They Come, and HE Builds It: Kingdom Work Continues Through a Rural Church Plant

Written By Lisa Kooiman

They Come, and HE Builds It: Kingdom Work Continues Through a Rural Church Plant

SANGER, CA. – To summarize the sentiment in Genesis, God says ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Conversely for Pastor Jacob’s efforts, ‘They come,’ and he, with God’s support, ‘builds it’. Pastor Jacob and wife, Francine Zailian, haven’t let any dust settle under their feet in all they are setting out to accomplish in Sanger and the Central Valley. Jacob has his ear facing up to the Lord, while keeping his other ear to the ground. From there, the application of melding the two becomes the kingdom work that is flowing from Set Free Sanger.

Three months ago, Pastor Jacob acquired a garage property within walking distance to the church, where they are establishing yet another ministry cohort. Utilizing the skill set of what Pastor Jacob refers to as disciples, they will provide on-the-job mechanic training, discipling, and sending these individuals to complete state license vocational training in their field.

“We put one of our guys through diesel truck driving school and helped him to get a job. He’s working six days a week and providing for his family. We really try to come alongside and help them get set up for their future,” said Pastor Jacob.

Francine shared, “You have to find a spot for them. You can’t just be like, ‘Oh hey, it’s over. See you later!’ you know? You have to be able to disciple them – teach them how to disciple somebody else. As they’re growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Savior, they’re pouring that into somebody else and they’re helping.”

Pastor Jacob has become a member on the Sanger Downtown Revitalization Committee, and through those efforts became aware of Measure S, a Gang Prevention/Intervention Grant program. The city of Sanger established this funding to address anti-gang and anti-drug strategies including prevention, intervention, and youth development. This additional funding is helping the ministry further their reach within the community to help redirect youth toward the gospel.

The garage isn’t the only new addition to Set Free Sanger ministries. Pastor Jacob had a vision that CSBC reported on previously in April of 2022. His vision of a ranch to detox, rehabilitate, disciple, and bring individuals to learning and embracing the Word has been in his heart for a while. Unbeknownst to him, the Lord would reveal His plan through the efforts of Sequoia Baptist Association Director of Missions, Nestor Amaya, and Jason Mahill, SBA and CSBC Executive Board member and Pastor of Harvest Community Baptist Church in Corcoran.

Amaya shares, “I had become aware of the church property in Alpaugh about a year and a half ago. At first, I set out to get a pastor in there, but the pastor I found only spoke Spanish and those that did come to the church only spoke English, so it wasn’t a good fit. I found a new place for that pastor, and where he is now, the church is really thriving.”

Amaya and Mahill discussed various possibilities with what could become of the property, but no progress was made until Mahill and Zailian crossed paths at the 2022 CSBC Annual Meeting in Sacramento. Both were looking for the missing piece to their ministry puzzle. God made the connection for these two pastors seeking to fill a need within the communities they serve.

Alpaugh is a small, rural community surrounded by farmland and dairies, with a population of less than 1000. Many of those who call this area home are migrant workers. It’s about an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Sanger, and although it wasn’t exactly what Zailian had originally envisioned, it is an answer to many prayers in the Sanger, Corcoran, and Alpaugh communities. The property needs a lot of work, but it has a good foundation and endless possibilities for all that the Zailians and the Set Free Sanger ministry plan to accomplish.

“The way they (Set Free Sanger) work in Sanger, Fresno, Needles- just everywhere- it’s a game changer. Most of us in ministry don’t know what it’s really like for a community like Corcoran or Alpaugh until we have a conversation with a paramedic or the police for what the drug and trafficking situation is really like – life or death situations,” shared Mahill. “You can ask any two people walking on the street in Corcoran where the closest place to score is, and they will both tell you what hotel room door to knock on to get fentanyl, heroin, or other types of opiates. It’s scary!” he continued.

Set Free Sanger began improvements to the property in mid-July getting a lot of debris and overgrowth cleared. With plans to bunk 16 individuals in the converted housing units. Pastor Jacob’s plan is to provide detox and rehabilitative services to both men and women, offering a separate bunk house for each. His focus now is working on getting the property seasonally prepared, as some of the structures are exposed to the elements. Pastor Jacob has stationed a disciple, Carlos Chavez-Garcia, at the property to oversee the improvement projects and to start making connections in the Alpaugh community.

“There is literally no drinking water available in the community. The water has a sulfur smell to it” stated Pastor Jacob. Chavez-Garcia attended community meetings in Alpaugh to find out what their needs are, and how Set Free can address those needs.

“We’re looking at getting some drinking water stations set up around the property, to help bring people around. We want them to learn about what we are doing and find more ways that we can help people in this community” said Chavez-Garcia.

Pastor Mahill is anxious for the change and difference that will be made by this ministry. “I can confidently direct someone that admits they need help with a drug addiction, just by knowing these Set Free Sanger guys. Just by hanging out with them. They will walk right up to anyone and start a conversation. That’s what sets Set Free Sanger apart from other ministries –working through life and death situations!”

“Vance Pitman, the incoming president for Send Network, shared a story with me and a group of church planters that really resonated with my approach to things. He said ‘If we bought a piece of land and were going to build on it, we hire an architect, and they draw up plans. We find contractors to do the work and we take off for a while. What if we then come back and nothing has happened, but they admired how clean and nice their tools are? This is like what God has given us- the plans and tools and initiative for what we have to do.’ We can look at our church and be proud that this many come every Sunday, or that we have all these programs – but how have you advanced the kingdom? How are you reaching the lost? The structure that God wants us to build isn’t finished yet. You’ve got to keep hitting the ground, and go hard,” reflected Zailian.

To check out a video on the progress of the Alpaugh property, visit this link .

About the Author

Lisa Kooiman
Executive Assistant, Office of Communications, CSBC

Lisa Kooiman serves as the executive assistant in the Office of Communications for the California Southern Baptist Convention. She is a graduate of California State University, Fresno. Lisa and her husband, Ruben, are enjoying the season of parenthood with their preschool daughter, Everly. They attend the Old Town Campus of Clovis Hills Community Church, the very church (under different leadership and name) where Lisa made a profession of faith and was baptized as a young girl.

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