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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Shepherding Lost Men

By John W. Kennedy
Jan. 17, 2010

Charlie McElveen doesn’t like to think about what might have happened if not for the influence of two women in his life.

One is his grandmother Elfrieda, who for seven years asked him every week in a loving but persistent way, “Are you going to church yet?” McElveen would reply “no,” and his grandmother left it at that.

But Elfrieda kept asking.

Eventually, McElveen relented and decided to attend church just to tell his grandmother he did. Two weeks later he committed his life to Christ as Savior.

The other key influence is McElveen’s wife of 28 years, Donna. She stuck with him through alcohol addiction that reached an abyss in 1984, when he wound up in a six-week rehabilitation program.

“She saw something in me I didn’t see in myself,” McElveen says. “If not for her love and support, I don’t know where I would be.”

There’s a good possibility that McElveen might have ended up where he now spends every weekday — but on the receiving rather than giving end. McElveen, a credentialed Assemblies of God chaplain, is director of chaplains for Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities in St. Paul, Minn.

In his youth, McElveen didn’t appear to have a ministry career ahead of him. He grew up in an unpredictable home with a father who worked a lot and a mother who struggled with alcohol addiction. His mom died soon after Charlie became a teenager. By 16, Charlie had moved in with a friend and left home as an emancipated minor, drunk or high much of the time from alcohol and substance abuse.

Two days after his 17th birthday, McElveen joined the U.S. Navy. At 18 he married Donna, who had attended church in her childhood.

“She was not a saint by any means, but she wasn’t a rebel like me,” McElveen says. “I was raised under the preaching of Jack Daniels and Hiram Walker.”

By 22, McElveen wound up in drug and alcohol treatment.

Four years later, after he stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, McElveen relapsed.

“I stayed because of our commitment,” Donna recalls. “I believed in him. Looking back, his drinking problems consumed only a short duration of our marriage.”

“I drank for only one reason: to get to the bottom of the bottle,” McElveen recalls.

After being transferred in 1987 to Charleston, S.C., McElveen tracked down a high school drinking buddy who lived there.

“When I got there I said, ‘Hey, let’s get a case of beer,’ ” McElveen recalls. “My friend told me, ‘I don’t need to do that anymore.’ That piqued my curiosity.”

It also proved to be a catalyst for Donna, who drank recreationally, to realize that abstinence would be more rewarding.

“It’s time we stopped doing this,” she told Charlie.

Two months later, Charlie finally heeded his grandmother’s request and went to a Pentecostal church service. Their third Sunday there, he and Donna made salvation decisions.

His grandmother also proved instrumental in urging McElveen to pursue education passionately. While still in the Navy, he obtained a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University, received a master’s degree from Regent University and became president of Tidewater Bible College in Virginia Beach. By 2001, a year after wrapping up his 21-year military career, McElveen received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

In 2002, North Central University in Minneapolis hired McElveen as a faculty member.

“Charlie came with a fabulous attitude, remarkable energy and a great work ethic,” recalls NCU President Gordon Anderson. “On an almost yearly basis we gave him new assignments. I could always turn to him to make something happen.”

McElveen initially served as director of church relations. He taught Bible and theology courses as well. He moved to the intercultural studies department and directed the urban studies program. He transformed the curriculum into an interactive community experience, leading students on weekend courses in which they learned how congregations and nonprofits conducted ministry.

“Charlie is great at taking a problem, finding out what’s going on, coming up with a solution, implementing the solution and overseeing it,” Anderson says. “He’s not just an idea guy; he managed programs.”

“I loved the multicultural milieu of the urban studies program,” McElveen says. “It whetted my appetite to do hands-on ministry again.”

In 2008, Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities offered him such an opportunity. The 108-year-old interdenominational parachurch organization reaches out to the marginalized and poor. McElveen is responsible for overseeing spiritual support and care for the 300 men who live on the mission’s Bethel Hotel campus.

McElveen and his staff do more than ensure that men eat a hot supper, hear a salvation-themed sermon and have a bed to sleep in at night. They add the element of shepherding, which includes referring men to other Union Gospel Mission programs for alcohol and addiction recovery, Bible-based discipleship programs, employment readiness training, and general equivalency diploma assistance. McElveen is in charge of case management of 215 clients who are seeking to turn their lives around.

“We have guys with Ph.D.s who are clients,” McElveen says. “Many have some form of mental illness and they don’t know how to maintain relationships. Or they abuse substances to augment their moods. They no longer have employment. They have no money.”

McElveen and his chaplaincy team — four full-time, six part-time and two dozen volunteers — assist clients in returning to a life of independence, preferably within a 24-month time frame. Often that involves robust case management. If independence isn’t achievable, the chaplains look for care in an appropriate environment.

Of course, some aren’t interested in changing.

“Not everybody may be receptive right now,” McElveen says. “But we plant and water seed. Some will be ready later, some never. It’s never too late to repent.”

Because McElveen and many of his co-workers came from addictive lifestyles, they may have an edge in assessing client situations.

“I probably have less empathy,” he says. “We can see through a pity party and when someone is playing games.”

Still, McElveen is driven by a heart of compassion, according to his pastor, John Magee of Light The Way Church in Cottage Grove, Minn.

“Charlie thrives in an environment of loving the hurting and the desperate,” says Magee, who is senior pastor at the racially and socially diverse AG church.

Magee says McElveen is motivated by Christ’s teaching to lead sheep who are without a shepherd.

“Charlie’s approach has been if he can educate them, they will change,” Magee says. “He wanted it to go beyond food, shelter and the standard change-your-life salvation message. He noticed a lot of repeat people who stayed in the system.”

So, Magee notes, McElveen implemented a pragmatic approach of ongoing Bible studies, a decidedly different strategy that seems to be making a lasting impact.

Although he left a secure job as a full professor at North Central, McElveen has no regrets. He says he has fulfilled his search for relevance as outlined in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:35,36.

“I still believe in raising up the next generation of leaders,” he says. “But the primacy for me had to be devoting my life to reaching the ‘least of these.’”

Ironically, Charlie and Donna McElveen have exchanged roles at this stage of life. Donna, a practicing social worker, is now at North Central University as the founding director of the social work program.

“God has led us down a path we didn’t foresee,” Donna says. “It’s been a great journey.”

The McElveens have two children, who both live in the Twin Cities. Daughter Jennifer Beissell, 27, a nurse practitioner, is married to Justin. They had a baby, Josie, nine months ago. Son Charles David, 22, is a college student.

Although he hated to lose McElveen as a faculty member, Anderson says the UGM assignment is a fit by divine design. He says McElveen’s career in the Navy taught him to be a team player and to accept whatever assignments the Commander in Chief gives him.

“He has had a real heart for this ministry for years,” Anderson says. “Now he is able to be involved on a full-time basis.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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