Assemblies of God evangelist Gerald Mayhan woke up one Sunday morning before church and started preaching to the coffee pot.
“I tried to get the coffee pot saved, but it was already saved,” the smiling Mayhan preached later that morning.
Mayhan’s sermons are old-school, the-Bible-says style. In the course of a 35-minute sermon, he may introduce a new Scripture passage about every 60 seconds alongside snippets of his testimony.
“Come on church, we need the fire of God,” he says swirling a white handkerchief above his head on one of his many YouTube videos. “I need the fire of God in my life.”
Evangelism is an around-the-clock lifestyle for Mayhan, a larger-than-life, barrel-chested African-American native of West Virginia. His friends and colleagues often retell stories of Mayhan leading restaurant servers or even perfect strangers to salvation in Christ at McDonald’s, Bob Evans, a parking lot, or a hotel lobby.
“I can talk to a person for two minutes and tell where they stand with the Lord,” Mayhan says.
Michael T. Zello Jr., co-founder of Teen Challenge North Central Virginia, recalls sharing a meal with Mayhan during one of these cold-call conversions involving a waitress.
“I met the woman 10 years later and she was doing youth ministry,” Zello says. “Gerald is absolutely on fire for Christ trying to lead everyone to the Lord no matter where we go.”
That hasn’t always been the case.
In the late 1960s, Mayhan met and married his wife, Phyllis. But shortly after their wedding day, he was drafted and shipped off to South Vietnam for 11 months in a combat unit.
Serving as point man, he was awarded two Purple Hearts for combat wounds. But like many foot soldiers then, he began to abuse street drugs and got hooked on heroin.
Returning from Vietnam, Mayhan was in rough shape and he spent the next 18 years hooked on heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. He served time in jail. He and his wife separated for 3½ years.
Desperate for a fresh start, Mayhan showed up at a detox center in Washington D.C., and then went to National Capital Avenue Teen Challenge, a Maryland branch of the 12-month, faith-based U.S. Missions residential program for former drug abusers.
“I couldn’t free myself,” recalls Mayhan, 67.
Zello concurs regarding Mayhan’s predicament.
“Older heroin addict, hooked in Vietnam,” Zello says. “It is so hard to change them.”
During the first four months in Teen Challenge, addicts after detox live in a spiritual boot camp-like context. Mayhan confessed Christ as Savior after hearing the testimonies of two former addicts.
“I am a witness of a man who was completely rock bottom to someone who was forgiven and got healing,” Zello says.
After completing the yearlong recovery process, Mayhan reunited with his wife and family, which includes daughter Trina Mayhan-Webb and grandsons Moses and Joshua Webb.
One Wednesday night, Mayhan joined the midweek Bible study that Pastor Thomas Gulbronson led at First Assembly Alexandria in Virginia. Afterward, Mayhan asked Gulbronson to teach him how to preach. This started a mentoring relationship that continues to this day.
“He’s New Testament,” says Gulbronson, 75, now pastor of Springfield Assembly of God in West Virginia. “People respond to him.”
Several years ago, Mayhan began working overseas. On July 2, Mayhan took a ministry team of 43 people to Swaziland for evangelism and leadership training. The extremely poor southern African kingdom has one of the lowest life expectancies — age 49 — in the world due to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases.
First Assembly Alexandria is now Mayhan’s home base for such overseas ventures, where he serves as staff evangelist. But most of his ministry is in the mid-Atlantic region. He has put more than 400,000 miles on his cars visiting churches and conducting revivals.
Wes E. Johnson, lead pastor at First Assembly Alexandria, says, “You cannot go to lunch with him without him leading someone to the Lord. That’s who is he 24/7.”
Johnson believes evangelistic outreach in local churches is in steep decline.
“The gift of evangelist is a dying thing,” Johnson says. “If we are not careful, it will go the way of the dinosaur.”
Mayhan concedes he does crusade evangelism the same way evangelists led services a century ago: straight-up gospel preaching, testimonies, an altar call, and an offer to connect new converts to a local church.
“That still works,” Mayhan says. “It’s effective and the only way to go.”