“Has anybody told you today?”
“Well, just in case, I’m telling you again: I love you.”
It was his trademark; his brand, calling card. If you saw Mickey, you could count on hearing these words. You could count on a hug and a smile. If not from him directly, from many around you, as he facilitated groups and classes to “get up, tell someone you love them, hug a neck.”
He was the Cowboy Preacher. The Drunk Preacher, some called him. He’d chuckle. I doubt he’d ever had a drop of alcohol in his life.
He sought out drunks, with a purpose, to share God’s amazing love.
(That was back in the day, before political correctness and biochemical studies taught us to call drunks “people with alcoholism,” which, yes, is a gentler, kinder term, no harm ever intended by using the old word.)
In 1962, Mickey ventured into the snake- and alligator-infested backwoods, near the deep south’s Lake Okeechobee, cleared some land about ten miles down a bumpy dirt road, hauled in some used rustic cabins and created a place for drunks to sober up. His idea, to provide not just a bed to sleep it off, but a place where hard work meets prayer, and confrontational truth-speaking-in-love results in changed men. A City of Refuge. His hard work had just begun.
His idea grew. Today, Dunklin Memorial is an internationally-renowned center for people overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. It can boast recidivism rates far better than those of centers catering to the rich and famous. It is also a place where families of people with addiction can recover and transform. It is a ministry training and retreat center. It is a church, where the body of Christ is people using their gifts and abilities to help one another, rather than a building sitting empty all week. It is the center hub of a circle of half-way houses, home and community support groups. Cottage industries, like cattle farming, orange groves, and pallet recycling, give residents hard work to do and help the program be self-supportive. It is a model center that is willing to share its success secrets freely to any who want to replicate it in their part of the world. Its curriculum is translated into several languages.
That says a little something about this man, the Drunk Preacher, Mickey Evans. There is so much more to say. Words are inadequate, but in an attempt to describe him, I would choose words like
and, most importantly,
loving, honest, and relational.
He continued to grow and adapt throughout his life, deepening his understanding of the recovery process and the need for transformation for leaders, helpers and addicts alike. He was the guru of the Daily Moral Inventory, a mirror to check and accept responsibility for your attitudes each day. He taught us to take the finger that so easily points at others (“but it’s all your fault”) and turn it (though it fights all the way) to point at ourselves (the only one we can change, after all). He taught us to use all of our capacities, including our senses, inner vision, imagination and even open eyes and ears when we pray, for God is in us, around us, and in our loved ones as well. God may speak to us from any of these sources. He worked toward responsibility in all areas, including sustainable agriculture, clean water, ecologically sound waste management and understanding cultural diversity.
“How old is that little boy?” –another trademark question. “Now take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” Only Mickey could get away with speaking this way to a defensive, angry man who needed to hear it. He could say it, with authority–a shocking blend of firmness and gentleness–and the hardest head would break down and listen.
When I met him, back in the eighties, I was a twenty-something transplant from Washington, D. C., all fired up for ministry training. I remember being amazed at Mickey’s servant-leadership style, but I was also a bit afraid of him! When his lip quivered and his grin bared his teeth, I held onto my seat, for someone was about to get a dose of truth. I had never witnessed a christian leader being confrontational before. It impressed me and scared me at the same time! Yet he was kind. And wise. Under his honest leadership, I learned to face my fears, and I grew up. By the time I graduated, I faced life with a new awareness, in large part due to Mickey Evans. I was aware of my ongoing need to heal and grow, aware of the value of relationships as a measure of recovery, aware of the complexities of life transformation. I was willing to be a facilitator of change for those who wanted to change. I learned to accept each person’s decisions as their own.
“I cannot change another person by direct action. I can only change myself, and that by the grace of God.”
This was Mickey’s mantra, which he lovingly entitled “The Bombshell Theory,” because “it’ll blow your mind.” It really does.
Mickey modeled health in family relationships. “This is my beloved wife, in whom I am well-pleased,” he would say, introducing his wife, Laura Maye. When families joined the men in the program each weekend, Mickey facilitated positivity, respect and appreciation for loved ones. Men responded to his example and held themselves accountable to making amends, to loving and respecting, where once they used, lied, stole and projected blame. Marriages rekindled.
As he aged, Mickey seemed at peace with gradually raising up leaders to take over his job. He used to quote Jesus, “greater works shall ye do. . .” His long-range planning to prepare others to carry on his work was nothing short of genius. It must have been challenging for him to let go of his baby, but he rested easy, trusting the One who had begun a good work to carry it through to completion. Mickey’s style of trust was practical, though: he planned, prepared, reeled in, and let loose, over and over again, until he knew he’d done all he could do.
Brother Mickey Evans passed this week, after a long life, shining brightly. His light stems from, and moves into, eternity. As one candle bows to light another, light spreads exponentially, filling the earth.
Brother Mickey, we will miss you here. We thank you for your amazing gifts and dedication. We are grateful to carry on this light; to be torch-bearers, humbly and quietly sharing life, transformed by love. Enjoy your new place; we’ll see you again soon.
Dear reader, has anybody told you today?
Well, just in case, I’m telling you again, I love you!
Pass it on ~
©Joan T. Warren
Heart to Heart in a Shielded World