T. O. EVANS – FATHER OF GLOBAL OUTREACH
By: Frank G. Tunstall
“It was tough going when I joined the South Carolina Conference in 1916,” Tom Evans told me when I was editor of the Advocate and visited him and Molly in their retirement home in Florence, S.C. in 1979. “There was so much persecution. Our ministers conducted revivals under street lights after working ten hours in the cotton mills. They also preached under brush arbors and evangelized under tents.
“I’ll never forget when my own life was threatened,” he said. “It was in 1919, and I was preaching in the Saints Delight church. I had taken a stand against whiskey and bootleggers and loose living. So the bootleggers came to church that night and sent a messenger to tell me, ‘Preacher, after church we’re gonna hang you to a tree and kill you.’
“Of course I was scared, because I knew those men were rough and rowdy enough to do it. But I told the messenger the first thing that came into my heart: ‘Go tell them I’m not worthy to die like Jesus did. Ask them to let me die with my feet up and my head hanging down.’
“After I told the messenger that, I announced to the crowd that the bootleggers were outside waiting to assassinate me. I also told them how I had asked to die. When I did, Holy Ghost power fell all over the church and even outside on the grounds. People started shouting and praising God. Holy Ghost conviction also came over the bootleggers, because when the people started to shout, they got back in their truck and left.”
T.O. Evans (1893 – 1980) was born in Newberry, South Carolina. He was 86 when I visited. I found him full of energy and enthusiasm for the future ministry of the Pentecostal Holiness Church.
“Brother Tom,” as his friends affectionately knew him, was converted at the age of 17. His leadership skills stood out early; he soon began serving while still a teenager as Sunday School superintendent and as a deacon in his church in Columbia, SC.
Tom Evans married Mary Edna Smith in 1913. He provided for their livelihood by working in a cotton mill. In time, twelve children were born to this union. In those early years he also served as a lay preacher, conducting revivals wherever he could.
Brother Tom cast his lot with the South Carolina Conference in 1916, when IPHC was only five years away from the 1911 merger in Falcon, N.C. At that time the conference had 35 ministers, 37 churches, and 352 members. He attended Holmes Bible and Missionary Institute for one semester in 1916, but had to leave the school to provide for his family.
His first pastoral assignment came in 1918 when he was sent to four small churches – Red Oak, Walterboro, Bamberg, and Piney Grove Mission. To follow the desires of his leaders in the conference he resigned his good job and moved his wife and their young family out to the country. Together they farmed 25 acres that year to make a living. He didn’t have a car, but went to his appointments the best he could. “That assignment continued for two years,” he said, “and each of those churches grew. The Lord gave me many souls for my hire.”
T.0. Evans was elected superintendent of the South Carolina Conference in 1927. At the time of his election he had been enjoying a successful pastorate in Rockingham, North Carolina. “I’ve never asked for an appointment in my life,“ he told me. Instead, He always left his assignments to God. “But I so wanted to go back to Rockingham,” he said, “and build a new church.” He actually cried about the change in his life until he was blind with tears. Just the thought of the new job left him feeling depressed. But after a few months he reconciled himself to his new role as superintendent. The conference that year had 39 ministers, 39 churches, and a membership of 654.
His salary was $50 a month, including travel, and to serve he had to keep working in a cotton mill. In his first seven years he hardly received his travel expenses.
Under the leadership of T.O. Evans, the South Carolina Conference developed the first central camp ground in IPHC after the 1911 merger. The town chosen was Lake City, SC.
Tom Evans had a big vision for evangelism both on the home front and overseas. Evans merged home and foreign missions into one conference program. Many leaders have visions but do not develop a plan to fund them. Evans conceived the idea of a special annual offering and launched it in 1952. His goal was to receive one annual offering for both missions and evangelism. He believed the plan would motivate local church members to give to the needs of foreign missions and for evangelism on the home front.
Brother Tom challenged each South Carolina Conference congregation to bring an offering on the last Sunday of camp meeting. He wanted it to be scheduled for the service with the largest attendance. The first documentation of this offering was recorded in 1960 [after his retirement], when the conference gave $7,780.54. It was South Carolina’s largest world missions offering ever at the time. Evans’ plan was to divide the offering 50/50 between foreign missions and home missions.
Tom Evans also held a great vision for starting new churches. With the 50% of the offering that stayed at home, Evans worked to motivate ministers to plant new churches. At the time cottage prayer meetings and home Bible studies were popular ways for launching new congregations.
T.O. Evans retired in 1957. During his tenure he guided the conference through the Great Depression years as well as the Second World War and the Korean conflict. He was also a calm and steady leader during the Deliverance Movement of the 1950’s that cost the conference a few churches and about twenty ministers.
During his leadership, the conference grew from 39 churches to 132. Local church membership climbed from 654 members to 5,655. He was blessed to to be a gifted motivator of men and it led to a time of unprecedented growth.
Brother Tom passed the torch of leadership in 1957 to a young man named H. P. Robinson, who made the motion to name Evans superintendent emeritus for life. It was an honor he greatly appreciated. His salary in 1957 was $300 monthly, including travel and housing.
After losing his beloved Mary Edna in 1959, ending a forty-six year marriage, he married Molly Culbreth in 1960.
Tom Evans is remembered as a “tentmaker” superintendent who was very generous. He started a construction business and gave 30% of the profits to God year after year after year. “I learned you can’t out give God,” he said.
He and Molly also lived to see ten full-gospel ministers in the family, among their children, grandchildren and sons-in-law. Two of his granddaughters went on to serve in prestigious roles in IPHC leadership. Melba Edwards married Rev. Mark Potter, who became superintendent of the South Carolina Conference, serving from 1993-1997. Their leadership was cut short by a tragic car accident on Christmas Day that took Mark Potter’s life. Melba’s sister, Jewel Edwards, married Rev. Rabon Stewart. Jewel became president of IPHC’s Women’s Ministries, serving from 2001 – 2009.
At the General Conference in Greensboro in 1965, IPHC adopted a program that was in essence the T. O. Evans’ vision. The delegates voted for the church to sponsor an annual offering in each conference and local church in America. The churches were encouraged to bring the offering to their camp meeting on the day of their largest attendance. The offering would be divided 75% to World Missions Ministries and 25% to Evangelism USA.
In those years it was not unusual for missionaries to receive their monthly support checks late – sometimes as much as three months late. This offering has guaranteed for the last 50 years that no missionaries have received salary checks late due to a drop in the regular giving of their support base.
The 75% of the offering retained by World Missions Ministries makes possible a worthy major ministry project selected each year in some part of the world. This year Cambodia is the designated country. In addition, many smaller projects receive funding as designated by the continental directors, such as Bible Schools, ministerial training, church plants, and a variety of other projects. But for that annual offering, most of the ministry of both World Missions and EVUSA would be stopped in its tracks.
The offering was named the World Evangelism Emphasis (WEE) in 1965. In 1990 the name was changed to the Global Outreach Offering (GO).
The South Carolina Conference has led the denomination in giving to this offering every year since 1965 – for 50 years – peaking at $446,141.23 in 2007.
In the last year of the century, the nationwide offering climbed to the $1,000,000 mark.
The largest Global Outreach offering to date was $1,611,284.71 in 2007. The offering in 2015 was $1,449,383.23.
Global Outreach is the life blood of World Missions Ministries. But for that offering so much that missions does around the world would literally begin to fall apart.
It should sadden us all that only one-half of our IPHC churches give to this offering.
T.O. Evans should be remembered as one of the great leaders of IPHC in its first century. His legacy that marks him as a visionary was his focus on church planting and his plan to help underwrite IPHC missionary ministry worldwide. Known only to God is the good that has come to the Lord’s kingdom because of Global Outreach. As for evangelism, T. O. Evans would be ecstatic about the current emphasis on church planting in IPHC.
“I’m thankful I’ve been able to do something with my life that can’t be erased,” he told me years ago. “It’s true I’ve retired, but I haven’t quit preaching. As long as I can be strapped up in bed and can talk, I plan to keep preaching the good tidings of great joy in Jesus Christ.”
T.O. Evans life proves one person can make a difference.
Brother Tom’s homegoing was on August 12, 1980, at the ripe old age of 87. Molly lived another eighteen years, and left this world on November 1, 1998.
Permit me please, dear reader, a personal note. My dad loved Tom Evans; dad was a hard working brick mason and a farmer. Dad was fond of saying how amazed he was that Tom Evans could carry on two important conversations at the same time, not missing a beat with either.
In 1956 our family’s church, then in Cades, S.C., designated me as a 13-year-old to serve as the church delegate to a quarterly conference. In those days quarterly conference was an all-day event with a pot luck lunch that actually was a full table loaded with southern fried chicken. As a lad who had just become a teenager I stood, frightened, to give my personal testimony of faith, and the progress report of the church; I’m sure it was brief. After I sat down, Tom Evans heaped so many praises on me that I felt ten feet tall! I remember well the theme of his sermon that special day some 60 years ago. He preached on the suffering of Jesus based on Isaiah 53. Looking back, that sermon marked the time in my life that I began to appreciate the horrendous pain of Jesus’ death, and His glorious resurrection that followed. He painted a picture of the cross I’ve never forgotten.