When Dr. Louis Hadley Evans, Sr., former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California passed away in 1981 at the age 84, he was eulogized as someone with “the brilliance of the Apostle Paul, the impetuousness of a Peter, and the love and tenderness of a Barnabas.”
The life of Dr. Louie Evans, as he was affectionately known, is a testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness when crossed with man’s willingness and resourcefulness.
After graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary, the newly minted pastor assumed the pulpit of a fledgling church in Westhope, North Dakota – a community located just 4 miles from the Canadian border. It had just 29 members. Settling into the prairie town, Evans was warned about the area boys. He was told they were incorrigible, troubled, and to be avoided.
Instead of taking the bad advice, Pastor Evans negotiated with a local hotel and turned part of it into a gymnasium. He invited the youth, and they flocked to it like moths to flames. They lifted weights and played games – and listened to Louie. One-by-one, the once rebellious boys were introduced to and accepted Jesus Christ. The church quadrupled in size and the boys were transformed.
A few years later, Evans launched a ministry to families and children out in California at Calvary Presbyterian Church. It was called “Presbyterian Mariners,” and many of the programs featured nautical themes, including “the Good Ship Matrimony on the Sea of Life.” Some years later, Dr. Evans was called to the Third Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, where he met rising sportsman Branch Rickey. Rickey, a devout Christian, would go on to integrate baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Whether in a tiny makeshift gym in North Dakota or ministering to athletes in Pittsburgh, Evans saw the potential for nontraditional evangelical outreach. Yet when elders from Hollywood Presbyterian came calling, he initially declined, but then caught himself. He once more saw opportunity to witness disguised as work. He accepted, moved back west and proceeded to evangelize the motion picture industry.
Dr. Evans helped start the Hollywood Christian Group, which met in Sunday school director Henrietta Mears’ living room. It included Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Ronald Reagan. Dr. Billy Graham was also a member, a fortuitous connection that introduced the North Carolina preacher to major media and helped launch his international preaching career.
Dr. Evans accepted invitations to speak wherever and whenever he felt his presence and ministry could advance the Gospel. One such event took place on February 19, 1950. The setting was the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. His sermon was titled, “This is America’s Hour,” and it created considerable buzz not just in the ruling class but throughout the country.
On that Sunday morning, Dr. Evans was preaching from Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is that nation, whose God is the Lord and the people whom He hath chosen for His inheritance.”
“As nations served His divine purpose, they remained on the chessboard of history,” Evans preached. “But when they got in His way, or the way of the good of mankind, He removed them from the board. A study of history has shown that nations have been His pawns and His pieces, and this has been His strategy with knights and castles and kings and queens and bishops and pawns.”
Dr. Evans went on to discuss how America has been blessed and used by the Lord, but then warned we needed a “rebirth of spirit” if the country were to continuing leading the way. He lamented a rise in crime, sexual sin, and a general apathy toward faith.
“Our homes need saving and the sides of the triangle – husband and wife – will be best held together by the extrovert base, God and His Kingdom and their unselfish purposes … there is something in Christianity and the presence of God at the hearthside which gives the home fifteen times the chance of standing and surviving with religion than it would have without its benefits.”
Of late, many commentators have chastised patriotic believers for championing so-called Christian nationalism. Looking back to Dr. Evans’ message from almost 75 years ago, it’s clear that while names and circumstances change, the old debates still rage.
“I am not advocating a narrow nationalism when I say, ‘God bless America and give us success,'”he preached. “I am pleading for a supranationalism. I want to see her continued on the chessboard of history because she makes her contribution to this strategic game of righteousness among the nations that God is playing.”
Dr. Evans concluded:
“We do pray ‘America first’ – first in usefulness to God. First in her availability to the spiritual kingdom enterprise. First in power that she may bend over the weak and suffering. First in wealth that she may share it with others in mercy. First in light if she be lamp in the darkness. First in strength that she may bear the infirmities of the weak. First in purity that others may sup from our cleansed wells.”
Dr. Evans has been gone for over 40 years, and even his son, the beloved pastor Dr. Louie Evans, Jr., who prayed similarly, has been in Heaven since 2008. Yet we continue to ask for the Lord’s favor. Christians don’t pray for a strong America for selfish purposes but in order to advance His Kingdom through us and through Him.