By Mark Ellis –
George Wakeling, now 90, launched numerous ministries during his lifetime in a long and productive career of service to his Savior. Despite the fact that his kidneys and legs are failing, and he recently endured back surgery, his steel-trap mind is still sharp, and the various organizations George formed continue to flourish.
He arrived in California from Canada in 1959 with his family. After he finished school, it didn’t take long for George to become a manager of a Thrifty Drug store in Costa Mesa in his mid-twenties.
George had a nominal church background, but his entire family was born again in 1966 at the Anaheim Christian Center, which became Melodyland, led by Pastor Ralph Wilkerson.
“I got more interested in finding the Lord and the Holy Spirit,” George told God Reports. “I went into the stockroom one day at Thrifty and the Lord just fell on me — I started to cry,” he recalls.
George attempted to explain to his superiors that he was now a born-again Christian. “They thought poor George has gone crazy.”
Pastor Wikerson tasked George with starting a drug hotline in 1968. “We raised $55,000 to build a two-story building next to Melodyland and had 55 people working there.
“A homosexual guy was the first call when we started the hotline. He was going to kill himself. I got the call; he didn’t kill himself. He. came to live with us and was a great kid,” George recalls.
The drug prevention center’s hotline is still active today, and over the last 55 years has helped to avert an untold number of tragedies.
In the same period, George opened a Christian nightclub in Huntington Beach called The Ultimate Eternal Trip Lighthouse. “We did a bunch of music there with the new music of the Jesus movement, with many Calvary Chapel bands. Every night we had all kinds of kids.”
The Villa Sweden restaurant gave them leftover food at the end of the day. “So, we fed all the kids off the beach, we had different people speak, and the music.
“Ralph Wilkerson let us have the big auditorium every Tuesday night and we called it the hotline hour.
We brought in different preachers and kids would put their drugs on stage. It was the same time that Calvary Chapel was meeting in the bean field.”
George’s wife, Betty, got very involved with counseling young people, and their children also assisted the ministry.
Next, the Wakelings found a large house in Laguna Beach they thought could serve as a group home for young people in crisis. They had saved $16,000 but were short of what they needed to buy the house. “A man came into the hotline office on a Sunday and said he and his wife sold a carpet, and they wanted to help us get a house for the kids.”
George was shocked when he looked at the check after the couple left and discovered it was for $10,000.
“We paid $36,000 for the house. We lived in the bottom. We had six guys living on the top floor and 6-8 girls living over the garage.” They had a table for 20 in the kitchen built by one of their lodgers.
The Wakelings became surrogate parents to the young wanderers they took in. “Betty was the mom, and I was the dad,” George says. “These were people coming off drugs, bad relationships, prison, troubled people. We charged them $15 a week. We had a guy from the main yard at San Quentin that had been in there for murder. He lived in our house for a while, and we never had any problem. We had two or three guys from the main yard of San Quentin.”
Their experience running group homes led to the establishment of a larger ranch in Hemet, California, known as California Family Life Center, overseen by his daughter and son-in-law over the last 42 years.
After this, George became an executive pastor at Ocean Hills Church in San Juan Capistrano until the lead pastor suffered a tragic automobile accident. George stepped in as senior pastor for two years.
During this period, he developed a growing heart for missions. A friend, Rod Ingram, began building seaside villas in Sayulita, Mexico, and invited George to visit and help develop a strategy for outreach to the surrounding community, located 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.
After leaving the staff of the church, George and Betty started Circle of Concern in 1989 with a vision to minister to the homeless, the abused and the needy, which later developed into church planting in Mexico.
In 1998, George organized his first mission teams traveling to Sayulita. Initially, they organized medical trips, which included several doctors and dentists, along with medical supplies. They also did outreach on the beach, preaching and playing guitar. “We had altar calls and we did baptisms right in front of the villa,” he recounts.
At one of their medical outreaches, they helped an older woman in El Capomo, a few miles inland from Sayulita. “We gave her three pairs of glasses and helped her with her diabetes.”
They didn’t know her son was the head of government services for that entire state. “We were having dinner at Villa Amor and three black limousines drove up,” George recounts.
There is only one road going in and out of El Capomo, which the limos completely blocked. “Cars were backed up, honking horns for miles. These guys get out with black uniforms and machine guns. I was sitting down there with my friends eating.
One of the men asked, “Are you George Wakeling?”
“I was scared to death,” George admits. He gulped and affirmed his identity.
The government official praised George for helping his mother and offered to help their ministry efforts by supplying doctors, dentists, medical supplies and pharmaceuticals from the government.
“We were treated like kings down there, and the government helped us with everything,” he says.
George often tapped people on the shoulder who had no experience in a particular area of service, and saw God use them in remarkable ways. “One particular woman, I said, ‘I want you to be in charge of being a dental assistant.’ And she says, ‘I’ve never done that before.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re gonna do it because I don’t have anybody else. She turned out to be the best one ever. But I did that with almost everybody.”
“When I was senior pastor at Ocean hills, I told a woman that we’re going to start a bookstore and a coffee shop, and I want you to run it.’
“I’ve never done that before,” the woman replied.
I walked away and I said, “You start on Monday.”
“She was the best ever. That’s my M.O., to say you’re going to do it, and walk away.”
Even in “retirement,” George is still assisting the ministry he launched. “I’m still working on putting teams together. We’re going to Mexico next month, building a lot of structures,” he says.
“I like putting stuff together, making sure it stays together, and then leaving it with new leaders.”