Lighthouse Baptist Chapel thriving in East Texas town of Frankston

Andrew Pearle Photography

FRANKSTON  In 2015, there were only five people left. They called themselves “the board.” They kept the grass mowed and utilities paid, but the church wasn’t financially stable. It was only a matter of time before they closed the doors of Lakeside Baptist Church.

It was never meant to be a mega-church. It was formed solely to reach the small country community in and around Frankston, located in East Texas. But as time passed, and elderly members along with it, the congregation dwindled. They didn’t officially disband, deciding instead to meet in a “house church” nearby, but they did finally call it quits and walk away.

Fast forward to May 2017. George Folmar and his wife, Linda, both natives to the area, had recently retired and returned to the area after more than 47 years of pastoring churches. He was still ministering as an interim and supply preacher, but he’d decided to break from full-time pastoring.

Even so, the potential to reach people in Frankston wasn’t lost on him. He’d already pastored churches in the area on three different occasions and had returned to a community where he was known.

Several times a week, he drove by the abandoned Lakeside Baptist Church, started in 1975 by a group of people from First Baptist Church in Frankston. He wondered why this long-time church had closed its doors. 

On May 18, 2017, George went to a nearby LifeWay bookstore in Tyler. As he browsed the aisles, he ran into a man on “the board” at Lakeside Baptist. He learned what had happened and was offered a chance to kickstart the congregation again. They prayed together right there in the bookstore.

“I didn’t have a desire to be the pastor, but I didn’t have a desire to not be the pastor either,” George said. “Two weeks later, he called. We met a few more times so they could answer my questions, but I knew my answer was ‘yes.’ I’d already been praying out of Acts 16:9 where Paul, at midnight, received a call from Macedonia to go and help them.”

Once they voted and made it official, George was taken to the bank where everything was turned over to him. He was handed a checkbook and told he had $800 to work with.

“My wife and I were literally the only people in the church at that point,” George said. “There were still three members of the church who had started going somewhere else, and they decided to come back and be a part of congregation. I’d never walked into a situation like this in all my years of pastoring.”

George got to work. The church was renamed Lighthouse Baptist Chapel. All the funds passed on were used to continue paying the bills. And then he began to pray, “Lord, you put me here, so now we need your help.”

He called a professional cleaning company to sanitize the musty, unused building. They quoted him $1,800, so George apologized for wasting their time and explained the situation. At the end of it, they had cut the bill in half and started to work immediately. 

He called a leveling company to repair major foundation issues. They quoted him $25,000. There was no way they could pay that amount, but George says the money they needed to pay the crew every day showed up. God provided. 

On July 15, 2017, Lighthouse Baptist Chapel reopened its doors and the first service took place. Because of a local newspaper article about the rebirth of Lighthouse, the handful of charter members who showed up that morning to worship were joined by 90 other people in the community. Today, they run a steady 65 in a country church that comfortably seats 80.

All along, God has continued to delight the membership with one miracle after another: free air conditioning repair; worship leaders who show up each week without asking for a dime; an excavation company that completed nearly $35,000 worth of work for nothing; and a brand-new portable building donated to be the church office.

“We hadn’t even been meeting a month when a couple came to me and said they had $35,000 to give to the church,” George said. “They said, ‘We’re probably not going to join your church, but we want this used for a local benevolence fund. You know the people and who needs help.’ Over the past two years, we’ve been able to help numerous people out of it and keep it going through contributing from our own funds.”

The church has even received support from other churches. Jerry Lundy, the pastor of Harmony Baptist Church in Louisville, Miss., and long-time friend of George, called and said, “Our church feels led to give your church 1 percent of our monthly income.” They’ve received a check every month since then.

On May 21, 2018, heartbreak occurred.

Linda, George’s wife, passed away from Phase 4 ovarian cancer. They were married for 46 years and she, his biggest cheerleader, was sold on serving Lighthouse Baptist Chapel from the moment God called them. As a public school teacher for 37 years, her calling and passion was children’s ministry.

“She fought the good fight,” George said. “She was so helpful and supportive of me and of this church. She loved kids and got excited about children’s ministry—Sunday School and VBS. Through the church, God has been so loving and kind. It’s been heaven on earth—before and after she died. Her memory and legacy live on here.”

In July 2018, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of Lighthouse Baptist, the church celebrated by adding five new members and baptizing three people, one of whom is the local mayor in Coffee City.

“I started out as a chaplain in law enforcement. Long ago, I felt like God put me there to identify with and minister to that specific group,” George said. “Having that background, I visited the mayor of Coffee City when her husband, a law enforcement officer, passed away. She asked me to do his service and started coming to our church about a month later. The Holy Spirit convicted her that she was lost, she accepted Christ, and we baptized her.”

Today, the congregation, made up mostly of unchurched people, is bursting at the seams and looking to expand by way of a new 250-seat auditorium and classrooms.

“If I were to suggest borrowing money, the church would do it, but I don’t believe we need to do that,” George said. “We’ve been asking God to meet our needs daily. I tell our church that God is big enough. We trust him with our souls, so we need to trust him with the smaller things like a building. I’ve always trusted God to provide—and he has. This is a church who knows who they are and who God is, and there are God-sized things happening here.”  

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