Pastor Steve’s Testimony
(from Harvest, a book by Chuck Smith, with updated current information)
From hanging out with the bikers from Killer Canyon to the valley of peace
One bleak day a hoodlum from Anaheim showed up at one of our Christian commune houses dressed in bib overalls and leathers, with a nine millimeter Baretta tucked in his back pocket. He had not bathed in three months and had literally slept in gutters while living as a fugitive from the law. He had not brushed his teeth in months and, with his neo-barbarian hairstyle, he was a sight to behold. His name was Steve Mays and he was alienated from everybody—from his parents, who had tossed him out of their house years before, to the tough group of outlaw bikers he had been living with. He had been wanted by the authorities for what they believed to be attempted murder and draft dodging. There was also a contract out on his life.
Steve's path to destruction seemed clearly written on the wall from the time he was a child. He had been so uncontrollable that his parents resorted to calling the police when things got out of hand. This was happening almost constantly by the time they threw him out of the house. After a long string of bizarre events, Steve's crowning act took place one evening when he was home alone. When his parents returned, they had to shove open the front door; it had been wedged shut with towels. They discovered that their house had been made into a gigantic indoor bathtub. Water came gushing out the front door. Their son was sitting in the middle of the living room completely oblivious to the damage being done to his parents' house. He was smoking a pencil and tried to tell them about a TV show he was watching. The TV was off. He had been stoned for twenty-seven hours on yet another chemical. This time he had swallowed too much Asthmadore. He had experimented with more concoctions than you can imagine. By the time the police arrived, his parents had gotten Steve to his room. Before his eyes his window hinges turned into toads and were apparently telling him jokes, making him laugh. When the police found out that Stephen was a member of the local high school football team, they lectured him but did not arrest him.
By noon the next day, Steve's father returned home early to have a look at his less-than-model son. This time Steve was in the kitchen fixing two place settings of milk and sandwiches. When asked who the other sandwich was for, Steve motioned to the clock on the wall and said it was for "Brad" who lived in the clock. Not long after this episode Steve, stoned as ever (this time on LSD, hashish, and other drugs) terrorized his parents with a machete. His mother looked on in horror as Steve grimaced and paced around swinging the blade. Once he fell asleep, his bewildered parents took away the machete. To say the least, there was a considerable generation gap in the Mays' home. His father was a lab technician, a former military man and patriot. His 60's generation son had become impossible. In truth, the two had ceased communicating years before.
Looking back, Steve pinpoints one day in jr. high school when his life took a turn toward destruction. He came home from school a changed person. Everybody noticed the change, though they didn't know what had caused it. On that day, a respected authority figure, one of his teachers, had sexually molested him. It was such a terrible encounter that Steve blocked it completely from memory for years. His behavior went awry from then on. In little time, while still in seventh grade, he was smoking pot and stealing. His grades went from straight A's to D's and F's as his motivation went out the window. Life became one big game of hooky, pot, pills, speed, and beach parties. Steve was on a twisted path to destruction.
By the time Steve was in high school, his stealing had become a serious problem. He was booked four times in one week. Then by the time of the machete episode, Steve quit the high school football team (his drug antics had been getting more and more inappropriate on the football field) and became the school drug dealer. Steve and his former teammates would smoke entire "lids" in a single joint. They could get any drug they wanted and tried them all. On one weekend mountain retreat, Steve had planned to go but for some reason couldn't—some of the football players got so high on barbiturates that they overdosed. Accidentally, their mountain cabin caught fire, but they were unconscious, too "out of it" to move. As a result, all of them were killed, and the tragedy shook the entire high school. About this time Steve totally turned against his parents. He despised them. His hostile mood changes were further affected by changes in his body chemistry from taking "uppers" such as speed, Dexedrine, and Methamphetamine. These uppers were now keeping Steve awake three and four days straight. He was becoming increasingly paranoid because of the lack of sleep. To top it off, Steve had to find a way of releasing the fierce energy bursts that would come upon him. He would stay up all night whacking away with hammers and tools on his newest project—overhauling his sports car. When his dad came home from work he would find his son in the driveway, banging away on the car at all hours of the night. Steve was dropping out of the world fast.
His rage caused him to be in fights at school constantly. He hit one fellow thirty-one times in the face. He cut off another guy's finger. By the time his orders to appear before the draft board came, Steve defiantly burned his draft card and went on the road. As far as Steve's parents were concerned, the only place left for him to go was out the front door. They had an incorrigible rebel on their hands who was beyond hope.
A HEARTBEAT FROM HELL
Steve's new place of residence was in a section of Orange County known as Garden Grove, in the hangout of a motorcycle gang. Steve was able to stay as long as he applied his mechanical talents to motorcycle body work. But he soon found out that his fellow tenants were fierce masters. If his parents had been unloving or alienating at times, these new housemates were positively demonic. Steve discovered a terror that he never would have dreamed existed back on the old homestead. He found himself trapped in a spiritual environment that most people don't know about, or would never want to know about.
The motorcycle gang members were in their mid-thirties, twice Steve's age. They also carried guns and were heavily involved in crime and drug-dealing. As bad as Steve was, he was innocent compared to them. Another thing that set Steve apart was his choice of drug. This might seem like a minor point, but it made all the difference in their social world. They were into reds or "downers," while Steve was maniacally on "uppers." His frenetic binges got on the nerves of a few of them. One of them especially had it in for Steve and he began scaring him more and more with his guns. It seemed that the increasingly violent and terrifying incidents were rapidly becoming nothing more than a sadistic game.
I will let Steve Mays recount this era, as he has done often when giving his testimony: "One night a motorcycle was tipped over. They woke up and said I did it. I would stay up all through the night and separate bolts and nuts and put them in absolute order. Then I would dump them all out on the floor and work through this same ritual again. That was how stoned I was. I would take twenty Dexies and crush them, I would add an Exedrin, a vitamin, and put it all in a horse pill and swallow it with coffee. I would get so wired my mind would just fry.
So they woke me up early one morning after my binge was over. They said that I had rolled the bike over. I told them I didn't touch it. The guy who had it in for me reached for something. Then I saw the blue barrels of a twelve-gauge double barreled shotgun. He told me to open my mouth while the others held me and helped shove it in my mouth. Then I said,'That isn't loaded, is it?' They pulled it out, pointed at the pillow next to my ear, and pulled the trigger. It blew pillow feathers all over the place. Then they stuck the shotgun back in my mouth and smoke began to come out. I thought I was going to die. My paranoia really began to grow from then on. That's when another guy living there gave me his gun to protect myself. It was then that I started carrying a gun. I would have to stay awake all night to make sure that I wouldn't die, living in the same house with a guy who wanted to kill me.
Soon after that I was out in the backyard working on my motorcycle. He came out in the yard with a thirty-eight pistol. I was sitting on a gasoline can as a chair, while I worked on the cycle. He shot three rounds into the bottom of the can. He missed me, and it was just by a miracle that the gas can did not blow up with me on it.
Still, Steve did not leave the house. He learned the lifestyle of his older mentors and became freewheeling with his new pistol. As the house began to sell more and more dope, Steve began to deal more. A girl who came by to get dope wanted to buy it from another guy and not Steve. This infuriated him, so when she walked away, he started firing his gun at her. But he was too stoned to hit her. The bullets flew over her head. Then the rage mounted. He now wanted to kill something, anything. The target became a cat. “I shot this alley cat with a thirty-eight. It just smiled at me after I shot it. Then I took a pitchfork and ran that through the head. It still continued smiling at me. Then I took a sledgehammer to it. And it still smiled. Finally I took my thirty-eight, put it to the cat's head, and blew what remained away. It rolled into a ditch and still smiled at me. From that point on, every place I went there was a cat. I think that was the closest I came to being demon possessed.”
A member of the gang told Steve that someone had taken a contract out on him. Steve had been working on three motorcycles that he used, a shovel-headed Harley Davidson 1200 cc Hog, a '49 Indian, and a Trike. But where do you go when you don't even know who has the contract out on you? Instead of running, Steve got a shotgun with a twelve-inch barrel and a pistol handle, and began practicing with it in the garden. But one evening, at a time when Steve wasn't suspecting anything, his old enemy who lived in the house pulled out a thirty-eight pistol and pointed it at Steve, and said, "I hate you. There's a contract out on your head, and I may as well collect on it as anybody else." Steve heard an explosion and felt searing pain, like white-hot wrought iron, tearing the calf of his leg. He passed out.
A day or so later he woke up laying out in some field. He had been given a large dose of reds to knock him out. He discovered cloth rags in the hole in his leg. The muscles of his calf had been blown out. The blood had dried, and the pain was excruciating as he pulled the rags out. He knew that he could not go to a hospital because the authorities had a warrant out for him. Nor could he go home, because his parents (whom he had wanted to kill) would call the authorities.
Incredibly Steve had only one place to turn, the same house where he was shot. Several gang members took him to the home of a nurse he knew, a neighbor of his parents. To silence her, he threatened to kill her. She cleaned out the scabs and dried blood. By the third visit to her, she finally got the courage to call Steve's parents; Steve's mother called the authorities while he was still getting his leg cleaned. When Steve and several members of the gang pulled away from the house in their car, they sensed something was up.
Steve describes what looked like a hopeless predicament:
I hadn't been home in years. So the authorities used my parents' house as a stakeout location. As we headed out of the nurse's house, I noticed a red Mustang making a U-turn. For once we weren't armed and had no dope. Two guys were in the front seat, and I was in the back. The pursuit began. As we slowed down for a red light, the Mustang ran into the rear of our car, sending us careening into the middle of the intersection where three other cop cars suddenly wedged into us. They surrounded us with rifles and shotguns and shouted, "If you move, you're dead." They pulled me out of the backseat and kicked my legs apart in order to search me. I can still remember the gun being held to my head and the shotguns aimed at us. Once again, I thought for sure that I was going to die. Before I knew it, the officers had slammed my face against the hood of my car, which in the hundred-degree summer heat caused scorching pain. Then they handcuffed my ankles and my hands together; then they handcuffed my hands to my ankles and threw me in the back of the car.
The authorities came and also examined my leg. They realized they had me for draft evasion and thought they had apprehended me—the right suspect for shooting an old lady. I had been accused of shooting this old lady during a robbery. She had told the authorities she returned fire with a rifle and hit the suspect with a twenty-two caliber bullet. Fortunately, it was clearI had been shot by a thirty-eight caliber bullet. Then the authorities let me go! All I was required to do was report to the draft board, which I did. To my surprise, they also released me, not wanting to send me to Vietnam because of my gunshot wound. I never understood why either agency let me go. However, it is clear to me today that God was beginning to move in my life. Even though being released by the authorities was a miracle, to a gang member, it is probably the worst thing that could happen. To be the first one released normally meant you sold out your companions to secure your own freedom. Thus, the gang members were convinced that Steve had betrayed them. Therefore, Steve had no place to live. He began sleeping in gutters. Still suffering from drug-induced paranoia, he was now plagued with the possibility of being found, beaten up, or shot again, on the streets. So he continued living as an outlaw."
MANSION MESSIAH SOUNDS GOOD
"I was sleeping in the gutter one day and a couple by the name of Shirley and Henry came out to their car, which was parked near me as I lay in the gutter. They picked me up and took me inside their house, gave me a shower, fed me. She told me she saw Jesus in my eyes. Then she called three different organizations and one of those was the Mansion Messiah House of Calvary Chapel. She asked which one I would like to go to. I replied, 'I don't know, Mansion Messiah sounds good.'
They took me over to Mansion Messiah. I walked in with my gun stuck in the back of my pants. Immediately, this little squirt named Orville looked right in my eyes and said, 'Do you know Jesus?' And I said no. And then he said, 'Bow your head, we're going to ask Jesus into your heart.' And I said the sinner's prayer after him. That happened without anyone explaining the Gospel to me.
Everything suddenly clicked. God just grabbed me, reached in and burned in my heart. It was the most incredible power I have ever experienced in my life. It was a tremendous burning sensation of an inner witness. It was something of the awesomeness of God's love. I can't even express it.
At that moment God delivered me from drugs. I flushed ten thousand dollars' worth of drugs down the toilet that day. I have never touched any drugs since that time. I also threw my gun away in the ocean. The residents of Mansion Messiah buried my clothes, they smelled so bad. From then on, I started singing Christian songs by myself when I was just walking down the street.
For the first time in years, I telephoned my mom that same day and told her that I had accepted Jesus Christ. As I was describing what had happened to me, she said, 'Anything that can save you, I want it right now.' She came to the Lord over the phone. Then I witnessed to my dad and he said, 'I don't want to hear about it. I want to see it.' So for the next few years, I never witnessed to him, I just lived a changed life. But when it looked like he was dying in the hospital of cancer, I told him I could no longer hold back from discussing Christ with him. His eternal destiny was at stake. It was then, finally, that he accepted the Lord. Those long years that my parents and I never had a relationship have been replaced by a healed relationship that we share together. In all these changes surrounding my life, it is hard to say what the greatest miracle is. Even my brother, Gary, came to know the Lord along with his wife, Judy."
Steve Mays frequently shares God has taken him from the "guttermost" to be used to the uttermost:
"It became a family joke when an aunt of mine, who was a Christian, would remind my parents of a prophecy about my life during some of my worst high school years. She said flatly that one day I would be a preacher. Now the impossible has happened. Not only am I, Steve Mays, a Christian, but I am a pastor as well. And who would have ever dreamed, during my most demonic years, that one day I would be pastoring a church that my own parents and brother would attend!"
CROSSING THE DESERT TO THE OASIS
But this blossoming ministry of Steve's did not happen overnight. In fact, more than once, it looked as though Steve would never even pastor a church.
In 1971 he became a resident of Mansion Messiah for a year, then switched over to another communal house for another year. It was then that Steve felt God's voice clearly tell him that he had been called to the ministry. But he had years of cobwebs to clear out of his head from drugs and general rebellion. Christian character had to be formed in Steve in a slow and costly way. There is no shortcut in this process.
Steve's first position that involved the responsibility of spiritual leadership came after he had spent over two years in two of our Costa Mesa houses. One day Steve felt led to go out to the California desert area of Victorville and start a Christian commune. He called my brother Paul and soon learned that they had been praying for someone to come out and start a commune.
Steve's desire was granted. Before too long, a house in Victorville was started with a total of thirty residents. Four Calvary Chapel pastors came out of its ministry. Steve also started a coffeehouse. Around this time, he started calling me weekly to bug me about giving him the go-ahead to start a church. But I did not feel be was ready. Indeed, when I finally did call him to come back to meet me one day in Costa Mesa, and Steve was fully expecting me to ask him to come on our staff. He was crushed when I advised him to start a gardening business. He returned to the Victorville commune devastated. In fact, he felt that after all his years of reckless abandon and sin, the only plan God had in store for his life was to punish him out on the desert. And, indeed, that was where he was living at the time, in the midst of his own desert experience.
But those desert years were very important in the Spirit's preparation of Steve for the ministry that God had in mind for him. Steve had a set of my commentary tapes on the whole Bible and he began to listen to several of them each day. These tapes triggered his desire to know the Bible. His thirst for God's Word became almost insatiable and he began to build his own library of Bible commentaries which today has become one of the most extensive of any minister I know. In the desert, Steve began to experience his inner spirit being satisfied by the Living Water. One day in Victorville, as Steve was serving the Lord, an amazing thing happened. A pretty blond girl passed right in front of Steve's eyes. She had long hair past her waist, with a flower by her ear. Steve recalls: "I couldn't help but take a second look! Her face was aglow with the love of Jesus Christ. Her name was Gail. Then I heard the most bizarre thing. It was a voice that said, "This is your wife." I remember responding in my heart, "Satan, get thee behind me!"
Yet Steve knew that it was God speaking to him and that He had laid this woman upon his heart. Steve was stunned and speechless. Yet Gail was only visiting this Christian house. Her home was in Orange County. That evening, Steve immediately began to question exactly what God was speaking to him. He knew there was something special about Gail. Deciding to search the Scriptures for answers, he opened his Bible and the pages fell open to Proverbs 18. The passage Steve immediatley saw was Proverbs 18:22: "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD." Steve was still doubtful. He had been hurt by previous relationships and decided to put God to the test. He prayed, "Okay, Lord, if I call her and it just happens to be her birthday (as he had heard), and if no one is celebrating it with her, and in fact, she is weeping over this, then I will believe." Steve doubtfully called her. To his amazement, the situation played out exactly as he had asked. He said to her, "Do you want to come out to Victorville and spend time together?" Gail's reponse was, "I will be there within a couple of hours." And she left for Victorville immediately.
That evening they went out to dinner. Gail remembers thinking that Steve was too poor to eat as he ordered just a small bowl of soup, but in fact, Steve was too nervous to eat. Gail thought he was going to invite her to stay in Victorville and help with the commune as one of the sisters in charge of the women. Instead, Steve proposed to her! To his shock, she accepted immediately. Steve recollects: "The next day, I called my mother and told her I was getting married. She was shocked, to say the least. She said, "Stephen, I just talked twith you a week ago." "I know, Mom, but God has really spoken to my heart." "Stephen, what is her name?" "Gail," I said. "And her last name?" "Mom, I didn't ask her! I will call her and ask her right away!" "My poor mother probably wondered if I was back on drugs again." In a week, Steve and Gail were married, my brother, Paul, performed the ceremony.
Not long after that I called Steve to his first church in the desert. My son had started a church at 29 Palms and had moved on to Yuba City to start a ministry there. This was the last place Steve wanted to go. But he showed up, ponytail and all, to the desert community of a military base. Two years later, absolutely broken, he and Gail showed up at the Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa parking lot to find me. In silence, Steve dropped the keys to the church into my palm. The church had divided and finally closed. Steve thought that it was all over as far as being in the pastorate was concerned.
I immediately offered Steve the directorship of half of our Costa Mesa communal houses, including the House of Psalms, where he and Gail lived for seven years. Gail was heartbroken, because she was leaving a three-bedroom house to share a cramped house with forty other people. Their new kitchen became the meeting hall, so Gail did her dishwashing in the bathtub. But they also saw over a thousand changed lives pass through those communal houses. It was a sacrifice that had eternal rewards.
After those seven years Steve started a church in Buena Park, now known as Calvary Chapel of Cypress. Then, after two years, he was told by the Lord to leave and submit to another pastor. So for two years he was an assistant pastor at Hosanna Calvary Chapel of Bellflower. He had somehow lost his priorities, he felt, and was now rededicating his life to the Lord. But he was also afraid that he just wasn't material to be a senior pastor. He had tried this twice and failed. But God was not finished with Steve yet, a fact He would communicate to Steve in a beautiful and unique way, and then back it up circumstantially.
Steve had reached a point of despair in which he had finally given up ever having a church of his own. His final stipulation to the Lord was: "Chuck Smith is going to have to call me to the position." Then he went on a long overdue vacation.
As Steve was fishing, he started talking to the Lord and asked for some kind of sign: "If I am ever going to pastor again, Lord, I am going to have to catch a fish before this hook leaves the water." Steve started to reel his line in while the hook glinted under the surface. Just as the hook was about to break through the top of the water, Steve's eyes welled up with tears. No fish would bite it now, it was too late. Just as it was coming out of the water a tiny fish bit the hook. That tiny fish meant more to Steve than any five-pound bass. For Steve detected the voice of God speaking to his soul, confirming his request for a sign, and then saying, In a little moment, I will speak to you again.
When Steve returned from his vacation, he got the message that he was to call me or Don McClure. He was told over the phone that there had been a meeting of all the senior pastors at the last conference and that when the newly available position of pastor of the South Bay Calvary Chapel was discussed, his name was unanimously recommended. Steve was so excited he almost passed out.
Steve Mays got his church, and the board of senior pastors and I were the ones to recommend it. In 1980 he walked onto the premises of his new church. And Steve got more confirmation from the Lord. Suddenly in the sky he saw a Goodyear blimp. At that moment he heard the Lord speak to his heart, It's going to be a good year. Then Steve told the Lord that the entire board of elders would have to resign so he could start from scratch. That is exactly what happened.
In 1980 Calvary Chapel South Bay numbered 50 and occupied 1,500 square feet. Within a few years they moved to a bigger facility nearby, 15,000 square feet that they remodeled for $300,000 dollars. By then the Goodyear people had heard the often told story of Steve's glimpsing the Goodyear blimp, so they took him up for a free ride. It was not only a good year, but they have all been good years. The glorious harvest has come upon Steve Mays' ministry, and that church of only 110 per Sunday has grown to over 6,000 (over 9,000 today).
Meanwhile the years that the powers of hell stole from Steve have been restored in a stunning way. Pastor Steve was the Regional Overseer and Pastoral leader over Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship, which included over 900 Calvary Chapel ministries, both domestic and international from 1997–2005. He also collaborated with the CHP and developed the South Los Angeles CHP Chaplain program, in which Calvary Chapel Pastors assist the CHP in critical incidents, death notifications and debriefings. He was invited to speak in Nigeria at the Gideons International Convention in 2002 with Mr. Ken Speakman, sharing with businessmen the truth of God’s Word and the fundamentals of studying His Word. Pastor Steve was also invited to participate at Oxford University’s Round Table in London, England. The Oxford Round Table is a symposium for learned discussions of contemporary issues of significant consequence. Pastor Steve’s topic of discussion concerned the relevance of religion. The White House has invited him over on several occasions for special briefings with other leaders in the faith community.
Steve Mays has become a well-known conference speaker, commencement speaker, author, and has a national radio broadcast, “Light of the Word” which is heard on many radio stations throughout the country. Steve is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University, holds a master’s degree in Theology and on Friday, July 27th, 2007 at APU, he was awarded the highest academic honor - an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree, in recognition of his ministry at CCSB and for his leadership qualities in advancing the cause of Christ.
Steve has been married to his wife Gail for over 40 years. Steve and Gail have two children, a son Nathan, a daughter Heather, a grandson, Anthony and granddaughters, Riley, Hadley, and Kennedy. And Gail has a home she can be proud of, much nicer than the one she had to abandon at 29 Palms.
Steve now sees that God has flooded his life with almost more grace than he can contain. He is a living testimony. To use his own words, "By the grace of God, I have not only regained what Satan ripped off, but I have been given a greater abundance of positive effects than all the evil I heaped up in the past."
We have seen a life literally go from the gutter to grace. The only thing Steve carries on his body to remind him of his former years is that painful scar on his leg, To this day, it still hurts. It serves as a reminder to teach Steve gratitude. It also helps him to never forget the pit from which he came, and the greatness of God's grace that brought him out of that pit. Zechariah speaks of the days when Zerubbabel had laid the foundations for the rebuilding of the new Temple as "the despised days of small things." Steve, for a time, was caught in that desire to build the walls before the foundation was laid. In this, he learned that it is vitally important not to build out of sequence, but to dig deep and lay the foundation on the Rock.