from memory loss
Seven years ago,
Chris Maxwell, senior pastor of Evangel Assembly of God in Orlando,
Fla., completed his usual full Sunday of church activities without
a hitch. By Wednesday night, Maxwell, who has a master’s
degree in divinity, had difficulty speaking. After passing out,
he spent 10 days hospitalized and undergoing tests. Doctors
discovered that he had a life-threatening disease — viral
encephalitis. With speech and language therapy, Maxwell returned
to his regular pace three months later. His recovery has been
miraculous, as described in his new book, Beggars Can Be Chosen. Maxwell, 43, recently
talked with news editor John W. Kennedy.
You lost virtually all memory, including Bible verses and how
The left temporal lobe of my brain is permanently damaged. Things
that had been easy for me were suddenly gone. Overnight I was
a totally different person. I could only remember my sons’
names — Taylor, Aaron and Graham — by using the
acronym TAG. Even today, my secretary, youth pastor, board members
and anyone who is tight with me, know when I give them a look
that they need to call out the person’s name I’m
You had to make a choice — whether to keep pastoring or
neurologist told me I was so determined to minister to people
that my stubbornness kept me alive. The church decided to accept
their “new pastor.” Same name, new man. More people
can relate to me now. They feel like they can come and talk
to me because I’m not some perfect preacher who always
has the answer.
PE: Why did your
church board and staff support you so strongly?
The doctors honestly didn’t think I’d be able to
communicate again. With the approval of my wife, Debbie, several
board members met with my neurologist one month after this happened.
He indicated it would be better if I kept busy doing the things
I loved to do rather than being pushed aside. People with disabilities
need some motivation to live.
Words had been a huge part of your life — not just preaching
from God’s Word, but writing articles and speaking at
began preaching while a junior in high school. I had never used
notes in preaching because I could memorize everything. Now
I just do not have a memory. I have to use Power Point. I’m
fortunate it’s culturally correct. But reading out loud
is difficult for me.
PE: How has the
ordeal brought unity to your congregation?
If members of the congregation have fears, they don’t
mind telling me. Those who have known me through all this say
that new people in the church cannot tell there’s something
wrong with me. Sometimes I joke with people that they can be
honest with me because I’ll just forget what they tell
PE: What symptoms
continue to bother you?
have epilepsy, a long-term side effect of encephalitis. I take
anti-seizure medicine. I’m supposed to take a nap every
day. I have to wear sunglasses when I’m in the light.
PE: What else
has God taught you through this?
When bad things happen to God’s people, we can choose
to feel defeated or to view it as a blessing even if the long-term
effects are not good. Some people in my situation, especially
Christians, have had difficulty recovering because they refuse
to ask others for help. Our attitudes make a big difference.
Doctors say people with my brain damage — if they live
— shouldn’t be able to say anything. It’s
a miracle that I’m doing anything.