There are some people who really seem to get the heart of God and employ that mindset into everything they do. Larry Evans is one of those people. With a strong belief that God never gave up on him despite some turbulent years with regards to his spiritual experience, Larry now sees life from the perspective of gratitude for God’s patience with him. He strongly believes that what has been accomplished in his ministry is God’s doing. He wants to help others see the same gracious characteristics of God.
We sat down with Larry to learn about his life, his passions, and his work as Assistant to the President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and the head of Adventist Possibility Ministries.
Larry grew up, the eldest of four children, into a family that would continue to move around a lot. He and his siblings were all born in different states, with Larry being in Texas. He has a strong affinity to the northwest, where the family lived on a farm in a place called Moses Lake, Washington before moving to South Dakota, where his grandfather owned a farm. This upbringing on farmland sparked much of what Larry reflects as the formation of his values today.
It was the time spent on the farms when Larry learned the value of a strong work ethic. Reminiscing of that time, he expressed that it was just what was expected. Work “was not a penalty.”
One particular season stays with him. The family would sell the eggs from the twenty-five hundred chickens they owned at a reasonable profit. Then egg prices dropped, and an immediate family of six. Larry remembers watching a special family car being repossessed. Later they experienced the sale of their family farm and belongings auctioned off at a fraction of what they were worth. “As a young boy, some of those things that we sold were a part of my identity” he shared - a realization that would surely hit home for many people around the world.
Larry recognizes that he had developed a frugal nature following this season. “I tend to be frugal in a lot of things - sometimes too frugal - and I’ve learned from that.”
Larry experienced what some may call a “mixed” spiritual upbringing. His mother was an Adventist, the “spiritual glue” of the family, as he recalls. His father was not a Christian and did not see the value in Christian education to the extent his mother did. His grandfather, however, came into the church originally through a colporteur, and made it possible for Larry to later attend Adventist academies and college after having attended public schooling prior.
Larry reflects that those years were the years that challenged and changed him. One of his toughest classes was Bible class. He was frustrated at first by what seemed a steep religious learning curve, struggling with the terminology and the language. Larry remembers “shaking his fist at God” and believing that “the last thing I will ever be is a preacher or a teacher.”
In the end, Larry would do both of those things in his service to God and others. He remembers during his time at Upper Columbia Academy, his roommates decided he would be their missionary project. Larry jests, “if you really want to know how bad you are, wait until someone tells you that they have made you their missionary project.”
The tables turned, and Larry was able to encourage the spiritual walk of one of his roommates. Realizing how his life had changed so dramatically, his perspectives for ministry changed. “I believe people can change,” he reiterates. “I believe… we should never put a period next to anyone’s experience.” Larry’s strongest memory is needing to put a stop to his bad language in his teen years, and required the support of others to get him on the right track. In effect, Larry identifies that he is very sympathetic to those struggling with problems, whatever form they take. “They need someone who believes in them, who stands with them, and who sees past their mistakes and sees their potential.”
Some who surrounded him revealed the kind of faith Jesus had in others. They inspired Larry. His personal admiration and love for Jesus began to gradually grow and develop. As a teenager he began to realize he had a growing spiritual hunger. It was a time of change. At the same time, while his admittedly mischievous behaviors became more prominent, he was also becoming aware that something inside was saying it wasn’t what he really wanted. Soon after the time he shook his fist at God, a girl he was dating saw a book he had marked. She asked him, “Larry, have you ever thought of being a minister?” The power of her words shocked him but stayed with him. It was the beginning of a dramatic turn-around experience. To the surprise of some, he began to pursue a future aimed at full-time ministry. It turned out to be true, “the last thing I will ever be will be is a pastor or teacher!”
A statement from Ellen White not only reflected his own experience but also one that he wanted to model. It reads as follows:
“If we wish to do good to souls, our success with these souls will be in proportion to their belief in our belief in and appreciation of them… our advancing ideas of what he may become are a help we cannot ourselves fully appreciate.”
In reflection of this statement, Larry emphasizes that “it starts with us believing in people, in their possibilities.” Larry hopes to “reverse the way our world operates… So often we seem to capitalize on what people have done wrong or what they cannot do rather than what they can do or can become. We need to cherish and develop the gift of encouragement.”
Turning the clock forward a few years, Larry has done far more than he ever imagined. It comes down to how we view others. “If you really believe that people can change, then you see everyone having unrealized possibilities.”
Larry would pastor for several years. A long illness during his last year of pastoring influenced him in numerous ways. One was the role of caregivers which in his case was his wife. He viewed life differently. Soon afterwards he was called to work as the Assistant to the President of Oregon Conference. It was during this time that the President encouraged Larry to give some focus to the multicultural work. This allowed him to explore more for what was to become a passion for seeing the possibilities in people who were often marginalized. The focus was not just on linguistic differences, but cultural and differing worldviews. This opened Larry’s eyes to the Deaf as a cultural group. It was at a camp meeting for the Deaf that Larry was inspired by the different and beautiful things happening. There were parents who were deaf with hearing children and deaf hearing parents with deaf children. He soon learned that the Deaf were often not recognized or understood. They were isolated because there was limited communication with the “hearing world.” Little did he know at the time how important this insight would become for his future ministry.
Larry’s ministry “for” and “with” the Deaf community became a central part of his life. Sensitivity to the needs of the Deaf began to emerge again while serving as the Undersecretary. He saw them less as a people with disabilities and more as people who could contribute much if given an opportunity. Soon provisions will be made in the Church Manual that will highlight this emphasis. These individuals are able to uniquely serve the millions in the world who are deaf better than anyone else. With their inclusion, they can become an even greater mission force for the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. “They want to contribute to the global mission the Church” he states.
Larry has been assistant to three different presidents (conference, division, and General Conference), for which he is grateful. He shares that he has learned much and has a “deep gratitude” for God’s leaders. Larry recognizes that he does not deserve the opportunities that God has made possible through leaders and mentors. He emphasizes that he works out of a sense of gratitude rather than obligation.
Possibility Ministries, which is the name of the initiative that Larry has helped develop. It has undergone changes that help to increase the awareness of the abilities rather than disabilities of those it seeks to empower. When God saw Larry shake his fist at him, saying “I will never be a preacher or a teacher,” he also saw all what he was capable of, and all the possibilities that Larry could one day experience.
So, too, is the attitude that Larry hopes to encourage in the worldwide Church when it comes to serving those that experience challenges of hearing, vision, physical mobility, , learning, and the loss of parents and spouses. Because of his own time of extended illness years ago, he has included under the umbrella of Possibility Ministries, the role of caregivers.
At the end of the day, a young mischievous man who never thought he would overcome his bad language was changed. This became possible when God worked through people who believed him. And now, Larry spends his time day-in, day-out encouraging others to think differently and to think of the possibilities of each person he meets. This is the mindset he hopes grow and develop within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
His hope is that we can create an inclusive attitude so all will feel that they belong. His final encouragement: “invite those who feel marginalized and give them an opportunity to be heard. They have much to share and we have much to learn!”
For more information on the initiative of Possibility Ministries and how you can take the mindset shared here into your local church and own personal ministry, head over to https://www.possibilityministries.org