Before Presbyterian minister Alex Evans ’80 added police chaplain to his résumé, he didn’t know or think much about law enforcement. He worried about getting a speeding ticket, like everyone else. Today, he has a deep understanding of, and respect for, those who serve their communities in this way.
In 2004, Evans was recruited to serve as chaplain for the Blacksburg Police Department. Within his first few years serving in this role, several tragedies struck, including an escaped prisoner killing a security guard and local officer and, a few months later, the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
“It was a time of being thrust into tremendous heartache and trauma: police who went into unimaginable depths, notifying parents of the loss of their children and being part of a community that had suffered through so much,” he said.
Through these tragedies and ever since, Evans has dedicated part of his life to helping police officers make it through the most difficult events. Through the Virginia Law Enforcement Assistance Program (VALEAP), of which Evans is the director, officers who have experienced life-altering traumas–from large events like Sandy Hook and Newtown to more individual events like officer suicide or line-of-duty death–are able to gather and talk openly and honesty about challenges they are facing. They learn about trauma and how it affects one’s body, faith, mind, heart, marriages, friendships and other relationships, as well as ways they can recognize and address challenging circumstances they face often.
All services offered through VALEAP are free and confidential to participants, and the organization operates under the assumption that no one understands cops the way cops understand one another.
Evans has seen the ways this program is “life-giving” for many of the participants.
“What we ask of the police is a lot,” he said. “They go to work every day in a dangerous world and culture–a culture that’s becoming more and more violent. Certainly, all police are not perfect. The very best officer can, in half a second, make a wrong decision and be vilified. The very worst can make a split-second decision and be a hero. We’re all just trying to do our best. These people have been in the midst of the worst scenes that we all want to run away from and forget, and they live them out and carry them around in their hearts and minds.”
Evans’ desire to serve was instilled in him from a young age, as part of a family with deep and wide Davidson roots. Alumni include his father, four siblings, wife Ginger Taylor Evans ’80, their three children and a number of uncles, nieces and nephews.
“It just kind of worked out this way. It wasn’t planned but has been a real blessing to have many of the most important people in my life share the Davidson connection,” he said. “Two of my kids’ spouses went to Davidson, and the third married a Georgia Tech grad. He has a Davidson shirt that says ‘I married into this.’”
Evans credits Davidson with teaching him to write and think, skills critical to his role as pastor of one of the largest congregations in Richmond, Va., and also in his work as a police chaplain.
“What has always stayed with me from Davidson are the people and the connections to honorable, gifted, service-minded lives,” he said. “Davidson shaped me fully. What a gift to my life.”
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