I was walking through a major department store this week, when a man walked in front of me and for a split second, I thought it was my father! Some of you may not know, but my father passed away a few years back, so to say the least I was thrown for a bit of a loop! I found myself immediately reminiscing and even wishing that my dad was here. I miss having those conversations about ministry, I wish he was here to see some of the work that I did in our house, although he would hated the fact that I painted the oak, as he was a painter by trade! I wish Dad was here to see how his grandsons have grown and matured, as he would be so proud. I wish Dad was here to see how Soul Sanctuary is developing and how the building project was developing... and the list goes on.
Tonight as I was doing some research, I stumbled across a life lesson that he shared at Soul Sanctuary a few years before his death. It is rich, beautiful and I sensed that I needed to share my dad's story.... read and may it speak to you as it did me.... again....
The Story of William Michalski
Psalm 71:17-18 NKJV
17 O God, You have taught me from my youth; And to this day I declare Your wondrous works. 18 Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.
As I share my story this morning, whether you are a teenager or an adult, I trust your situations will be mirrored in my experiences and you will see God’s faithfulness.
My story begins with my mother’s generation in the town of Stepan, in the Ukraine where she was born and raised. She was raised Ukrainian Orthodox, but as a teenager experienced Jesus Christ in a personal way. She had to sneak out of the house after her chores were completed in order to attend services at a local church. My grandmother was illiterate and believed everything that the priest would say. He told my grandmother that my mother was possessed and should have the devil beaten out of her. So, my mom came home one night and my grandmother took a rope and began to beat her mercilessly until the neighbors told my aunt who eventually came to rescue my mom from the beating.
My dad came to town from Poland looking for employment and when he saw my mom he told his brother that he would like to marry her. Eventually, after they asked my grandmother for permission and they were married and lived in town and eventually my brother Fritz was born.
In 1929, my parents together with my widowed grandmother and two of her children immigrated to Canada. I was born in Winnipeg on January 13, 1930. I was told that it was on my first birthday that I took my first few steps. My aunt stretched out her arms as I waddled toward her sitting at the kitchen table. When I reached the table my hand touched a cup and saucer of scalding hot tea. The tea poured out on the left side of my face and chest and arm. I was hospitalized for about six months and have scares on my upper arm to this day.
My parents had a few dollars saved from the sale of their possessions in the Ukraine and were talked into buying a restaurant on Selkirk Ave. This was during the time of the Great Depression and most of the men were out of work. Those who did come in would ask for a cup of hot water and when no one was looking they would pour as much ketchup as they could into, eat it and leave. It wasn’t too long before my parents went bankrupt and closed the doors.
Since jobs were scarce my dad signed up to work in a camp, cutting cord wood that was used to heat our houses. Before leaving, my parents rented 2 rooms in a house on Burrows Ave. While my dad was away, we ran out of food and money. My mom went to the corner store and asked the grocer to give her a loaf of bread on credit and would him back when my father returned. He refused and said “no money, no bread.” My mom came home in tears and prayed for God’s help to feed her two boys.
There was then a knock on the door. My brother and I were running from room to room crying “mommy give me something to eat” and at the door where 3 women who came to inquire about my mom’s situation. One of the women told my mom in a stern voice to feed us to which my mom replied “I have no food in the house.” Later that day there was another knock on the door and when my mom answered it, there was no one there but rather just a box of food.
Every Sunday my mom scoured the North End looking for an evangelical church that conducted services in the Ukrainian language and she finally came across a group of Christians meeting a store front on Dufferin Ave. We began to attend church every Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday night.
Now, I can’t remember how old I was but during one of the services I was fooling around with another kid in the front row…all of a sudden I felt my ear being twisted by a man behind me who later became the pastor of the church and with whom I eventually share the pulpit with.
I was about 8 or 9 when my parents invited a guest over for tea following the evening service. I remember that while the adults were talking in the kitchen I pulled my mother’s cedar chest into the middle of the living room and opened her Ukrainian Bible and my father’s Polish bible and then made my 2 sisters sit down in front of me. My sister Olga, would run her fingers up and down the cedar chest as if playing the piano and then we would all sing hymns followed by a sermon which I would preach. I have been told that I would repeat sentences from the pastor’s sermon that day. (Ironically, when I became pastor my sister Olga became my pianist)
This event inspired my dad to make four play chairs and a table and paint them red for our future play church services. Interesting enough those red chairs have been a constant reminder to me of my calling into the ministry.
As kids we would amuse ourselves with games such as hide and go seek, Relevo, Tippy, kick the can around the corner, Allies and blow for cards and of course the now politically incorrect cowboys and Indians.
Entering into my teens we lived a block away from the Pritchard pool. For 5 cents you could go swimming and this is where I learnt to swim. Whenever I would venture to the Deep End, my brother or one of his friends would push me in and would laugh while I struggled to reach the edge of the pool. Eventually swimming and the theatre had become my major past time. I was on my way home from an afternoon matinee when all of a sudden my thoughts were interrupted with a trumpet blast. I knew what the bible taught in Corinthians and I looked up into the sky and saw the clouds parting then another blast as I kept walking and watching the clouds continue to part. When I heard the trumpet blast again, my head turned to notice a boy on the back steps of his house practicing. I ran home and prayed and thanked God it wasn’t the rapture because I was not a committed Christian.
As a teen I began to notice the destruction that alcohol was having in our home. My dad submitted to Christian formalities in the Ukraine so the he could marry my mom, but after arriving in Canada he succumbed to gambling and alcohol which caused the family many hardships.
I remember 2 occasions which greatly influenced my life. One day my mom was sitting on the veranda when my dad came home. I heard my mom screaming so I ran outside to see my dad pulling my mother by the hair and dragging her towards the door. Another incident that occurred was when my dad and 3 of his drinking buddies arrived at the house. Mom stood in the doorway allowing dad to enter, then quickly shut the door and told his friends to get lost. Dad was enraged and began to verbally abuse my mom and then went to the basement. Mom asked me to sit on the stairs and keep an eye on him. I watched as he picked up a rope and was looking for a joice that he could string it from. At this point I ran and called my mom who diffused the issue.
Having outlined the negative character of my dad, I must also include that there was a good side to him as well. My apprenticeship to painting came in an unexpected way when I was 12. My dad became a painting contractor and it was his custom when finishing a job to celebrate with the home owners over a bottle of wine which then precipitated a week or two of binging. On one occasion the house that he was painting was 2 blocks away, so mom sent me to “baby sit” since he was nearing completion. While I waited, I watched him paint with a 4 inch brush, I noticed he left a one inch brush on the windowsill. So to pass time I took the brush and began to paint the windowsill. My dad noticed me struggling to squeeze out the paint form the now empty brush, came and gave me a can of paint and told me to paint the baseboards too. I felt he accepted me as a partner and he was willing help me.
While in my teens my dad began to attend church services. One of the elders quoted 1 Corinthians 5:11 to my mom.
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
Dad’s response was “whenever I try to make a comeback someone puts me down.” Eventually my dad rededicated himself to the Lord which lasted about 3 years. My mom told us later it was “heaven on earth” for those three years.
In my later teen years church attendance was on the wane and swimming at Sherbrook Pool became my priority. I had two close friends from school and we spent every moment together. I was active at school in P.T. and ran track and became good in calisthenics and tumbling. But swimming was my sport of choice and I practiced until I received the Bronze Medal and The Award of Merit in Life Saving.
Back to church….
After a night out with the boys, my sisters would come home and tell me of the wonderful experience they had in church from the message and prayer times. My desire was awakened and I thought I should check these meetings out. The services were being held in the afternoon at Western Bible College in the Ukrainian language. To satisfy my spiritual hunger I began to attend Calvary Temple Sunday mornings and evenings and in the afternoon I went to the Ukrainian services. In the fall of 1950 I could no longer resist the Holy Spirit and surrendered my life to Christ and came forward to the altar from the top of the balcony. In December I was baptized in water at Calvary Temple.
Singing hymns was one of the way I expressed my joy., the forgiveness and peace of mind. I had no ear for music but I would sing at the top of my monotone voice to be heard as the soloist in our small Ukrainian congregation. Years later after I would return from bible school the pastor told me that on many occasions he wanted to come down from the platform and tell me to “shut up” but feared that he would drive away a new Christian.
Now as a young man, I was not too comfortable in the company of girls, although I had my eyes on them. At the close of an evening service at Calvary Temple my sister and her friend whom I had been eyeing were standing at the top of the stairs by the door. Even though I was shy and bashful I mustered up enough courage to go over to them and asked this beautiful blond if she would go out with me for coffee. The girls were already waiting for their dates to show up, but Liz said OK and thus began our romance that eventually brought us to the altar.
I remember when I bought the engagement ring. Liz’s parents invited me and my parents for dinner. After a delicious meal all of us retired to the living room. There in the presence of our parents I proposed and asked for her hand in marriage. In the weeks that followed, I think it was Liz who brought up the subject of setting a wedding date. In my boyish thinking I wasn’t in any hurry to accept responsibility, moving out of the house and establish my own home. When my sister Olga became engaged, the pressure was on and a double wedding was set for May 26, 1951.
On our wedding day the church was filled with friends, family and spectators. Just before the marriage ceremony was to begin, I realized that I left the marriage license at home. I raced back while people waited. It is interesting to remember how the English speaking guests loved all the delicacies that Ukrainians are noted for. During this time, many commented on how guests bring gifts for which they are fed, and then asked to empty their pockets for the presentation. This was a Ukrainian tradition but new to our English speaking guests.
After our honeymoon we moved in with my in laws. My assets, was the new suit that I bought on credit at Eaton’s while my wife possessed a bed and vanity that she was given when she was a young girl. Now reality kicked in…Both Liz and I had to look for employment. When we saved a few dollars we rented 2 rooms on a second floor and some of our furniture was supplied by relatives and we were able to buy a washing machine and stove.
I was working part time at Eaton’s and painting with my dad. On June 13/52 our first son was born and Liz became a stay at home mom. For the summer I got a job with the Red Cross teaching swimming in Southern Manitoba.
During this time I had an internal struggle about entering ministry. I shared my struggle with Liz and was pleasantly surprised she was with me. We talked about going to Bible School but realized that our finances would not cover my tuition. Then we were told of a new Bible College that was operating on a faith basis, and we had a whole lot of faith!!!! No cash, tonnes of faith.
We had $400 to our name and we both felt that we should go to college and so we asked God to help us get through the winter on $400. Our first year went quickly and besides being in class we had to help with duties like dishes and bringing in firewood and hunting and fishing to provide for the school. Liz also help cook for some 25-30 students and staff. When school was over, so was the $400. God was faithful.
After the following summer we only had $200 in savings. We again prayed that God would help this amount last through the coming school year. It did! One of my teachers asked me to accompany him in evangelistic work among the Ukrainian churches in the Eastern US. While I was struggling with the issue of ministry and my family needs, the pastor said to me…”there are young people here in Winnipeg who need you too.” Again by the fall I had saved about $100. This time Liz was expecting our second child. The school president phoned me and encouraged us to come to school and trust God to supply our needs. We prayed and decided to finish my 3rd year.
On Feb 13/55 Liz gave birth to a little girl that the doctor called a ‘Blue Baby.’ I was called away from class and told to go to the hospital. The doctor informed me that she had a hole in her heart and if she survives until the evening that then they would rush her to Winnipeg. She passed away at just before 2 a.m. on Valentines Day. We named her Pearl Hope.
A funeral was planned but Liz was not able to attend since she was hospitalized. When I went to pay for the casket and expenses for the funeral, the director told me that it was all paid for by an unnamed person. To this day we do not know who the benefactor is.
I graduated in the spring and we returned to Winnipeg with $100 still in the bank having paid my share of tuition, God again answered our prayer. We moved into my in laws house and they looked after our son and Liz went to work. I had a harder time finding a job and eventually was able to get hired as a life guard at Sherbrook Pool. However I soon realized that the schedule that I was handed posed a problem as it interfered with my involvement in the church. I thought God had given me this job but for 2 days I struggled with what I should do. My wife helped to convince me that I should resign and look for a job somewhere else. So I did. I went back to the employment office at the City and told them my reason for quitting and asked if they had anything else, and they said that there was nothing available ( I thought they were telling me ‘you had your chance.’). I went home and phoned the City later in the afternoon and asked if there was anything available and sure enough I was told to come in for an interview the next day. Sure enough I got the job and it was better hours and better pay than the life guard job, and it was with the Water Department.
We attended our Ukrainian Services where I took an active part by teaching Sunday School, leading congregational singing and preaching. We had a good size group with talented young people whom traveled to hold services in various towns in Manitoba.
By 1956 we finally were able to buy our first house and on December 13th we welcomed Bruce into our family. By 1962 when the pastor of our church left for California I was chosen to be the pastor. Since the congregation could not afford to pay for the position I continued to work for the City for my bread and butter.
About half way through my tenures as pastor I realized that my sons were not getting a spiritual education since all of our services were in Ukrainian. I then began to summarize my sermons in English for the benefit of our young people. Over time I would reverse the language procedure. On one occasion I preached in the Ukrainian language and I noticed a new comer in the pew who left in a hurry after the service. An elderly lady who was a staunch supporter of using the Ukrainian language approached me and admonished me for NOT using more English. From then on, English was the main language used until I retired. I served in that church for 27 years.
I believe just as the church of today is struggling with the change in culture such as music styles and dress, I struggled with the language issue. Because we were known as a Ukrainian church we were unable to make inroads into the community. We prayed and canvassed (door to door), delivered food hampers at Christmas, but was unable to see church growth. Then in one year, 4 families from the congregation relocated to BC and that hurt our numbers.
I had attended a number of seminars specifically on “Church growth” I heard all the lectures say “If your church isn’t growing it time to get out!” I became despondent instead of inspired or enthused.
Our congregation was supporting missionaries in South America and I was receiving letters and pictures from them of their results and efforts. One day I became so overwhelmed with the church there and here I took those letters in my hand and retired to the basement and I began to pray. I asked GOD why there and not here?
When I finished my complaining prayer God said to me “there are four newcomers and converts in your congregation. Bloom where you are planted.” I never complained to God again.
It was the environment of the Ukrainian language and culture that our 3 boys grew up in. We involved them in the services by having them play in the orchestra which at one point had 17 young people.
It was a joy to see Ron make his decision for Christ then go off to Bible School. Then it was Bruce and finally Gerry. Each boy has a story to be told about Bible School. They were very different and taught us something.
RON taught us never to underestimate a young person’s lofty goals which seem to be beyond their reach.
He married (I was in the hospital at the time), had a family, quit his job and went to university to get a degree and he succeeded.
BRUCE taught us patience, to keep trusting in God’s promises and never to stop loving him.
GERRY taught us to make ourselves available when he needed us and to remind us how daring young people can be, When he went to college in Saskatoon his weekend trips home in the middle of winter in a vehicle which was unpredictable of reaching Winnipeg kept us praying.
So I pastored full time and I worked full time at the City. It was there that I was able to rise up from a meter reader to being Supervisor of Customer Services in the city. My coworkers knew what I believed and respected me for it. Whenever one would use the name of Jesus in vain while in my presence, they would look at me and apologize. I had the opportunity to officiate at a coworkers weddings and at a funerals when some of them passed away. And then there was a special function with the premier and other dignitaries present, guess who they asked to pray before the food was served?
In the summer of 1990 I had the opportunity to go to the former Soviet Union with Pastor Barber from Calvary Temple and function as his interpreter. We went to the Ukraine and was preaching in community halls, plazas, theatres, churches, prisons, hospitals. The following year I went with Gerry and Pastor Jim Barber. Again experiencing the mighty power of GOD as many responded by coming forward for salvation and to also receive bibles that we were giving away. I also went back in 93,, 95 and 97.
In December of 04 a health symptom caused me to seek the doctor’s advice. He sensed I had a serious problem and scheduled x-rays which showed a 5 cm shadow in the bladder. I was referred to a urologist who examined the x-rays and suggested a cystoscopy operation as soon as possible. This operation was performed on Jan 3rd/05 and the removed tissue sent to the lab. Later the doctor informed us that the lab results indicated a 2-3 grade of cancer. To ensure that the cancer doesn’t spread to other parts of the body, he suggested drastic surgery to remove the bladder.
This news overwhelmed us and when we arrived home, we phone our son Gerry and asked if he could come and pray for me and anoint me with oil. Later in the week I went to Calvary Temple and asked the staff there to keep me and my wife in prayer. Eventually we had our friends from all over Canada praying for us.
In the months that followed we inquired if there were any support groups that would share their experiences having undergone such an operation. We found none. One day in morning devotions I read Psalm 34:6.
6 This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
Verse 19 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
I also read Psalm 30 and was at peace, trusting God for direction. At our next meeting with the urologist and knowing that prayer was being made to God on my behalf, we requested a 2 cystoscopy which was performed on Mar 21st /05. On Friday April 22nd / 05 we were back in the doctors office to be briefed on the latest lab report.
He commenced the interview with a question. What were our expectations having undergone this 2nd surgery? Without hesitation my wife replied…”we have a lot of people praying and we believe in GOD and miracles.” There was a moment of silence while to doctor kept his eyes fixed on the lab report lying on his desk. He then said “the bladder is cancer free.”
On our way home we could not contain our quiet demeanor, but shouted praises to God. As soon as we arrived home we were phoning friends and family the good news...”GOD HEALS!”
That same afternoon I remember a commitment I made to visit a young lady with a serious health condition in the Victoria Hospital. There was another person in the room with her and after a few minutes I shared my testimony of God’s healing power. They were encouraged and mentioned scriptures they read in devotions. We joined hands and prayed for God’s help and healing and peace for the whole family. As I exited the room they expressed gratitude for a timely visit and testimony.
I thank you all in Soul Sanctuary for your prayer and now rejoice and praise Him from whom all blessings flow.
If you ask me why I am attending Soul Sanctuary I am sharing Gerry’s passion for people to embark on a spiritual journey with Jesus. If you ask what is my impression of the gatherings I would say “the music is new and too loud.” The visual is distracting, the pulpit is missing, the ambiance is too dark, and there is always some art deco that makes a point of discussion after the gathering. What do I like about Soul Sanctuary the hand shakes, the hugs and the atmosphere here of love and concern, the teaching. I have been to many seminars and heard many preachers but I confess that I have learnt much under Gerry’s ministry and hope you have too.
I thought pastor Gerry’s sermon time always too long, until my story was edited.
I would like to leave with you this morning s few thoughts.
Number 1 God is Faithful!
Number 2 is found in Acts 26:
Paul is before King Agripa and asks:
27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
29 And Paul said, AND I MAKE IT MY OWN
“I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”