Ministry founder suffers amnesia, can't remember Jesus

Aug. 01, 2013 @ 06:34 PM

In the 23 years since he founded His Laboring Few Ministries, Steve Ervin has never labored like this.
“Preacher Steve,” as he’s referred to — the ex-outlaw biker who still looks like an outlaw biker, save for the ever-present silver cross dangling from his neck — struggles daily to understand who God is. He grasps at who this man Jesus is.
“It’s so frustrating for him,” says Ervin’s wife, Carolyn. “He can’t remember Jesus, and he can’t remember God.”
How could such a godly man — an ordained preacher who’s probably read his entire Bible more times than most people have read even an entire chapter — suddenly not know God and Jesus?
It’s because, for nearly four weeks now, Steve Ervin hasn’t even known who Steve Ervin is.
“I’ve even watched some of the DVDs of me (preaching), and I know it’s me because it looks like me,” Steve says softly, “but at the same time, it’s like that person is a total stranger.”
The only visible clue to what happened to Steve is a three-inch scar zigzagging across the 66-year-old preacher’s forehead.
On July 7, during a softball game at a ministry event, Steve was pitching when he was hit by a line drive that struck him almost directly between the eyes.
The violent blow to his forehead knocked him unconscious for several minutes, fracturing his skull, unleashing a headache that still hasn’t gone away, and triggering what medical science refers to as retrograde amnesia. Essentially, that means Steve has lost memory of events that happened prior to his injury.
That includes having no memory of the injury itself.
“I remember it felt like there was some kind of an explosion, and that’s all I remember,” Steve says. “And then I was at the hospital, and people were standing there staring at me, and I didn’t know what they wanted or who they were. It was scary.”
Since then, Steve’s life has been a long stream of total strangers reintroducing themselves and explaining who they are: Carolyn, his wife of 26 years. His five children and eight grandchildren. His ministry partners at His Laboring Few. The former prostitutes and ex-addicts who prayed with Steve for salvation and now call him not only their pastor, but their friend.
“These people say they know me,” Steve says, stroking his long, gray beard, “but I don’t know them.”
He remembers nothing about the ministry he and Carolyn founded in 1990 — what it does, who it serves, why they founded it — nor does he remember anything about who he is.
“He even asked me why he had tattoos,” Carolyn says.
Family and friends have patiently answered Steve’s questions, shown him photos, taken him to familiar places, all in an attempt to open the floodgate of memories locked away in his brain. Their efforts have filled in gaps, but thus far they haven’t triggered any significant memory recovery.
“So everything I know now,” Steve explains, “I’ve learned.”
Snippets of his memory have resurfaced — the date he got saved, the street he grew up on, a computer password, the words to “How Great Thou Art” — but such moments are rare.
Doctors have told Carolyn that Steve’s memory could return with prompting, or even spontaneously, but they make no promises.
In the meantime, the all-volunteer staffers at His Laboring Few have been, well, laboring to compensate for Steve’s loss. Without his constant presence and leadership, it’s been a struggle to maintain the many services the ministry provides.
“We’re doing what Steve’s taught us to do — to take care of the less fortunate, to feed people, to clothe people, to do what the word of God says we’re to do — and we want to see that continue here,” says Robin St. John, the ministry’s office manager.
“But we’re in a hardship, and I feel like the community needs to be reminded of what we do, of how huge this thing is that Steve started in the community. We need financial help, and we need people to pray that Steve gets better, because we need him. He inspires us and he teaches us. He’s shown us how to be the hands and feet of Christ.”
Carolyn nods in agreement.
“This is a God job,” she says. “It’s going to take the Lord doing this, because there’s no surgery. There’s no treatment. There’s nothing they can do.”
Steve listens to the two women — the one who says she’s his wife and the one who says she’s his office manager — and he shakes his head. He understands the ministry needs him, but for now, he’s still trying to figure out who God and Jesus are. Until this week, he didn’t even understand what it meant to pray.
“I know I’m supposed to be here — I can feel it — but I don’t know why,” he says. “That’s the hardest thing, just not knowing who I am and what I’m supposed to do. I just haven’t figured all that out yet, but I’m trying.”
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579

About the ministry

Former outlaw biker Steve Ervin and his wife, Carolyn, founded His Laboring Few Ministries in High Point in 1990. The ministry is now based in Thomasville, where it serves Guilford, Davidson and Randolph counties.
Ministries include hot daily meals for the needy at The Father’s Table in Thomasville; daily meals for the homeless in south High Point; a free, 90-day program for men wanting to get free from drugs and alcohol; a Saturday evening Kids For Christ program for children; a biker ministry; God’s Storehouse, which provides clothing, shoes, furniture and household items to the needy; and twice-a-week church services.
Donations may be sent to His Laboring Few Ministries, 812 Martin Luther King Drive, Thomasville, NC 27239.
For more information, call 475-2455 or visit www.hislaboringfew.com.