It was a daunting prospect that faced the family of David F. Evans and his wife, Mary, when, at age 46, he was called to preside over the Japan Nagoya Mission. Four of their eight children were still young enough to go with them to Japan.
"We were very humbled by the calling and very concerned what we should do, because we didn't know how to be a mission president," he recalled.
One of their elementary-school-age sons based his sacrament meeting talk before the family's departure on Nephi's familiar statement to his father, Lehi: "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7). If Nephi and his brothers could believe that and act accordingly, the boy reasoned, then surely the Evans family could do likewise and succeed.
It is a passage that has given the family comfort and strength through Elder Evans' various callings, including bishop, stake president and, now most recently, as a new member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, to which he was sustained April 2 during general conference.
"President Hinckley talks about how we get on our knees and plead with the Lord for help and then we get up and go to work," Elder Evans mused during a Church News interview. "We don't have all the answers when we get up, but what I've found is that when we have great faith, and when we believe that the Lord will provide, the Lord does provide, and the answers come as we work through problems."
That was verified for them early on in Japan, where, Sister Evans attested, the children "opened doors that were remarkable in many ways."
It was clear that the daughters, Amy, a high school student, and Jill, in sixth grade, would attend the international school. "The boys were 7 and 9, and our thought was they would go to the international school with their sisters," Elder Evans said. But the boys soon became acquainted with the neighborhood children, all of them Japanese and speaking no English, playing at the local elementary school. "As the summer ended and it was getting time for school, our son, Michael, 9 at the time, came to us and said, 'Dad, I want to go to that school,' meaning the Japanese elementary school right down the street."
His father reminded him that he didn't speak Japanese, and the people at the school didn't speak English. Mike responded that three things were important to him: his family and friends, his mission and his education. "And if I go to that school, it's going to be good for all of those things."
"We didn't have much faith; we were very worried about it," Elder Evans said. They sought advice from the area president, Elder Lionel Kendrick of the Seventy, who counseled them "to let the boys try."
So Michael and his brother, Jeffrey, attended the school. Within a few months they were speaking and writing Japanese.
"I would come home from interviews or zone conferences, and our driveway would be filled with these little Japanese boys' bikes," Elder Evans said. Everybody in the community knew who Mike and Jeff were. . . . They came to respect the Church through Mike and Jeff. And a number of people were taught the gospel through Mike and Jeff."
These included Jeffrey's schoolteacher, to whom the 7-year-old gave a copy of the Book of Mormon. One day, President Evans received a call on his cell phone from Jeff, who said, "Dad, you need to help Mr. Yamada." Asked what help he needed, the boy replied, "Well, Dad, I gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, and he's not reading it. You need to help him."
After some reflection, the family decided to invite the teacher to Jeffrey's baptism. After the service, "this good man was weeping, and he said, 'I felt something I've never felt before.' " The teacher has taken the missionary lessons, and, has since visited the family at their home in Salt Lake City, but has not yet joined the Church. "But I tell you, he's a friend of the Church, and he will stand up for the Church, and he will always remember the feelings that he had as, through the invitation of a boy, he first felt what the Spirit feels like."
That was a feeling Elder Evans learned to recognize through the tutelage of righteous parents during his boyhood in the Los Angeles, Calif., area, where his father, David C. Evans, worked for Bendix Corp. as a pioneer in the computer science industry. He later formed the computer science department at the University of Utah and founded the eminently successful Evans and Sutherland Computer Corp. in Salt Lake City.
His mother, Joy F. Evans, became prominent in the Church as a counselor to Relief Society General President Barbara Winder. His father was a Scoutmaster for 27 years and developed such a rapport with the boys in their California neighborhood that they would occasionally come to the house and ask "if Brother Evans could come out and play." Later, as a young missionary in Japan, Elder Evans told his mission president his father was "just a Scoutmaster." President Tomosu Abo, a Japanese man from Hawaii, responded, "Oh, Elder Evans, don't ever say 'just a Scoutmaster.' That's the man that the Lord trusts young men to to bring them up and to teach them and prepare them for all the rest that will happen in their lives."
Elder Evans said he learned a lesson that day that served him later as a Scoutmaster in his own right, and in other capacities such as bishop and stake president. Among his qualities is an abiding love and admiration for the youth of the Church, who, he said, "are doing wonderful things; they have stronger faith than we had at a similar age." Of the missionaries he led, he said, "They love the Lord; they came with testimonies; they left with stronger testimonies."
Whether in service to young or older Latter-day Saints, Elder Evans applies the counsel from 1 Nephi 3:7, augmenting it with a verse from the next chapter, "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" (1Nephi 4:6).
As president of the Salt Lake Emigration Stake, he has applied that counsel in implementing a charge from President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, who installed him as stake president. President Faust said that in the stake members' outreach, they were to start with "those who were once a part of us."
“And we have found many who have wanted to come back and just needed some little help over some problem,” Elder Evans reflected, adding that the Lord wants all of His children ultimately to return to Him. “And so, if someone’s not ready today, we’ll keep at it.”