‘Do we really trust God enough to love our neighbors?’
'We Welcome Refugees,” declared the sign outside the Northlake Church…
HOUSTON — To Reda Hicks, refugees aren’t nameless faces on the news.
They’re real women — with real stories of escaping war and persecution in places such as Iran, Iraq and Sudan.
Hicks, a member of the Memorial Church of Christ in this ethnically diverse Texas metropolis, volunteers with The Community Cloth, a nonprofit that helps refugee women launch microbusinesses.
“My children understand what a refugee is … because they’ve played together, shared stories and showed kindnesses to one another,” said Hicks, mother of Howard, 6; Josie, 4; and Katie, born just a few weeks ago.
What motivates the 35-year-old attorney — the wife of a retired U.S. Army Special Forces soldier — to devote time and talents to helping refugee families start over in a new country?
She points to her Christian faith.
“Throughout the Bible, there are examples of people risking everything to take care of others,” she said. “Consider Rahab and the critical role she played in carrying out God’s plan for the people of Israel. Consider the Good Samaritan. Consider every Christian that has ever spoken truth to power, knowing they could be forfeiting their lives in doing so.”
Jake Hicks, 43, identifies with his wife’s concern for refugees based on his own experiences as a Green Beret.
While fighting to stabilize Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn nations, he frequently served alongside natives — interpreters, medics and militia members who helped save American lives while putting their own in jeopardy.
“Most people around the world just want the basic necessities of life,” said Jake Hicks, who flew helicopters and dispatched to numerous war zones in 22 years with the Army. “They want freedom and happiness and to be able to practice their religion.”
At Jake and Reda Hicks’ home congregation in Houston, most identify as politically conservative.
Many members of the Memorial church — including some of the elders — voted for President Donald Trump, said Reda Hicks, a registered Republican who declined to support the billionaire businessman.
On social media and elsewhere, Reda Hicks has been outspoken against Trump’s executive order that placed a temporary ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries characterized as terrorism threats. A federal appeals court lifted the ban, and it remains on hold pending court challenges.
Jake and Reda Hicks, during his Army days. (PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK.COM)While not all Memorial members agree with Reda Hicks, she praises the congregation’s willingness to engage in an open dialogue.
“I mean, sometimes there’s a pretty heated disagreement, but people tend to be willing to listen,” said Hicks, a community activist who serves on the boards of Leadership Houston and the League of Women Voters of Houston.
Jake Hicks — who declined to say if he voted for Trump — said he sees a need to tweak the president’s original order, even if he doesn’t align totally with his wife’s position.
The husband, who opened a security and private investigations firm after leaving the Army in 2015, said he knows that bad people attempt to circumvent governmental systems and enter the U.S. to do harm. But the refugee vetting process already in place is long and cumbersome, he said, so much so that it’s difficult to imagine most terrorists going that route.
However, Jake Hicks stressed, “I don’t like to judge the president too much, unless you are in his seat and see what is presented to him.”
Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, became a haven for refugees when it welcomed tens of thousands of South Vietnamese “boat people” beginning in the 1970s.
Each year, thousands of new refugees make this city of 2.2 million their home. If greater Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement, the Houston Chronicle reported in 2015.
Its status as a “city of refugees” can’t help but influence how Houston’s people of faith approach the issue, Reda Hicks said.
“Part of it is just experiential,” she said. “You can’t live in Houston without running across people who come from somewhere else.”
Ministers Gary Smith and David Duncan strive to show cross-cultural unity to Houston. Read related story. (PHOTO BY ANDRE BERRY)Preaching minister David Duncan jokes that most of the Memorial church’s 1,000 members trace their roots to the Republic of Texas. But in the pews on a typical Sunday morning, at least 18 other native countries are represented — from South Africa to South Korea.
“I don’t talk specifically about politics in sermons,” Duncan said. “I do, however, talk about how Jesus teaches us to treat people, no matter their situation. It doesn’t matter if they are wealthy or poor, employed or unemployed. It doesn’t matter if they are American or from some other nation … our goal is to treat people like Jesus did.”
Jake and Reda Hicks love God and express it in the way they love people, the minister said.
The Hicks family. (PHOTO BY EWART JONES PHOTOGRAPHY)“Jake gives his time volunteering for Vacation Bible School, going on mission trips and conducting personal safety seminars for the church,” Duncan said. “Reda is involved in church, too, but much of her mission is to be a Christian voice in various community charities that are concerned with the plight of the less fortunate.”
The Hickses met in the Philippines in 2007. Jake was there with the Army. Reda came on behalf of a client. They married in 2009.
Coincidentally, they adopted their middle daughter Josie, who has special needs, from Muslim Mindanao, an autonomous region of the Philippines.
“We kind of felt that we’re adopted. Jesus adopts us,” Jake Hicks said of adding Josie to the family. “It’s a calling.”
Encounter Reda Hicks at a Sunday service, and your first impression might be of a meek young mother just happy to dote on her children.
But that side of her personality belies the passion and force with which she pushes causes — such as refugees — that are close to her heart.
“When the rubber hits the road, she’s not just going to sit and talk about things. She’s going to act,” said Roxanne Paiva, executive director of The Community Cloth, which helps refugee artisans turn skills in areas such as knitting, weaving and jewelry-making into sources of income. “She knows that in order to really help this community, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and dig in.”
Sancha, one of the women with whom Hicks has worked, is a native of Bhutan who spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Nepal.
“We lived in a small hut made of bamboo, and we were getting food from the Red Cross,” said Sancha, speaking in improving English at her Houston apartment.
Sancha, right, visits with Elizabeth Werber, program manager for The Community Cloth, at the refugee’s Houston apartment. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Nearby, her daughter, Gracey Rai, who will turn 4 in May, played on a smartphone. The Community Cloth asked The Christian Chronicle not to publish Sancha’s last name.
The woman said she never imagined that she and her husband would get the opportunity to come to the U.S.
“I think it is like dream, but it is now in reality,” Sancha said.
She crochets children’s hats in the shape of animals such as bunnies, elephants and tigers. Last year, she sold 62 products. The Community Cloth markets the artisans’ goods at boutiques and community fairs.
“The ladies I’ve met, including Sancha, just kind of blow me away,” Reda Hicks said. “The spirit it takes to have the attitude they do when they come here is really incredible to me.”
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