“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 began serving while still a teenager as Sunday school superintendent and as a deacon in his church in Columbia, SC. He worked in a cotton mill to provide for his wife and family. 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 old. 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 three children out to the country. He and his wife, Lessie Mae, farmed 25 acres that year to make a living. Twelve children were born to this union. He didn’t have a car, but got 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. O. Evans was elected superintendent of the South Carolina Conference in 1927, at the age of 34. 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. He always left his assignments to God. “I so wanted to go back to Rockingham though and build a new church.” He said he actually cried 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 pay 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 and named the united conference program world missions. Many leaders have visions, but do not develop a plan to fund them. Evans developed 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 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. [An offering of $7,780 in 1960, factored for inflation, would represent an offering of $62,886 in the inflated dollars of 2016.] Evans’ plan was to divide the offering 50/50 between world 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. In the next 7 years, 60 new churches were started in the SC Conference.
T.O. Evans retired in 1957. During his tenure he guided the conference through the Great Depression and the Second World War. The conference grew from 39 churches to 132, a growth of 350% during his leadership. Local church membership climbed from 654 members to 5,655, a growth rate of 800%.
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 the passing of his beloved Mary Edna in 1959, ending a forty-six year marriage, he married Molly Culbreth on June 18, 1960. He and Molly had twenty good years together.
Tom Evans is remembered as a “tentmaker” superintendent who was a very generous man. He gave 30% of the profits from his construction business to God year after year after year. “I learned you can’t out give God,” he said.
When he retired, he told me he left $72,000 in the SC Conference home missions treasury.
Brother Tom and Molly also lived to see ten full-gospel ministers in the family, among the children, grandchildren and sons-in-law. His homegoing was on August 12, 1980, at the ripe old age of 87. He and Molly had twenty retirement years together. Molly lived another eighteen years, and left this world on November 1, 1998.
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 largest attendance. The offering would be divided 75% to World Missions Ministries and 25% to Evangelism USA.
At the time, missionaries were regularly receiving 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.
In addition, the 75% of the offering retained by World Missions Ministries make 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, 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 the 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 greatest 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.
Permit me please, dear reader, a personal note. My dad was a hard working brick mason and a farmer who really did love Tom Evans. Dad was fond of saying how amazed he was fond 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, SC, 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 dinner. 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.