Marriage and ministry have been a blessing to Bishop Michael Hilton Jr. and Pastor Cynthia Hilton, of Christ Disciples Church in Baton Rouge.
The Hiltons said they weren't "saved" when they were married 38 years ago, but their marriage bond only strengthened after giving their lives to Christ and answering their call into the ministry.
"We've always been in love," said Michael Hilton, 61. "We've never had a moment where we thought that we could never make it. Nothing really changed there. That continued after I got saved. One thing was added was the spirit of God which brought us closer together."
Cynthia Hilton, 58, said she's blessed to have such a God-fearing husband.
"I thank God for the man of God that he gave me because I know I have a covering — not just a covering as far as a husband and partner, but I have somebody I know is covering me in prayer. I witness it. I see this life. I wake up in the mornings most times to a murmur of him praying in the closet. … I know my husband is praying for me, he's praying for our church and he's praying for our children. He's praying for our grandchildren. He's praying for our nation and our city."
The Hiltons' lives weren't always so God-centered. It took years to get to the place where they are now in their walk with God and leading a church.
Michael Hilton took the first step during a church service in 1983.
"It was the first time he experienced the Holy Spirit," Cynthia Hilton said. "He came home, and he had this glow on him. It kind of freaked me out a little bit."
It was a life-altering experience, he said.
"When I got saved, a light came over my heart and my mind," he said. "When (Christ) entered my heart, my eyes were opened, and I began to see my friends different. I began to see my family different. I began to see a lot of things different. It changed my life."
Cynthia Hilton saw the change in her husband. He started regularly attending church with their three kids, but she was apprehensive.
"I found myself at home on Sunday mornings, and my husband and children had gone to church," she said.
A Port Allen native, she said grew up in church and had a desire and healthy fear for God, but something was holding her back from experiencing the real power of God.
"It took me a while to allow myself to be free enough to receive," she said.
Her husband was prayerful, patient and just tried to be a witness for God.
"I didn't want to push her," he said. "She saw my light. At the time, my children saw my light. Everybody was attracted to my new life. I was a new person. I was born again. I was given eternal life through Christ, and I allowed her to see the God that was in me."
One Sunday morning in 1991, Michael Hilton and the children were loading up for church.
"She came out, and said, 'I'm going with you,'" he said. "When she got into the truck, I knew her mind was made up."
After a few services, the Holy Spirit touched her heart and she gave her life to Christ.
"When I caught it, I didn't know what to do," she said. "I felt every emotion known to man. I wanted to run. I wanted to cry. I wanted to jump. I wanted to scream. I didn't know which way to go. I felt it for the first time, and I felt it for real."
"It was a beautiful day, not just for me but for the children," he said.
The Hiltons spent 18 years at Bethany Church, actively growing, learning and working. The couple answered their call to ministry separately and enrolled in the church's school for ministers, graduating in May 2007.
The godly counsel and training the Hiltons received from Bethany Pastor Larry Stockstill and others such as Pastor Donnie Shaffer were instrumental in their growth, they said.
"We had some really good mentoring and mentors," Cynthia Hilton said.
"All that time and preparation that I got paid off, because now I'm able to not just be a servant of God but a public servant in a sense," Michael Hilton said.
Three months after graduating from the ministry school, the Hiltons founded the nondenominational Christ Disciples Church.
"The Lord had been tugging on us to start a ministry," said Cynthia Hilton, a real estate broker. "A spirit of fear will hinder you from going forth, going on. Sooner or later, you have to decide if you're going to obey God or just allow this fear to keep you confined."
Christ Disciples Church, 9923 Sunny Cline Drive, gets its name from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
"That's the mandate I've given to the church," said Michael Hilton, a New Orleans native and supervisor at a heavy industrial construction company. "That's my heart's scripture. I'm constantly reaching out to people. I'm constantly talking to people. I'm constantly going out. I think it's a wonderful life for me and for everybody to bring Christ into their life."
Leading the 12-year-old church hasn't been easy but worth it, Cynthia Hilton said.
"We've seen so many times the hand of God move in people's lives," she said. "Even though we may not be growing in huge numbers, we've seen people grow in the knowledge and wisdom of God. … Christ Disciples Church is a church that loves God, his word and his people. And we're a church where the uncompromising word of God is still taught."
The couple have seen growth and have learned to appreciate each other after years of blending marriage and ministry.
"She's irreplaceable," the bishop said. "Having someone who is knowledgeable and has known me before I was saved and the struggles and battles we constantly have to go through, I need someone I can count on, and I can count on my wife."
For more information on Christ Disciples Church, go to christdiscipleschurch.com.
Another day. Another blessing.
In the name of Jesus, we already HAVE the victory. It's ours to accept. In the name of Jesus, we can have peace, joy, love in our hearts, healing, power and blessings beyond blessings.
In the name of Jesus, we can be overcomers. It's ours to accept. That name may not mean anything to some people right now. They may ignore it, curse, criticize, make fun of it. Many may not see a need to call upon that name now. But the Bible declares that someday, Jesus will be high and lifted up for all to see.
Philippians 2:9-11 says, "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Nothing like the name of Jesus.