Living on Faith and Peanut Butter
Storytellers: Cecil and Lana Maxey
Writer: Sheila Holliday
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
Cecil Maxey grew up with his six brothers and sisters on a farm about 30 miles northwest of Ft. Worth, TX. His family raised their own food to survive. The log house where they lived had two rooms, a dirt floor and no inside plumbing. They attended a small country church where his uncle was the preacher and his aunt was the sole Sunday school teacher. When he was 8 years of age, Cecil’s uncle preached on Hell.
“I could see myself burning and it scared me to death,” Cecil recalls in his Southern drawl. “I knew I didn’t want to go there, and I trusted Christ to save me.”
A few years later, Cecil, his mom and his siblings moved to Handley, another Fort Worth suburb. He recalls, “When I was 12 years old, some guys came out and set up some benches for a weeklong revival meeting. One of my brothers and a sister and I went every night, Monday through Thursday, along with a few other kids – we were the only ones who attended. On Thursday night at the altar call, I told the revival preacher that God wanted me to be a preacher. I remember him saying to his fellow revival worker, ‘Maybe that’s why God brought us out here.’”
He adds, “I used to preach to my brother and sister while they sat on bales of hay, laughing. They claim I also took up an offering, but I don’t remember that part.”
Lana was also raised in a Christian family near Fort Worth. Her dad served as worship leader of a large church, and her mom taught Sunday school. Every morning at 5 a.m., she remembers hearing her parents pray together for 30 to 45 minutes.
It wasn’t until Cecil was in Bible College and Lana was in high school that they met, fell in love and decided to marry. He shares, “I was about ready to graduate and was praying that God would lead me to where I would serve. No church had offered me a position, and I told Lana we wouldn’t have a place to minister unless I started a church.
“When I graduated in the summer of 1966, pastors came to support students from their churches. After the ceremony, the school president stopped me to ask, ‘Are you going to California to start a church?’ He told me about another graduate who had gone to Bakersfield to start a church, but had become discouraged and disbanded it. ‘Somebody needs to start one there,’ he told me. I said I’d pray about it.”
Cecil was going to school during the day and working at Bell Helicopter at night. At work one evening soon after graduation he was called to the office to take a phone call from his mom.
He recalls, “She told me my brother, who was in the U.S. Navy, had come to town before being sent to Vietnam. She asked if I could drive him to San Diego where he needed to report for duty. When I got home, I told Lana we were leaving that night. We drove straight through – it’s about a 20-hour drive – to deliver him to the naval base on a Saturday night. The next day we drove up to Bakersfield.
“I contacted the fellow who had tried to start a church there, and asked if he could gather the original church group as I wanted to talk to them. He didn’t really want to, but called back a while later and said a few of them wanted to come. I preached that night, and talked about starting a church with God leading it. They called me once we were back home to ask me to come back and serve, although there was no money to pay me. I agreed to go.
“We were already living week to week with very little income. A friend gave me the bed of his wrecked truck, which I welded into a trailer with sheet metal. With less than $20 to our name, we loaded that trailer, ready to head to California. We felt sure God was leading us, and had perfect peace about the future.
“That Sunday, I told our home pastor that he’d need to find somebody to take over the Sunday school classes we’d both been teaching. He announced in the service that the Maxeys were headed to Bakersfield, and thought the congregation ought to help us. That paid for our gas, apartment rent for a couple of months, and the food we ate.
“For someone from a small town in Texas, Bakersfield seemed like a foreign country, a million miles from home. I’d go out every day at 9 a.m. and spend all day knocking on doors to talk about the Lord, and inviting the listener to be saved and come to our new church in Oildale, just north of Bakersfield. Several people were surprised to see me, saying I was just a kid, since I looked like I was about 12 years old.
“We found a vacant lumbar yard building on a busy street to rent, and I borrowed a baptistery for it,” he recalls. “God blessed our efforts, and the church began to grow.
“One morning as I was about to leave for door-to-door canvassing, I told Lana I’d be back for lunch. She told me I didn’t need to come back, and I asked, ‘Why not?’ She said because there was nothing there to eat – not even a piece of bread. So I told her to come out with me. Maybe it was because we were so young, but we thought our plight was funny and laughed about it all day. When we went home that night, there was a letter from friends of Lana and her parents. They wrote that they’d been praying for us, and God laid it on their hearts to send us money, so we were able to eat after all.”
Cecil soon took a day job with the Kern County Land Co. to support them, studying for his messages at night. One day Lana called to tell him the fire inspector wanted to meet him at the church to see the building. By that time, about 100 people were attending, and the inspector said they’d have to make major changes to qualify the structure for public assembly. The building’s owner said the changes would cost a fortune and he wouldn’t pay for it.
“We kept meeting there, but about a month later, the inspector told me if we continued to meet there he would put me in jail. I was whining and crying out to God about it,” he says. “That night, one of the parishioners and I were going out to visit folks who had come to one of our church services. We passed a little church on the way, with just a couple of cars in the parking lot. My friend thought I was crazy, but I stopped and went in to ask if they’d be interested in selling.
“The pastor was sitting in the back row while his wife was speaking. There were five ladies in the front row – that was all. When I told him our situation, he said they were so small they could meet at home, and agreed to sell it! In less than a month, we raised the money to buy it.
“The congregation would show up on Saturdays for remodeling. We put in a nursery and classrooms in the basement, cleaned and painted it. The termites were so bad that we welcomed the woodpeckers who would come to eat them, even though those birds were so loud during services.”
After about a year and a half, the congregation had grown to nearly 200 people. The church could now afford to pay for Cecil’s salary, so he quit his other job and stayed as their pastor for the next three years.
When Cecil’s grandmother died, Cecil was asked to come back to Texas to speak at her funeral. The pastor of their home church in Fort Worth took them out to eat, and at the front door of the restaurant they ran into a friend from his Bible college days who was serving as a pastor in Midland, TX. He immediately said, “Cecil Maxey, come to work for me!”
Cecil told him no. Things were going well in Bakersfield, and there was no reason to leave. The pastor asked Cecil to pray about it. “I told him okay, but I’m still not coming. But after praying, I had a real peace about it. After finding a pastor for the Bakersfield church we went back and I worked with him for a couple of years.”
Cecil began to feel that God wanted them to start another church, and prayed for six months about where they would go. He went to work one morning and the senior pastor said to Cecil, “Are you still praying about starting another church? There’s a guy from Kermit, TX, who wrote to me about someone coming and starting a church in Denver. You’re welcome to stay here until Jesus comes back, but if you feel he’s calling you elsewhere, we want that for you.”
Cecil and Lana prayed. “In spite of never having been to Colorado, we had a peace about deciding to go,” says Cecil. “At that time, Lana was pregnant with Charise and we had two pre-schoolers. We moved not knowing how we would survive, but knowing we were called to the area. I told God, if we starve it’s okay, if I know we’re in your will.”
Cecil went to talk with a church member who rented U-Haul trucks. “Even though I had no money to rent a truck for the move, I told him I would pay him before I left town.”
At that time, Midland was an oil town that had gone bust. There were empty houses everywhere that people had just walked away from, and buyers could simply take up payment on them. People came by to look at the Maxeys’ house, offering to take up the payments and no more, but Cecil insisted on a $400 down payment.
“A couple that saw our (for sale by owner) sign came by while we were loading the U-Haul and eventually agreed to my terms. They gave us the $400, we signed the papers, paid for the U-Haul and left that evening,” Cecil says.
By the time they made it to Denver, CO, they had $14 left – the exact amount needed to pay for a motel room at El Rancho, which they fondly remember calling “El Roacho.” Their only food to feed themselves and the kids was peanut butter and bread.
A few blocks away from the motel was a Baptist church that Bruce Melton (who was subsequently a CrossPoint pastor) had told them about that was holding a mission conference. Cecil walked over, introduced himself and declared that he was planning to start a church. The pastor just stared at him for a while before finally responding, “Maybe you are who we’ve been praying for.” He went on to explain that they were hoping to start a church in Parker, about 30 miles from Denver, and had been praying for a Baptist minister.
“The next morning he took us to Parker to meet with a family,” says Cecil. “We met and visited with this family in their home, and after a little while the wife told us lunch was ready. We said we didn’t want to impose, but she insisted, thankfully – we were hungry!
“As we were eating, the phone by the kitchen table rang. The caller said he and his wife were leaving that night on an extended vacation, and their house sitter had fallen through. They were desperate and asked if we would come and stay and watch their teenagers.
“I told him, you’ve never met us, you can’t just leave your kids with us! He said, ‘You’re a preacher, aren’t you? That’s good enough for me.’ It was a beautiful home on seven and a half acres, with a swimming pool and heated three-car garage where we could store our belongings, and it was well stocked with plenty of good food.”
Cecil began preaching in a little building to a congregation of about 30 people, including Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran and Mennonite families, as there was no other church in the community. They couldn’t pay him, but gave their word they would begin to pay him if God provided the funds.
By now the Maxeys needed to find a permanent place to live. Their realtor told him there was no rental property available; only expensive homes on large, five-acre-plus lots. Cecil asked her if there were any area homes that had been for sale for a long time, and she told him about such a place. It looked like a ski lodge on the side of a hill, with a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains.
“She didn’t want to give me the property owner’s number but finally did. When I called him to ask if he’d be interested in renting, he wasn’t. So I read him a newspaper article about vandalism that was occurring in the area’s vacant houses. I said if he let us live there we would take care of it, keep it clean, mow the grass and show it to prospective buyers. He ended up renting it to us for almost nothing.”
Soon thereafter, baby Charise arrived. They had no money to go to the hospital or pay the obstetrician, but the doctor didn’t charge them and arranged for the hospital to let them make payments.
Within a couple of months, the church was able to start paying Cecil’s salary. It grew to about 300 in attendance on Sundays. Cecil and other men from the church built the auditorium, classrooms and a parsonage. Today, more than 1,000 people attend on any given Sunday.
Returning to Texas
After 11 years, Cecil and Lana felt God was calling them back to Midland, “because it’s a great place to raise kids.” While there, all three of their daughters graduated from high school. Cecil went back to work for the church in Midland.
“Every day we prayed that our girls would be saved, and together with their husbands they would serve the Lord all of their lives,” shares Lana. “We’re so thankful they do.” All three daughters married men with ministry careers, and the Maxeys now have seven grandchildren who love the Lord. Their youngest daughter, Charise, is the wife of CrossPoint Senior Pastor Bruce Garner.
Cecil’s brother also pastored a church, 20 miles away in Odessa, TX, until he passed away. The pastor who replaced him was commuting from Fort Worth where he worked, since his church was unable to pay him, and struggling with how to continue. The church asked Cecil to come and preach one Sunday, just to help out, which he did. Afterward they held a meeting, and voted to make Cecil its pastor!
“I told them no, you can’t afford me,” Cecil shares. “But we prayed about it, felt we needed to go, and ended up staying for 14 years, until I retired. My time in ministry added up to 46 years.”
Serving in Southern California
In 2012, Cecil and Lana moved to Huntington Beach to be near family. He claims to have a hard time sitting still, and Lana says he “flunked retirement” after just two weeks. Since then Cecil has been working part time at CrossPoint doing maintenance – a little plumbing and electrical, fixing things like leaks in the roof and painting. “At least half of what I do I pray for God to help me figure it out,” he says.
Cecil, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, also teaches Sunday school classes for adults at CrossPoint. Lana serves on the Ronald McDonald breakfast team ministry and helps in the church nursery.
“It’s amazing to me to think how Lana was willing to trust me and make moves when we had no prospects for a place to stay or food to eat,” remarks Cecil, who most mornings still eats peanut butter, spread on an apple. “We’ve lived our lives dependent on God and He has been so faithful. We were open to what He wanted us to do and willing to work hard. He blessed us and took care of everything else.”
Throughout their journey, one of Lana’s favorite verses has been Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“God provides,” Lana says. “We’ve seen how he works miracles!”