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“It’s a family thing we got going,” said the man in the long, gray plaid jacket, the silver of his rings matching that of the religious medallion hanging outside his vest. “We’re concerned about each other.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed thee,” read a man to the five souls present at service’s opening. (That number would swell considerably over the next hour.) “You got what you got because you are precious in His sight.”

The funksome music was recorded, but Edwinald Ballard stepped forward to the mic and sang along, sometimes taking the part of the soloist, sometimes that of the choir. “He’s given me a second chance/ Come on let’s praise Him in advance.”

“It takes faith to praise Him when everything ain’t looking your way,” she proclaimed, her voice getting raw from pitch and emotion. “You start praising Him, and the enemy is looking at you, dumbfounded.... All we have to do is put all our trust and faith in God, not in anyone else. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care what’s going on in our nation; put your faith and trust in God because that’s where our help comes from.... You have to believe it to receive it!”

Ballard prayed over the golden bucket containing the tithes: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the first fruits of all your increase, so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats overflow with new wine.... Father, we thank You for translating us from the kingdom of darkness...into a kingdom of peace and a kingdom of abundance.”

And she prayed over Pastor Byrd and his wife before they made their entrance. “Dear God, we just ask You to touch our man of God and our woman of God as they prepare to come forth.... We thank You for the anointing on them that will destroy every yoke.”

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto You,” prayed Byrd. “I’m going to stick to the Word — no politics this morning, praise God.” But the news of anti–Prop 8 protests outside Saddleback Church led him to slip in a comment at the outset: “This was a Christian nation. It’s still a Christian nation. The Constitution is so hard for ungodly people to interpret because it was written by men inspired of God.”

He led the congregation in a Bible Anthem, phrase by phrase: “This is my Bible. It’s spelled B-i-b-l-e. It stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.... Today I will be taught the word of God.... I will never be the same. No, never, never, never. I will never be the same, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

His sermon was a rambling meditation on Paul’s discovery of the law of sin in his members, warring against the (higher) law in his mind. Encouraged by the congregation, Byrd rambled right along with his thoughts, back and forth across the stage and through personal anecdotes, Scripture passages, and even the occasional line from a song. “I don’t blame the world for what it’s doing,” he thundered at the conclusion. “I blame us for not taking our rightful authority and getting the word in their hearts. Sinners are going to do what sinners are supposed to do because that’s all they know, and that’s to please their members. Because they are under the law of

sin and death. And guess what, born-again believers? If you don’t exercise the right and power and authority that God has given you, you’re under the law of sin and death, and you will receive the same reward the sinner will receive. You don’t go to heaven because you go to church. You go to heaven because you get your life right through the Word of God!”

After the altar call for the unsaved, Byrd made another for those needing healing, and a man stepped forward. “What do you need, sir? New pancreas...” Byrd bent his head close to the man’s midsection. “Father...we seek total restoration of his pancreas, in the name of Jesus.” Then to the man: “Your faith in God has made you whole.”

Before the dismissal, Byrd made a final announcement. “I thank you for going above and beyond by $600 last Sunday; it helped us catch up on some things. At present, we’re under budget by $1200, and we need at least $500 to answer this week’s obligations. I’m not going to have another offering or anything like that, I’m just going to ask you to be obedient to God. We believe it, we receive it, it’s done. Praise God.”

What happens when we die?

“Well, it depends on whether or not you’re a born-again believer,” said Byrd. “If you are, you’re supposed to go to heaven until we enter into the millennium. If you’re a sinner, you go to hell. It’s as simple as that.”

Christian Compassion Center

7309 El Cajon Boulevard, La Mesa

Denomination: nondenominational
Founded locally: 1986 (as a church)
Senior pastor: Bonis E. Byrd Jr.
Staff size: 7
Sunday school enrollment: 10–15
Annual budget: NA
Weekly giving: NA
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly formal
Diversity: mostly African-American, some Hispanic
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Website: christiancompassioncenter.org

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