The Face of Cassia

Michael Evans, chaplain at Valley View Village, poses for a picture.

The Chaplain’s Voice: Q&A With Our Chaplains- Pastor Michael Evans

We are thrilled to welcome you to our Q&A series, where we will be shining a spotlight on our extraordinary chaplains at Cassia. Through their unwavering support and compassionate presence, our chaplains provide comfort and guidance to our residents, their families and our staff.

In this installment, we are honored to feature Pastor Michael Evans, Chaplain at Valley View Village in Des Moines, IA. Join us as we delve into Pastor Evans’ approach to chaplaincy and explore the vital importance of spiritual care in our communities.

Q: What inspired you to become a chaplain?

A: “Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” I heartily concur with this sentiment!

The chain of events by which God led me to become the chaplain of Valley View Village in Des Moines, Iowa, was a long one. Allow me to take you on the nickel tour.

Prior to becoming the Chaplain here I pastored an Evangelical Free Church in a small rural community 30 minutes from Des Moines. For nearly 18 years I shepherded this flock.

But then, 15 years ago, on October 23, 2008 an F5 tornado blew through our lives as our family faced a major health crisis. I suffered a massive seizure in the early morning and our lives would be forever changed. My wife (Karla) and I have been married for 37 years this December and we have 5 children. Our oldest is 31 and our youngest is 18.

I was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Des Moines where they ran a whole battery of tests on me. It didn’t take long for them to come and give us the reason for the seizure. There was a large (peach-sized) AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in the left frontal lobe of my brain. I thought it was totally unfair that something I had never even heard of before should be able to take me down in such dramatic fashion.

AVM’s can occur anywhere on the body. However when one forms inside the brain they can become a major problem. Arteriovenous malformations are a clump of arteries and veins that are malformed…just like it sounds. In my case it had been there since birth, a congenital anomaly. Prior to this, I had lived a very active healthy 44 years of life. But now life was presenting me with something I never could have imagined.

We were presented with several different options for treatment of the AVM, none of which was very appealing. We eventually opted to go for the full resection at the world famous Mayo Clinic, where we would spend the next 46 days. The head of neurosurgery completed the successful procedure on February 12, 2009.

When I came out of the brain surgery I was completely unable to speak or move the right side of my body. However, I was completely with it…enough to be utterly fascinated and frustrated at the same time. Over time, both eventually returned…for the most part. Two weeks to the day after the brain surgery I was in a rehabilitation room when I coded. The heads of departments all collaborated and eventually realized that there was a massive blood clot in my heart and 17 others as long as 10 cm in my lungs. So they performed emergency open heart surgery on me to try and preserve my life. They cut a hole in my heart and removed the clot in my heart and also sucked out the other clots from my lungs.

I was released from the hospital on March 27th, 2009, and preached on Easter Sunday 17 days later…having lost 40 pounds of muscle weight and having to learn how to speak again…and walk again…and live again. These were challenges I had never faced before.

There were additional challenges that came with getting back to work as a senior pastor in this setting. In June of 2013 I resigned my position as pastor and spent the next seven years working as a solo construction contractor, specializing in basement and bathroom remodels and drywall finishing. Who knew just how important it would prove to be to learn a trade during my four years of seminary? I have fallen back on this for several interim seasons of life. Thank you Lord.

Q: What led you to become a chaplain at Valley View Village?

A: In the spring of 2020, I received a call from Dave Kiel, the former VP of spiritual life at Cassia. He called while I was on scaffolding working on a vaulted ceiling. Dave introduced himself to me and said that the pastor at the church we were now attending had recommended me for a chaplain job. Dave had asked him if he knew of any good chaplain candidates. He then proceeded to ask if I thought I would be interested in becoming a chaplain. I said YES!

I began working at Valley View Village on June 8, 2020, seven years to the month of resigning my position as Pastor. Yes, it was right in the middle of the COVID pandemic. But I absolutely loved being in the saddle again, bringing hope and light and encouragement, and learning what a chaplain is and does. There may or may not have been tears of joy in my eyes as I drove home for the next several months. The year 2020 was one of the best years of my life in an odd sort of way.

Q: How do you provide spiritual and emotional support to residents at VVV? Examples Bible study, one on one visits, outreach, worship services?

A: We have two full worship services at Valley View Village each week, on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. Residents help on accompaniment with the organ, grand piano and Clavinova. We also have a violinist who plays most Wednesdays.

We include Scripture readings in each service. I also give an expository message at each of the services. On one Wednesday each month, we do a hymn sing.

With around 300 residents and 150 part-time or full-time staff, we represent a large variety of different church traditions. With this diversity in mind, I craft both services each week. Each service includes hymns, familiar cross-denominational elements like the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed or a Puritan Prayer. I also include a Call to Worship and Benediction in each service. In addition, I often stream a modern contemporary Christian song on my industrial strength Dewalt boom box, thus earning my title around here: Chaplain “Boom Box” Mike.

Believe it or not, the boom box streaming is what I use to weave together our memory care service each week on Thursday mornings. I also often use the boom box for stand-ups where I will play a song and pray for the requests we receive that morning. I find it a good way to begin the work day with a positive, uplifting song and prayer. I also take the boom box with me to individual rooms if I think the resident would appreciate it.

I lead a Bible study with residents on Monday afternoons. On most days, I will offer a dad joke of the day and a prayer in the Assisted Living before folks begin eating lunch. I find that laughter…even if it is the groaning kind, is good medicine for the soul at any age.

We have a men’s breakfast group that meets on Thursday morning where I share a brief devotional. Other than that, I try to make myself available to anyone as they have need…residents or staff.

Q: What is your favorite Bible verse and why?

A: Psalm 73:25-26 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides You, I desire nothing on Earth. My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

These were the two verses that came to my foggy mind as I was regaining consciousness from the massive seizure that signaled the beginning of a new chapter of life for us. As I sat on the side of the bed with the First Responders there I softly quoted these two verses.

The funny thing is I know that I had not memorized them prior to the seizure and yet I quoted them that morning to all who were present. Plus, my flesh and my heart did fail me! But thanks to the skilled physicians at Mayo Clinic and the grace of God, I remain alive today!

Q: Can you share an example of how you have helped a resident find peace and comfort during a difficult time?

A: In the late fall of 2020, while COVID was still raging, one dear couple comes to mind. They resided in our Assisted Living apartments but had to be separated because of a health issue. The husband was in our skilled nursing wing. His wife of nearly 70 years would call him multiple times every day. At that time the restrictions on visitation were still very strict so I served as their liaison during this trying time.

I had the privilege of being with him a day before he unexpectedly passed away. I went into his room with my mask intact and asked him if he would like me to read some Scripture and offer a prayer. He said, “Oh Yes, that would be wonderful!” with an exuberance that took me by surprise given his frail state. 

Upon hearing the news of his death I went to the apartment to offer my condolences and prayer. I also took my boom box with me. His wife asked me about the last conversation that we had and I relayed to her our conversation. And I continue to recount the story to her as she has asked me about it a number of times.

While I was still in the apartment on the initial visit I asked if I could play a song for her. She agreed. The song I played for her that morning was He Will Hold Me Fast sung by a group called Selah. We prayed, cried and rejoiced that her husband, a follower of Jesus, was now in heaven. That song is still very special to her and to me as well.

Q: Can you share a particularly memorable experience you’ve had as a chaplain at Valley View Village?

Shortly after I began working at Valley View Village, I became aware of a resident who was the same age as me who had suffered a debilitating brain aneurism in 1983 that left him disabled and in need of constant care. He was 19 in 1983. So was I.

John was, for the most part non-verbal, with one massive exception. You see, John loved music and would sing along with Pink Floyd, Molly Hatchet or Boston, which our activities director would play for him. When I got my boom box involved, it took things to a whole new level!  John loved the classics from the ‘70s. John would also sing hymns in chapel services he had learned in church as a child. John possessed an uncanny ability to memorize songs.

He also liked the artist Bob Seeger. We used to sing one of Seeger’s songs together, Against the Wind. I played this song at his funeral service and then a couple months later at his burial service at the family’s request. Two-thirds of John’s life had been lived against the wind and I thought this song summarized his life. His family was always there for him and I saw in a visceral way the collateral effects of health crises like this.

I remember a couple of times trying to explain how I thought I could understand something of what it must be like to be unable to speak recounting my own frustrations from my past experiences. John helped me to appreciate life even more than I already did.

Q: How has your work as a chaplain at Valley View Village impacted your own spiritual and personal growth?

A: If anything, I have become much more keenly aware of the fact that my days are in God’s hands. Being around death so much is a fact of life in the senior health care industry. But it’s also this very fact that energizes me to serve this wonderful aged flock and staff. I believe that God has arranged all the experiences and circumstances of my entire life to prepare me for this season of life…to serve these residents and staff in the spirit of Christ’s love. Soli Deo Gloria.”

Thank you, Pastor Michael Evans, for everything you have done for our residents, their families and our staff at Valley View Village!