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The Rev. Steve Mays

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The Rev. Steve Mays, a former drug addict, gang member and draft dodger who went on to become the longtime pastor of Calvary Chapel South Bay, died unexpectedly Thursday following back surgery.

The church website reported that he died of complications from the operation.

"It's a day of sadness," said the Rev. Don McClure, speaking to a packed crowd during an emotional Thursday night gathering at the church.

McClure, administrator of the Calvary Church Association, told attendees he was on a plane coming home from Guatemala Thursday morning when he saw the news via digital message.

"You're on a plane and you look at that and you can't take it in, you just can't," he said. "I'm still in shock, to tell you the truth."
Mays, 64, a Ranch Palos Verdes resident, had been the pastor of the Gardena church for 34 years
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In a Daily Breeze profile article from Jan. 10, 2010, Mays recalled his troubled past with drugs before his conversion.
"I was pretty lost, I was pretty angry," he said.

Mays said he was constantly strung out on LSD and other drugs, was arrested for mostly petty offenses and tore up his draft papers during the Vietnam War. He said for a time he belonged to a motorcycle gang in Orange County, wielded a gun and was once shot in the leg.

He wound up in a Christian halfway house called the Mansion Messiah and was introduced to Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith, considered one of the moving forces behind the so-called Jesus Movement of the 1970s. Mays traveled with Smith, who died a year ago this month at the age of 87, in the early years of the Calvary Chapel ministry. After overseeing several house churches under Smith's training, he was tapped to take over the South Bay congregation, then located in Carson. The church's congregation was dwindling, with about 75 members.

Today, the church draws an estimated 9,000 attendees to several services throughout the week.

"I've just lost a very dear friend," McClure told the gathering at the church, adding he'd known Mays for more than four decades and calling him the church's "Moses."

The Rev. Greg Laurie, well known for his evangelistic Harvest Crusades that draw tens of thousands of young people to sports stadiums every summer, also spoke at Thursday night's service.

Mays is survived by his wife, Gail, and two adult children.

Arrangements for a memorial service are pending.

Written by Donna Littlejohn, Daily Breeze
Published in Daily Breeze on Oct. 3, 2014
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