Lillian Isaacs’ legacy to international ministry at FBC Tally

ESL ministry volunteers at FBC Tallahassee are preparing to feed students. The church's focus on ministry to internationals is largely credited to the legacy of Lillian Isaacs.

Many Florida Baptist churches use their ESL ministry to connect with internationals, and First Baptist Church of Tallahassee is no different.

I recently talked to Todd Smith, minister to community missions, who shared with me that their ministry to internationals through English as a Second Language (ESL) classes was inspired by Lillian Isaacs, a longtime literacy pioneer and member of First Tallahassee.

“Everything we do starts with her heart because it leads right to Christ,” he said. “That’s our foundation.”

Smith said Isaacs, who passed away in 2007, used to make soup and serve it to anyone in need right on the street. Each year at the Florida Baptist Literacy Missions Conference, the Lillian Isaacs Ladle Award is given in her memory.

That memory is a strong one, according to Smith, who said not a week goes by that her name is not mentioned among the internationals who are ministered to at First Tallahassee.

Her influence is so strong that individuals who benefited from her ministry have family members from overseas who come to FBC Tallahassee because of the love they have been shown.

“She didn’t have a lot, but she gave everything she had,” he said.

According to a story in Baptist Press the year she died, Isaacs served as the Home Mission Board’s (now North American Mission Board) first national literacy missionary.

Smith hopes all churches will be inspired by the life of “Miss Lillian” and consider ESL ministries and other ministries to internationals.

“It’s rewarding and beautiful,” he said. “It’s the Gospel.”

Want to find out more about ESL ministries in Florida Baptist churches? Be sure to check out our August issue to find out how churches got started in their ESL ministries.

Nicole Kalil is the Jacksonville-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She can be reached by phone at 904.596.3169 or via email at

Leave a comment