Steve Ervin: a stranger to his own life

His Laboring Few leader loses memory after head injury
Aug. 01, 2013 @ 04:00 PM

Imagine, for a second, not being able to remember.

To wake up one day and not recognize family, friends and loved ones. A job of more than two decades is no more than a building where caring strangers explain a fulfilling life shrouded in the vastness of an empty mind.

Steve Ervin looks exactly like the man who for 25 years looked over his flock at His Laboring Few Ministries. He sits in his office knowing that good is being done all around him for those less fortunate, the people society tends to forget.

"He's our shepherd," said Robin St. John, a long-time friend and director of HLF.

Ervin now is a stranger to this life. He meanders from place to place as if seeing it for the first time. Faces are foreign to him, his faith, the once unquestioned constant for Ervin since 1987, a blank slate of uncertainty.

Ervin does not know who he is. His life before July 7 is a mystery.

Ervin is suffering from amnesia, which resulted from a fluke accident during a softball game at his ministry's annual Fourth of July picnic. While pitching, a line drive struck Ervin in the forehead, knocking him unconscious.

His life, as he now knows it, began in the emergency room at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

"If you asked him where he was from he would say the emergency room," St. John said. "Physically, he looks like Steve. He has a lot of his personality. He can get up, get a shower, eat his food, he just has no memory of who we all are or that he preaches or the Bible, any of that. It wiped him out."

Not even the faces of those closest to him trigger a reaction.

"When I met him the first time he said 'they've told me all about you,'" St. John said. "He said 'Carolyn tells me she's my wife and Avery tells me he's my son and they tell me they love me, and I tell them I love them, but I don't know them.' "

Ervin's forehead sustained multiple fractures from the impact, requiring an additional surgery last week. Doctors inserted a metal plate in his head to help alleviate the pressure on his brain. When he awoke, an important memory in any Christian's life flashed into his mind, but any progress basically stopped there.

"He remembered being saved in February 1987," said St. John. "He knew the date and that night he remembered the first date he went on with his wife. Little memories are trying to come back. When he went to the sanctuary, he said it felt good and felt familiar and he actually cried standing in there. Every day we explain to him what the ministry does and how we feed people and the alcohol and drug rebirth, and he understands it now after we've told him. He doesn't remember it from the past. "

Doctors at WFBMC diagnosed Ervin with retrograde amnesia, a form of amnesia where the person tends to lose more recent memories than remote ones. He's been told his memory could return in time.

“It’s hard to predict the recovery because these injuries are so unique and different,” said Dr. Beverly Jones III, medical director of the Geriatric Behavioral Health Unit at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center. “For someone who has an injury like this, there is a good chance they’ll recover. The brain, when it’s injured, can take a while to heal. There certainly can be temporary losses that will improve.”

Those close to him only can hope.

"This is unreal," St. John said. "We need him back, we want him back here doing what he does. We believe God heals and ultimately God is going to heal him. We believe that. But right now, it is unbelievable. You're talking about a person who has lost his memory of church and everything that has to do with it. To hear my preacher, this strong man of God, not understand, is heart breaking."

As Ervin slowly pieces fragments of his life together, his nonprofit continues serving meals every day to those in need. Bills keep coming in while HLF's limited resources dwindle into financial darkness. 

"Financially, we're busted," said St. John. "We don't hardly have any money. This time of year is the hardest for us anyway but we have to keep the ministry going. While he's not here, it's important to us that the ministry goes on and the bills still get paid. While he's down we can't drop the ball and let the bills not get paid or have to close something down."

HLF feeds people daily out of its headquarters at 812 Martin Luther King Drive from 2 to 4 p.m. and at the Southside Mission in High Point from 4 to 6 p.m. The HLF Harvest Camp helps get people struggling with addiction back on their feet through a structured rehabilitation program that includes Bible study and community service.

With Ervin's absence, the responsibilities of these services falls to the people he's trusted for so many years.

They can't do it alone.

"We want to let the public know this is what we do and we want to keep doing it but we need help from the community," St. John said. "We have to take care of him because he has taken care of all of us. It's the least we can do."

Steve Ervin dedicated his life to helping strangers, the people often forgotten and overlooked by society. He now is a stranger to that life, alone in a world that started in an emergency room on July 7.

Those close to him are doing everything they can to make sure his old life still is waiting for him when, and if, his memory returns.

For more information on HLF, call 475-2455, ext. 22.


Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or