LINDALE CITY LIMIT POP. 2180

IS HEAVEN IN EAST TEXAS?

For some odd reason, in the past decade Lindale, Texas-a small town eighty-seven miles east of Dallas-has become a fundamentalist mecca, More than twenty well-known Christian ministers, singers, evangelists, authors, missionary groups, rehabilitation organizations, and retreats have moved to the area. If the total population of these religious organizations ? were added up, it probably would equal more than one-quarter of the town. To a large extent, the ministries there are Pentecostal or charismatic.

Is it the water? Could a large magnet buried under the red Lindale earth be exerting some pull on big black Bibles? Is Lindale the Christian equivalent of Antelope, the town in Oregon the Rajneeshes made their own? One local sage ventures that Lindale’s attraction lies in the fact that the town is near the Holy Land. “Palestine is only thirty miles away,” he says with a local yokel grin.

While the various explanations are tantalizing, the real reason seems to be a combination of practical economics and a somewhat elusive notion of community. Nobody planned it. But when popular charismatic evangelist David Wilkerson discovered Lindale in 1974, others followed. Another minister heard Wilkerson had moved, checked out the small town, and liked what he saw. Then another, and another. Soon, a critical mass was reached, and instead of coming for the location, climate and scenery, people began coming because they wanted to live in proximity to others who faced the problems and needs common to people who work year-round for God. The groups also attract enthusiastic young adults who come for missionary training or who have left other professions to serve God full time,

Lindale is everything most fundamentalist ministries are looking for. It’s a pretty town that sits where the flat, treeless prairie ends and the rolling hills, small lakes, and pine trees of East Texas begin. Those hills are dotted with cattle grazing alongside bales of hay that look like giant cannoles. Farms are devoted to roses, crape myrtles, and blueberries, which makes for a pretty Sunday drive around the curving back country roads.

The rural lifestyle is relaxing when the high-powered evangelists and singers come off their hectic concert or speaking tours. And Lindale is centrally located, so that a jazzed-up Greyhound bus can make the drive to Miami or Seattle with equal ease. The relatively mild year-round climate means they don’t have to be holed up during the winter. And real estate prices are much lower-at least they used to be-than those in California, the other state heavily favored by religious groups. This means they can buy up enough land to build recording studios, publishing plants, Bible schools, dormitories, and homes for unwed mothers.

When Wilkerson first moved to Lindale in 1974. he bought 400 acres. Five years ago. he sold that property to Youth With A Mission, a missionary organization, and now lives on a thirty-acre tract. At the time, according to Wilkerson, land was selling for $400 to $500 per acre. Now, it’s up to $3,000 an acre.

“When we moved here,” says Dallas Holm, a thirty-seven-year-old singer and composer of Christian music who has won four “Doves,” the Christian equivalent of Grammies, “it was kind of threatening to the community. We’ve had to prove ourselves to some extent. I can understand that; I can look at ministries [in other places] that I have great suspicions about their intent. If you’re in a town of 2,000 people and you move in with a ministry that equals one-quarter of the population, they’re bound to be concerned.”

So it comes as a surprise that the “Christianization” of Lindale seems to have had almost no effect on the town. “They pretty much stay to themselves,” says Johnnie Kennedy, who works for the weekly Lindale News. “People here don’t pay that much attention to them.”

“I don’t ever notice them,” says Pat Rogers, realtor and president of the Lindale Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve never seen them do anything detrimental. They bring nice people in, but they sure don’t bring the dollars in.”

While a few members of the religious groups attend worship services on their own compounds, for the most part, they are integrated into a variety of community churches. That is, when they are in town.

Most of their children attend private Christian schools, so they have little contact with other kids in the community. None of the new fundamentalists have run for office, and only one has joined the Rotary Club. And while they may travel to New York or Europe to witness on the streets, none has been seen preaching in public in Lindale.

The only person in town who has much contact with the new religious groups is the postmaster. Mail is the lifeline of most religious organizations, and these groups put out and receive enormous quantities of it.

As Lindale’s reputation as a religious center grows, other religious concerns seem to have gotten the word. ’The rumor is that some Hindus have bought a piece of property here but haven’t built on it yet,” says one man who moved to Lindale to be near the Christian community. “I understand that they consider it a spiritual mecca,”

WHO’S WHO IN LINDALE



David Wilkerson and World Challenge-evangelist and author.

Dallas Holm and Praise-singer and band.

Leonard Ravenhill-revivalist speaker and author.

Youth With A Mission-missionary training center.

Calvary Commission-prison ministry.

Last Days Ministries/Americans Against Abortion-publishes magazines, tracts and records, pro-life activism and home for unwed mothers.

Upright Foundation-evangelism.

Antioch Christian Center-evangelism and counseling.

The Cruise Family-singers.

Tom Autrey-singer and songwriter.

Tim and La Donna Johnson-singers.

Harvest Ministries-singing duo.

Michael K. Haynes Evangelistic Association-evangelist.

Second Chapter of Acts-singing group.

Gates of Life-rehabilitation for men.

Jimmie and Carol Owens-music composers.

Winkey Pratney-youth evangelist and author.

Youth Explosion/Jacob Aranza-evangelist.

Kaleo Lodge-spiritual retreat.

Christ in Camping/Circle Cross Ranch-campground.

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments