Pastor Wendell R. Vinson baptized 10-year-old Steve S. Kramer at Highland Assembly of God when the Bakersfield, California, church had 50 attendees.
Today, 36 years later, the church, now renamed Canyon Hills Assembly, has six campuses and 4,000 adherents. And Kramer has reunited with Vinson, as director of the Vulnerable Initiative of CityServe International, a collaborative network co-founded by Vinson that resources local congregations by offering solutions in matters of brokenness.
Such a scenario seemed unlikely when Kramer entered the world 11 weeks premature, weighing barely 3 pounds. As a baby, doctors diagnosed Kramer with cerebral palsy, which affected his ability to adequately control body movement and muscle coordination.
When it came time for Steve to enter school, he and his parents, Randy and Linda, had a new battle to fight: prejudice. His parents vociferously, and ultimately successfully, argued for Steve’s inclusion in a public school program after his teacher, counselor, and superintendent all advocated placing place him in a school for the disabled.
Because of the cerebral palsy, Steve’s movements appeared uncoordinated, prompting classmates to tease him cruelly and to even throw rocks at him. Kramer lived most of his childhood in a wheelchair, on crutches, or using a walker.
He underwent a dozen surgeries on his legs, knees, and hips in attempts to loosen stiff spastic muscles. Sometimes he spent months at a time hospitalized, encased in a body cast up to his chest. Randy and Linda sensed the operations growing more experimental than helpful; at 13, they concurred with Steve’s decision to stop the operations.
Randy asked Canyon Hills churchgoers to pray for a healing in lieu of yet another recommended corrective surgery. Six weeks later, X-rays revealed that Steve’s displaced right femur had returned to its socket. Doctors couldn’t account for the reason.
Soon after, at a family day at the beach, a giant wave came ashore. The receding water washed Kramer’s crutches out to the ocean, never to be seen again. Steve saw it as divine intervention.
Around the same time, he sensed a specific call by God to become a missionary to the Netherlands. Kramer, a graduate of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, spent a decade in Holland pioneering Chi Alpha Campus Ministries chapters and helping to plant churches as an Assemblies of God world missionary. Damascus Road International Church in Maastricht, Netherlands, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
The handsome, articulate, good-natured, and extroverted Kramer joined CityServe last fall, following five years as U.S. missionary director of Chi Alpha at the University of Oregon. Kramer chartered the group at the Eugene campus of his alma mater and also helped plant Praise Community Church nearby.
But Kramer, as a person with a disability, couldn’t pass up the ministry opportunity to help the vulnerable in his new CityServe role. He remains a U.S. missionary, now with Intercultural Ministries.
“Steve is passionate about using his own testimony to inspire and encourage others to live courageously, in spite of challenging circumstances,” Vinson says.
The AG’s SoCal Network initiative for compassion ministries called CityServe resulted in part from a Canyon Hills-owned 165,000-square-foot structure that functions as CityServe’s primary distribution center. Canyon Hills has long been involved in innovative compassion ministry methods, even “dog food evangelism.”
Overall, CityServe has developed initiatives dedicated to 10 people groups, including orphans, widows, prisoners, the addicted, and the hungry. Kramer is focusing on the vulnerable: the disabled, mentally ill, at-risk kids, and the unborn.
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Photo: Steve Kramer (center) has reunited with his childhood pastor Wendell Vinson (right) in a ministry in which his wife, Julie, assists.