Be careful what you pray for. Sometimes our bold prayers have a way of being answered in literal ways. What begins as generic prayer for gospel witness or open doors can suddenly turn into real-life names and faces of those the Lord brings across our path. Living in a spiritual comfort zone is no longer an option. Personal sacrifice is required when bold prayers are prayed.
Such was the case in 2022 when God birthed a new life verse in me. Previously, my life had been guided by the hopefulness of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” and later by the purposefulness of Psalm 100:2, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.”
After many years with these scriptures as my personal and ministerial companions, I knew it was time for a change. I prayed that God would lead me to a new text—one to light a fresh fire of passion for the next stage of service for him. God graciously answered this prayer by directing me to Hebrews 13:15–16, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Personal sacrifice is required when bold prayers are prayed.
As a worship pastor for twenty-five years, it has been my joy to bring artistic glory to the Lord, and to help others do the same. My vocation aligns beautifully with bringing Jesus a “sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15). However, verse sixteen came to me as a thunderclap—jolting me from my task-oriented musicianship and into God’s second accepted sacrifice—one of doing good and sharing with others. This is the people-oriented ministry I long for and am being newly called into.
As 2022 began I started to pray that God would cause Hebrews 13:16 to come alive in my Christian experience. I prayed that I would grow in my love for people and that our home would be a place of sharing with others. The Lord prepared the groundwork in two ways. First, our daughter was married in the spring and moved out. Second, one of our sons spent the summer working in a Christian camp and the other headed off to college in the fall. Our home had room to spare. My wife and I remarked and prayed about our desire to use the space for kingdom purpose.
An Opportunity Appeared
Around this time, Ukrainian refugees started to flood into Canada seeking asylum from the war. A church-friend named Lucy developed a ministry of welcoming and assisting dozens of Ukrainian families as they arrived in Hamilton. Lucy’s primary goal was to find host homes, but more than that—Christian host homes. My wife and I offered our home for a Ukrainian family.
I will never forget the Zoom chat where Lucy introduced us to a family of four who were currently quarantining in a Toronto hotel room having just deplaned in Canada. Within the span of fifteen minutes of meeting Oleksii and Oksana Sham and their two boys Yelysei and Iieriemii, we committed to host them in our home for one to three months. The prayer of “sharing with others” (Heb 13:16) was coming to pass in our family.
A Traumatic Journey
On June 1, 2022, the Sham family arrived at our front door, carrying a few simple duffel bags. After two weeks under house arrest in one hotel room, the two boys barely said hello as they burst past us and raced around to discover their “new home.”
The Shams, from war hot-spot Kherson, lived through bombs falling and decided to leave everything behind. They said goodbye to family, friends, jobs, house, and most of their possessions. They escaped to Poland where they waited for weeks for Canadian Visas to be processed. They could not fly from Poland to Canada but were able to catch flights to Pearson from Vienna, Austria. The Sham family spent a miserable two weeks quarantining in one hotel room with two rambunctious boys. Weeks into their stay with us, the four-year-old asked his mom “When do we need to go to the basement again?”
Read between the lines of this statement to realize the trauma this little guy had endured. This family had suffered.
Oleksii and Oksana and their boys were like the “foreigners” referenced in the Old Testament. A family without a home. The Bible is clear regarding the Christian’s responsibility in this case. Moses wrote, “you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut 10:19). God spoke judgment against his ancient people, “I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against . . . [those] who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me” (Mal 3:5).
The Apostle Paul carried this wording into the spiritual realm by reminding believers that we were all foreigners before God’s grace called us into his family; “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph 2:19). What should a Christian’s response be to foreigner suffering?
A new beginning
The biblical concepts of “doing good” and “sharing with others” became very real and practical for us. Our Ukrainians arrived with none of the things they needed to successfully integrate into Canadian culture. We helped them apply for drivers’ licenses, health cards, social insurance numbers, bank accounts, and credit cards. We assisted in finding employment, housing, and getting the boys registered for school. Simple things like shopping for groceries or getting a haircut can be overwhelming for those with limited English.
We walked with our new friends through all the above processes, and so many more—ESL coaching, trips to Hamilton parks, journeying to Niagara Falls, Canadian Thanksgiving and Christmas, birthday parties, working around the house, cooking and eating together, and even sailing on Lake Ontario. These days were filled with laughter, tears, noise, and new discoveries—heart-warming yet sometimes hard. We purposed to love God and our fellow man. Matthew records a parable of Jesus:
The King will say to those on his right, . . . I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matt 25:34-40).
Our prayer from Hebrews 13 was answered in a challenging way. The original one-to-three months stretched into four as we waited for Oleksii to secure a good job and then be able to afford and find a suitable rental house. Both of our families had to adjust, grow in patience, and continually learn to “do good” and to “share.”
A Faith Explored
With unhappy roots in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition, it was hard to know how Oleksii and Oksana would respond to life engrossed in Baptist culture. Praise God, they chose to attend church with us from the start, witnessing their first ever evangelical worship service, baptism, communion, kids’ Sunday School class and kids’ camp. They watched as people prayed to receive Chris, as people shared their testimony, as babies were dedicated. They attended the Alpha Course. They witnessed Christian community in small and big ways—especially as many church members contributed furniture, food, and housewares to help set up their new home. Many spiritual conversations ensued as we have tried to live out and explain the gospel. The Shams have developed friendships in the church as they continue their journey toward biblical faith.
Oleksii commented to me about the experience: “We recognize that our Canadian way was not easy, as well as yours with our family. It is for sure hand of God was in it.”*
What a joy to see Acts 1:8 and Hebrews 13:16 in action in our home. Last year was challenging, but exhilarating. Would I pray this bold prayer again? I still do.
*English is not Oleksii’s first-language. We have preserved his original words without attempting to correct his grammar.