One man’s life-altering event leads to Sylacauga ministry, hope for others halfway around the world
Micah McElveen greets visitors walking through the door of his organization’s Sylacauga office with an uncommon enthusiasm. Most can appreciate someone who enjoys what they do.
For the founder and CEO of Vapor Ministries, there is more to it than that.
After hearing McElveen’s story it becomes apparent that his zeal for what he is doing is born out of a life-changing experience and how that experience has led to living out his faith in a very specific way.
McElveen’s life changed one day in 1995 when he and his brother set out into the water to surf rising swells ahead of a gulf coast storm. McElveen dove through a wave as he normally would — except this time it was all different.
He felt a blow to his head, and then he felt nothing.
Having already spent several minutes unable to move and trapped underwater, his family found him and pulled him out of the surf. After being air-lifted to a Florida hospital, McElveen woke up days later to the news that he had broken his neck.
Regaining the ability to walk again and restoring the use of his arms required numerous surgeries and years of rehabilitation. During his recovery, he also began to focus on how he wanted to live his life – the fragility of which he suddenly understood more clearly. McElveen sought to know more deeply the type of life for which Christ calls his followers to live.
So in 2005, McElveen moved to Africa. It was there he encountered yet another life-altering experience.
“While there, I lived on the edge of a large slum where I witnessed heartbreaking scenes playing out in abject poverty daily,” he explained. “For more than a year, I had not taken a hot shower, had eaten on less than $1.50 a day and had become used to blackouts and water rationing.”
He saw human suffering on a level he could have never conceived prior to living in Africa. And it jolted him into action. That was when he knew God had kept him alive to serve the poor and advance the gospel.
“I felt like I came to a crossroads,” McElveen said. “I would either waste the rest of my life trying to forget what I saw or spend it trying to do something about it.”
What came next was dropping out of graduate school and teaming up with numerous friends and supporters to form Vapor Ministries. Less than a year later, he moved back to the same African slum to build the first Vapor center.
With a name inspired by a verse in Psalm 39 (“Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.”), the ministry’s stated mission is to “establish sustainable centers for alleviating poverty and multiplying disciples in third-world environments.”
Vapor Ministries centers serve as an oasis for residents of poverty-stricken areas, places where families can come for clean water and children can play sports. Not only do the centers provide opportunities for ministry staff to share the gospel, but they also provide a place for staff development among indigenous believers to further the goal of disciple multiplication.
Centers additionally offer agriculture education, as well as training with a view toward helping local citizens start small-scale business enterprises using existing skills, such as craft-making.
Acquiring land, constructing facilities and employing staff for its management is a resource-intensive effort.
Even so, the Sylacauga-based ministry has seen significant growth since its inception, and McElveen sees that growth deriving from one source.
“What God has done in a short time has been incredible, and we look with hope to His plan for the future,” he said. “God has been faithful and has grown our capacity year over year.”
Vapor Ministries now has five centers – three in Africa and two in Haiti – with 480 staff members.
McElveen continues to maintain the same perspective that set all this in motion years earlier.
“We’re not guaranteed a long life,” he said. “The truth is our time on earth is like a vapor. When you realize that, you are afforded an opportunity to live it differently.”
Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News