanitarian aid, not missions.

Sadly, a similar level of confusion exists today in many churches. The mission field is not a magical, far-away place where we go from hut to hut doing good deeds. The mission field is the whole world. It’s your backyard, your school, your workplace, even your church. Anywhere that sinners are. And if you don’t yet know the Lord, then the mission field is you.

Thus I would offer two pieces of advice to anyone interested in missions. First, be sure that you yourself are saved. Yes, perhaps you went through a conversion experience of some type, but do you know Christ? Have you been cleansed by His blood and translated into the kingdom of God? Are you trusting fully in the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross or are you clinging to a childhood prayer, a raised hand, an emotional experience? Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”

Secondly, if you are born again, resting in the Savior, then proclaim the Gospel right now wherever you are. Evangelism is not something that begins to occur once you arrive in a foreign country. Be faithful and preach Christ now, in your hometown. There are many simple ways to do this. For starters, order a box of Gospel tracts and hand them out. Find out what evangelistic programs are available through your church and get involved. If you are faithful to obey the Great Commission in small ways as you are able, God will lead you to greater things in the future. If you are a young man, be sure to check out our summer project: Carpathian Mountain Outreach.

Ironically, there is rarely any time that a missionary is less effective for Christ than when he first arrives on a foreign field. Far from being able to expound the Gospel, he struggles just to find a place to live and devotes his time to learning simple phrases like “Where’s the bathroom?” in the local language. But you don’t have that problem yet. At home in your native country, you speak the language perfectly. You know the culture. You fit in. Use that advantage for God’s glory. If you’re a believer, the mission field is not a place you’re trying to get to; it’s where you are right now. Be faithful at home, and God will lead you to the people, cities, and countries He has called you to reach. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)

Check out the Steele Family’s blog!

Joshua’s Recommended Resources:

Audio message: “Am I Saved?” by Michael Pearl, free download.
Audio message: “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” by Ray Comfort, free download.
Living Waters
Chick Publications

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Need a Gravatar image? Get one at Gravatar.com