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Faith and Dalmatians: How I Learned to Believe God

April 15, 2016
Faith and Dalmations: How I Learned to Believe God

It seemed every kid in our neighborhood had a dog. Every kid except me. I asked my parents on several occasions if I might have a dog too. They wisely explained that a pet meant responsibility, and they felt I needed to be at least ten years old before I would be ready for one. I was nine.

In the meantime, my mom encouraged me to research various dog breeds so I would be able to make an informed choice when the time came. It didn’t take me long to decide. I wanted a Dalmatian. Other kids had labs or terriers or common breeds. But I would have something special: a dog I had previously thought was reserved only for firefighters.

Unfortunately, Dalmatian puppies were expensive—a purebred cost around $400 at the time. Mom warned me that $400 was a lot of money, most likely more than our family could pay. This apparent obstacle set the stage for one of the most important lessons I have ever learned: how to ask God for something and then trust his guidance in the answer.

Like all kids, I had a dream. And like most kids, I lacked the resources to make that dream a reality. So I began to pray, petitioning God to give me a Dalmatian. I didn’t have much experience in prayer or a super-Christian faith. I just wanted a dog, and because my parents encouraged it, I decided to ask God.

God loves to answer prayer when people actually expect him to, when they believe he can. And most of all, he loves the faith-filled prayers of children. They have sway with him like none else.

And so it happened, that on a warm summer evening in suburban Fort Worth, God unmistakably inserted himself into my life. His answer to my little prayer did not come as a fuzzy feeling or some vague aligning of circumstances. Instead, it came in the form of a champion-quality adolescent Dalmatian trotting right into my front yard!

God loves to answer prayer when people actually expect him to.

Stray dogs were fairly common in our neighborhood, but a Dalmatian? It was exactly what I had been praying for! My heart raced as I observed this beautiful animal darting from place to place, sniffing out every tree and bush, seemingly oblivious to the stunned nine-year-old boy gawking from the porch.

I quickly recovered from my shock. As it became apparent that no owner was in sight, I caught the dog and brought her inside. Mom slipped an old collar from a former pet around our canine visitor’s neck. The tag on it was current, displaying our home address, phone number, and the name Tina. After releasing the Dalmatian into the backyard, we discussed how to proceed.

We knew from our research what a quality Dalmatian should look like. This dog was perfect. Too perfect, in fact, to be a stray. Dismayed, I listened sadly as Mom explained that the dog must belong to someone and we needed to do our best to get her back home. She was right, of course, and we set about trying to find the owner.

A little while later, I went into the backyard and discovered to my horror that my dream pet had disappeared! We later learned that she was a fence-jumper, and our short, four-foot chain link had been no match for her.

To say that I was heartbroken would be an understatement. I had been so certain that God had given me a Dalmatian. Despite our conclusion that she belonged to someone else, I still held out hope that I might get to keep her. Now she was gone. It was the first time in my short life I felt a keen sense of loss, and I remember vividly how I sobbed in my mom’s arms.

But the story didn’t end there. Could we not pray again? We did pray, but my faith was small. Surely this dog was gone forever, and prayer was merely our dutiful response to a hopeless situation. God, however, was just getting warmed up.

I thanked God for his goodness and faithfulness to a nine-year-old boy.

Only a short time passed before the phone rang. A man on the other end claimed that he had found Tina. Could we come pick her up? I was beside myself. Minutes later, this amazing Dalmatian was back at the Steele home, now confined more carefully to prevent escape.

In the days to come, we ran ads in the local newspaper and hung posters all over our neighborhood. No one ever claimed her. Finally, Dad gave his permission and the dog was mine to keep. I named her Ashlea, and as you might expect, she was the best pet a kid could ever hope for. But to me she was much more than a pet. She was the hand of God reaching deliberately into my life, showing me that he was real, that he was powerful, and that he cared about me.

Years later, while I was home on my first furlough from Ukraine, Ashlea passed away. I buried her myself on the back of my parents’ Texas farm. Through tears, with the shovel in my hands, I thanked God for his goodness and faithfulness to a nine-year-old boy.

Next Steps

Ashlea was a beginning. From there, God continued to mold my life in various ways, introducing greater tests of faith. When I was 12, my mom registered me for a large Christian conference that was held annually in our city. It was a big event, and I felt very privileged to attend at such a young age.

The speaker challenged us to follow God in many practical areas, even when it was hard. He told stories from his own life about learning to walk in faith. I found one example particularly poignant: obtaining and maintaining a clear conscience. I grew in humility as I began patching up relationships with others, admitting when I was wrong, and asking for forgiveness. It was terrifying at times. But God loves contrition. As he led me, I learned to value his approval far more than the approval of people.

Another significant area for me was submission to my parents. As a young adolescent I learned not only to obey my parents out of duty, but to value their authority as a sort of divine guidance. I knew God had placed me under my parents, and I began to realize that as I followed their direction, I was following his. The ability to hear God’s voice in this way became increasingly valuable to me, reinforcing my relationship with him and with my parents. Their wisdom protected me from many a pitfall during my formative years, and their training continues to benefit me and my family to this day.

Meeting Mike

God brought a second major event into my life at the age of 12: my first meeting with Michael Pearl. Mike came to visit our church in Texas and led a Bible study on Romans and Revelation. Everything about it fascinated me. The teaching was excellent, but I was most struck by Mike’s loyalty to the Word of God. I had never heard a preacher who was so confident in believing the Bible word for word, just as it was written. His speech was void of all-too-familiar criticisms such as, “This would be better translated as . . .” or “In the original Greek it actually says . . .” Instead, Mike seemed to hang on every word, every comma. These were God’s words, after all, and they were perfectly preserved for us. We could read them and understand them. We could search for meaning and find it. We could know for ourselves the doctrines of God without having to rely blindly on the private interpretations of others.

This approach to Scripture gave me confidence. Over the next few years, I listened to every Bible study from Mike that I could get my hands on. We had cassette tapes then, and I remember listening to them as I did my chores. I saw that Mike wasn’t trying to conform me into a belief system he had contrived. Instead, with Mike’s guidance, I was learning to follow God, and this thrilled me. I was learning to read God’s Word for myself and stand on its claims with boldness. Mike’s teaching on various passages of Scripture frequently left me thinking, “Why didn’t I see that before? It’s written right here in black and white!”

By the time I was 18, I had become fearless. I knew that I still had much to learn, but I had no doubt in my mind about how to learn it. I needed nothing more than my King James Bible, a good concordance, and time.

Hong Kong

As I progressed through my adolescent years, I gradually recognized that God was orchestrating significant events to lead me down a specific path. It was my job to discern his direction and obey. He would take care of the rest. In fact, this perception became a core part of my prayer life. “Lord, if you will only make your will clear to me, I will obey.”

One life-steering event came when I was 16 in the form of a phone call from Michael Pearl. He was inviting me to take part in a short-term mission project in Hong Kong. Mike’s son, Gabriel, was going and their family wanted someone to accompany him. Would my parents consider allowing me to go?

When I heard this proposition, I was excited, but I had my doubts that it would ever materialize. Our family didn’t travel much at all. Besides, this would cost money, and although Mike’s church had offered to pay for living expenses while I was in Hong Kong, the cost of the airfare would be up to us. Where would we get the money? After some discussion, my mom and dad agreed: if God would provide the funds, they would allow me to go.

I had a part-time job in construction, and I immediately began saving all I could. But there was another problem. It was now December of 1995, and due to squabbling in Congress, the U.S. government had shut down. Among other things, new passports were not being issued. Even if I could earn enough for my plane ticket, how would I get a passport?

I listened to the news on the radio. Reports told of people going to passport agencies and camping out for days, hoping that the government might open in time for them to receive a passport. Again, my situation seemed impossible, and again, God acted.

The government finally decided to open the passport offices for one week. If you showed up in time and got through the lines, you could get a passport. Mom loaded me and the other kids in the car, and we left for Houston. As we approached the city, I prepared myself for a dreadful sight. Based on the radio reports I’d heard, there would be impossible lines, tents everywhere, and a general feeling of chaos.

We timed our arrival so that we would reach the city in the pre-dawn hours, hoping this would help our chances. As we navigated the downtown Houston streets, I fumbled with an atlas trying to guide Mom to the right place. Finally, after asking directions, we found the passport office. Mom dropped me off to get a place in line, and then left to check in to our hotel.

I entered the building and went up several floors to the main entrance of the passport office. It was still closed. This much I had expected. What I did not expect was to find myself alone. There was not a soul in sight. Was I in the right place? Where were the lines we’d heard about? I did not have to wonder long. Minutes later the crowds arrived behind me. Soon a security guard came out and began explaining various protocols. This was indeed the right place, and I was first in line!

Mom managed to find me at the front of the line and we started checking all our paperwork. The security guard had assured us that if anything was missing, we would be passed over for the next applicant, losing our place in line and possibly our chance to obtain a passport.

To my horror, we suddenly realized that we had neglected to fill in my social security number on the application. We didn’t have it anywhere! Only minutes remained until the doors opened! After some discussion, we decided to call Dad in Fort Worth to see if he could find the number. This was before the days of smartphones and wifi, so Mom set off to find a pay phone. It seemed this whole crazy plan of ours was coming apart at the seams.

Yet once again, right on cue, God did what seemed to us impossible. Mom hadn’t gotten far when she was stopped by a man in line. He had overheard our conversation and to our amazement, he produced a cellular telephone! I had barely heard of such devices, let alone used one. In 1995, a cell phone was rare indeed.

Yet once again, right on cue, God did what seemed to us impossible.

Mom dialed home. A few moments later, she was back at the front of the line with the number in hand. Within half an hour, we had completed the application process, and by early afternoon, we were driving toward Fort Worth, passport in hand.

Against all odds, I flew to Hong Kong in January of 1996 and spent six weeks spreading the Gospel with a team of young missionaries. Gabriel Pearl had injured his leg just before the trip, and so I ended up traveling alone. But then, I was not alone. I was more convinced than ever before that God was with me. He was the God who heard and answered my prayers. He was the God who produced Dalmatians out of thin air, who revealed his Word to children, who provided money for mission trips, and who even dispatched his angels in Houston armed with cell phones. This was my God, and I would follow him to the ends of the earth.


Just 18 months after returning from Hong Kong, I discovered my next mission field: Ukraine. I spent five months there in 1997. God ultimately used that trip to lead me to the ministry I have today.

I could tell many more stories of God’s guidance, provision, and faithfulness. Someday, perhaps I will write them all down in a book. For now, let me close by challenging you, young man or young woman, to believe God. This little testimony is not a story about a special boy who achieved great faith. This is a story about a great God who built faith in a little boy. That same God is waiting for you. He is extending his hand to lead you. He is ready to part the Red Sea for you and show you wonders that will defy your imagination. Let him build your faith as you obey his Word. Seek God, believe God, and follow God as he transforms your life into an incredible story that will glorify his name and turn many to salvation.

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
- Hebrews 11:32-34


Joshua has been ministering the Gospel in Ukraine since 2001, and has also served in Mexico, Hong Kong, Thailand and the United States. Prior to her calling as a wife and mother, Kelsie took part in mission trips to Taiwan, Mexico, and Romania. She and Joshua were married on September 18, 2004, after which they returned to Ukraine as a couple.

Joshua and Kelsie are both founding members of Euro Team Outreach (ETO), a ministry dedicated to advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Eastern Europe. One of ETO’s core outreaches is Bible First!

During the summer months, ETO hosts Carpathian Mountain Outreach, an annual short-term project aimed at evangelizing remote mountain villages, expanding the impact of Bible First! in Ukraine, and providing hands-on missions training for young men.

The Steeles currently reside in L’viv, Ukraine. They have four children: Abigail, Rebekah, Hosanna, and Kathryn. Both Joshua and Kelsie speak the Ukrainian language fluently and are actively involved in the lives of the Ukrainian people.

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