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Christianity Today 

“We believe it is the merciful hand of God to allow the gospel to spread at this crucial time.”

Things weren’t looking good for the Thai church at the start of 2020. The southeast Asian nation was the first outside China to report a coronavirus case, and analysts feared a long, overwhelming outbreak.

Instead, Thailand is now being praised as one of the only places that was able to effectively contain the pandemic. After a countrywide lockdown in the spring and continued precautions, it celebrated 100 days without a case COVID-19 at the start of September.

Later that week, an evangelical church-planting movement in central Thailand celebrated a milestone of its own—one that wouldn’t be possible without the word of mouth conversations, house gatherings, and in-person testimonies it relies on to spread the gospel.

The Free in Jesus Christ Church Association (FJCCA) held the largest baptism in its history and, it says, the history of the church in Thailand. FJCCA, a Thai-led movement that focuses on village-level evangelism, baptized 1,435 people in a single day on September 6.

Twenty ministers lined up across the same waist-deep reservoir waters that some of them were baptized in, waiting for new believers to come one-by-one from the shore to proclaim their faith and be submerged for the sacrament. The event took two hours.

CT covered FJCCA’s historic growth in a 2019 cover story. That year, the association held a baptism of 520 people that national church leaders said was the largest they’d ever seen in their majority-Buddhist country. This month’s baptism was nearly triple its size.

“It is truly a mystery to the world as to why Thailand has been spared during the COVID pandemic,” said Bob Craft, whose Reach a Village ministry supports FJCCA. “We believe it is the merciful ...

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Thoughts on the kingdom of God and the common good.

The phrase, “The Kingdom of God,” has been in the news recently given Amy Coney Barrett’s reported use of the phrase. She is, it appears, on President Trump’s short list of nominees to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died last week.

The Kingdom of God was even trending on Twitter.

As one can imagine given our tense and toxic political environment, many Democrats (and a few Republicans) are unhappy about the prospect of President Trump nominating a Supreme Court Justice between now and the election on November 3rd. Many of them, including former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, believe that President Trump should postpone the nomination until after the election.

Not only are many Democrats upset that President Trump may proceed with a nomination, some are uncomfortable with Amy Coney Barrett, the supposed front runner for the nomination.

Why would many Democrats be uncomfortable with Barrett? There are many reasons, I am sure. Aside from being mentored by Antonin Scalia and a proponent of originalism, statutory interpretation, and stare decisis, we also know (from a past hearing) that some are uncomfortable with her devout Roman Catholic beliefs. As I wrote during her last nomination hearing, for some Democratic senators, this dogma won’t hunt.

See my full article: This Dogma Won't Hunt: Feinstein, Durbin, Sanders, and the New Religious Test for Office

For Barrett', her faith clearly intersects with her vocation. While speaking to graduates of the Notre Dame Law School years ago, Professor Barrett addressed what it meant to be a “different kind of lawyer.” She stated, a “legal career is but a means to an end. . . and that end is building the kingdom ...

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Esports opens new opportunities for evangelism, even during a pandemic.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Roman Khripunov didn’t realize the missionary potential of video games.

Khripunov ran soccer academies for refugees and immigrants in Houston, using the sport as a platform to share Christ with children. When the coronavirus paused in-person outreach, the ministry came up with an alternative: Soccer coaches would begin playing video games on the livestreaming platform Twitch and invite players to watch and ask spiritual questions. On Twitch, participants talk with each other as they play or type back and forth in a chat box.

It was a hit. Teenage soccer players reluctant to spend 15 minutes discussing spiritual matters in person were willing to engage for three to four hours over video games online. Eventually, the ministry opened its Twitch channel to the public and began to establish a presence on other gaming platforms as well, with coaches talking with people online. Among the success stories, a man from the Netherlands professed faith in Christ while gaming, then brought five friends to hear the gospel too.

“The people that we’re starting to observe on these [gaming] platforms are actually seeking a lot of spiritual things,” Khripunov said. “They’re very hungry for the gospel.”

Khripunov isn’t the only one who has realized esports can be used for ministry. From Houston and Brazil to South Africa and China, esports has emerged as an extension of Christian sports ministry.

Esports—video game competitions—has more than doubled its viewership in the past decade to an estimated 454 million people worldwide last year. The most popular esports championships rival the Super Bowl in viewership. When South Korea hosted the world championship finals ...

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Translation was led by deaf people trained in the biblical languages.

When Renca Dunn talks about having the Bible in her own language for the first time, she emphasizes the adjectives. In English, she has no problem understanding the people, places, and things of Scripture. But in her own language, the nouns vibrate with life and emotion.

“The clapping trees. The singing birds. The dancing meadows,” Dunn says. “The persistent Esther. The revengeful Saul. The weeping Magdalene. Most of all, our loving Jesus.”

With the translation of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in the fall of 2020, Dunn and 3.5 million other deaf people finally have the complete Bible in American Sign Language (ASL). It’s been a long time coming. The translation has been in the works since 1981, when Duane King, a minister in the Independent Christian Church, realized that English was not the heart language of deaf people in America. ASL was.

King, who is a hearing person, started learning to sign after meeting a Christian couple in 1970 who didn’t come to church much because they couldn’t understand what was going on. He and his wife, Peggy, were moved to meet this need and started a church and a mission for the deaf near one of the nation’s leading deaf schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Then, after years of church meetings, small groups, and Bible classes, the Kings became convinced it wasn’t enough to sign the English Bible; the Bible needed to be translated into ASL.

“Most hearing people don’t understand how difficult it is to learn to read what you cannot hear,” Duane King said in 2019. “Deaf people rely so much on their eyesight that they want everything to be tangible—they want to be able to see everything. This sometimes makes it harder ...

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New awareness of mental health sends ministers in search of resources.

Jarrod Hegwood was confident he knew how to counsel the students in his youth group. Then he got counseling and realized he had no idea.

“I learned that what I did was not counseling,” Hegwood said. “What I used to do as a student minister was called fixing people’s problems—telling them how to act and behave—and not helping them to understand themselves and grow personally.”

Hegwood learned a lot about himself while taking a seminary course on counseling and seeing a therapist. But his biggest revelation was about the importance of mental health professionals. He realized that as a youth minister, he wasn’t equipped to address the mental health challenges his students faced.

Across the country, youth pastors like Hegwood, who now runs a counseling center in Walker, Louisiana, in addition to continuing part time as a youth pastor, are starting to take mental health seriously and look for resources to help young Christians. This is due partly to a decline in stigma around mental health issues and partly to a concerning rise in anxiety, depression, and suicide in Generation Z (people born after 1997).

Anxiety disorders in adolescents increased 20 percent from 2007 to 2012. Today, 1 in 3 teens will experience an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health. The percentage of teens who experienced at least one major depressive episode increased rapidly at about this same time, and now 1 out of about every 5 girls reports experiencing symptoms. The suicide rate for young people ages 15 to 19 increased by 76 percent from 2007 to 2017 and nearly tripled for adolescents ages 10 to 14. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents, after accidents, according ...

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Christian entrepreneurs promote a new economic narrative in a city plagued by wealth gaps.

When John Onwuchekwa moved to Atlanta over a decade ago, he came as a church planter. But his call was much broader than that. By starting churches in broken-down neighborhoods, he set out to bring a sense of community and economic opportunity “to the people that look like me.”

“When you start with the church as your cornerstone, you set the direction and the boundaries for everything else to fall into place,” said Onwuchekwa, who leads Cornerstone Church in the Historic West End.

The pastor’s latest venture, launched this year, was not another church, but a coffee business. He and five business partners from Southwest Atlanta founded Portrait Coffee. The roastery and forthcoming café is committed to “pouring a new narrative” for black coffee by recovering the African origins of the product and bringing jobs and development to its neighborhood.

The West End was one of Atlanta’s earliest suburbs, its gingerbread-trimmed residences home to top businessmen and politicians. But as in many cities, white flight in the ’60s and ’70s shifted the demographics, making way for an infusion of African American culture and business: churches and funeral homes, schools and shops. One of those Victorian homes with the fancy trim, said to be one of the oldest in the neighborhood, was bought by a prominent black doctor and became a museum for African American art. Over the years, neighborhood blight became the target of urban renewal and revitalization efforts. In the early 2000s, the West End was hit hard by the housing crisis and recession.

Amid a recent wave of businesses opening in the area, Onwuchekwa and his co-founders talk about creating a different “portrait” ...

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Humans have a penchant for sacrifice, but it’s the Lord who makes it possible.

Over the years, one thing that has fascinated me about the gospel is the way it takes our familiar human longings and instincts and transforms their common, sinful manifestations in liberative ways.

Take the almost universal human impulse to sacrifice, for instance. Jewish philosopher Moshe Halbertal notes in On Sacrifice that sacrifice is the “most primary and basic form of all ritual.” In Greco-Roman religion, the principle do ut des (I give that you might give) governed sacrificial ritual: You gave gifts to the gods to put them in your debt so they might bless you—or to appease their wrath on the chance you angered them. In ancient times, sacrifice was the anxious, human end of the bargain.

We may think we’re too modern, enlightened and humane to practice the sacrifices that marked the worship of our ancestors, but a quick scan of our contemporary culture says otherwise. We too have rituals of sacrifice.

We put on sacred vestments and sacrifice sweat (and blood, even) at the gym so the gods will bless us with sex appeal (Aphrodite) or spare us from sickness (Apollos). We sacrifice time (and our families) at work so Mammon will shower us with possessions and recession-proof 401(k)s. We sacrifice our neighbors’ reputations in ritualized social media posts to Pheme, goddess of fame and rumor, that we might protect our own in exchange.

When it comes to Scripture, then, we shouldn’t be surprised to find sacrifices. But we should slow down and notice that sacrifice works a bit differently there. Halbertal says that in Scripture, sacrifice in its most basic form is still a gift to God. It is either offered to bring about communion and intimacy or to atone for a breach and restore that communion, ...

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He believed church renewal would come from ardor and order of Spirit-empowered African Americans.

J. Delano Ellis II, an African American Pentecostal leader who sought to renew the church through new forms of unity and order adapted from Methodists and Catholics, died Saturday at the age of 75.

Ellis worked to reclaim the idea of bishops for black Pentecostals. He was a leading authority on proper clerical garb and rites of ordination and consecration. He co-founded the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops and wrote a handbook on “creating episcopacy” to train leaders for the office of overseer and promote the importance of an unbroken line of apostolic succession going back to Jesus’s first disciples.

“Traditionally … the Pentecostal church maintained its ardor but was never really known for its order,” Ellis said. “What we’re discovering is that order is not blasphemous. Order best represents God.”

According to Ellis’s autobiography, his first memory was of his mother calling on the name of Jesus while he was still in the womb. Lucy Ellis was only 13 or 14 at the time, married to a violent man who was 10 years older than her. Her husband was Jesse Delano Ellis Sr., who rejected Christianity for Moorish Science and then Moorish Science for the Nation of Islam. He was abusive and unfaithful, fathering 28 children in South Philadelphia after his namesake, Jesse Delano Ellis II, was born in December 1944.

Ellis’s mother suffered from epilepsy and was committed to a mental institution while Ellis was still young. He went across the street to live with his grandmother and great aunt. Both women were ordained Christian ministers, one in a Disciples of Christ church and the other in a small Holiness denomination.

As a teenager, Ellis tried to establish ...

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How neuroscience can help us to be doers of the Word.

I was desperate for encouragement but couldn’t even open my Bible. As my tears fell, the words I could not read welled up inside instead.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . .” (Ps. 139:13–14). Unbidden, my soul remembered its truest story, the story that my present suffering was threatening to smash and scatter into the wind.

A month after I turned 20, my body suddenly became a place of pain rather than possibility. In a matter of days, I could no longer walk because of severe joint pain and inflammation. I sat on my dorm bed, and for a few minutes I tried to uncoil my swollen hands to turn the pages of my Bible, to no avail.

In that suffering, the Word hidden in my heart started countering my fear. I was confused and craving comfort, but God’s story was alive inside of me, welcoming me into the wonder that I am loved at my weakest.

God’s Word became a living part of my memory long before I most needed it. Many summers during my childhood, my Presbyterian church memorized an entire chapter of Scripture together, including the psalm that bubbled up in me that afternoon in college. Our pastor printed verses on colored paper and posted them on every wall and bathroom stall. Each Sunday evening we would gather in the warmth of the setting sun, sitting in lawn chairs in quiet Michigan backyards, where word by word we repeated passages of Scripture together. It was before our eyes, on our lips, in our hearts, and in our midst.

Scripture memory was also a central part of my education at my conservative Baptist school. But instead of shared joy, there were stars on charts. At church, I learned ...

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How God transformed my life at a church conference I didn’t even want to attend.

I was born to religious, hard-working parents in 1990 in Cairo. At 40 days old, I was baptized by triple immersion like every good Coptic Orthodox Christian.

Growing up in this kind of religious atmosphere leaves its mark on your soul forever. I can still recall the routine—but much-dreaded—confession times with the priest. Those experiences were especially deflating. Even well into my teens, I remember finishing confession, being instructed to do some penance so that God would like me again—at least that’s how it felt—and then inevitably returning to my same old sins. My attitude toward God was that he was mean, like my teachers from the Jesuit school I attended who would physically punish me (and other students) for falling short of their academic or behavioral standards.

In 2002, my family moved to America. The middle-school years were rough for me: Imagine trying to make friends in the aftermath of 9/11 as a chubby Middle Eastern kid who spoke no English. To add to my school woes, I was bullied at the one place no one ever should be: the church. Our family continued to attend Coptic Orthodox services, but my heart quickly soured on the church of my youth, which never appealed to me much to begin with. By the time I reached high school, I was so disillusioned with the faith that I swung from being a “good religious kid” to the opposite extreme.

A Different Breed of Christian

High school afforded opportunities to hang out with new friends, experiment with dating and drugs, and—after I got my driver’s license—go wherever I wanted. Before long, I had given myself over to a lifestyle of partying, fornication, and drug addiction. Things got so bad that I eventually found ...

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