Heart and soul: Couple discovers passion for the vulnerable in Mexico

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. – Warm and outgoing, Susan Hicks is an evangelist for life. People are drawn to her contagious enthusiasm. She lives life to its fullest and invites others to do so as well.

Her husband prefers to live life a bit differently, but no less wholly. Dennis is quiet and reserved. When he looks people in the eye, they know he considers them the most important person at that moment. He makes his words count, and people listen.

She's heart and he's soul. It takes both to have life and have it abundantly. At their core, their lives hinge on a relationship with Christ and a passion for helping vulnerable children. Susan's voice revs up when speaking about them. Tears occasionally well up in Dennis' typically stoic eyes when the topic of Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® arises, particularly when discussing the plight of vulnerable children in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Once Scottsboro, Ala., residents get a glimpse of what they've seen and experienced, the couple is confident they'll become similarly committed to Christ and helping young people in need. By now, they have quite a body of evidence to support their claim.

Susan discovered Shoes for Orphan Souls through local Christian radio station WMBW’s announcement of a shoe drive to help minister to vulnerable children. The passion and energy began to flow. "I thought, 'That's something Dennis and I can do.' Then I went to our church. I thought, 'We can be a collection point.'"

From there, the drive grew exponentially in Scottsboro. Churches, businesses and organizations were involved throughout the community. Many of the volunteers and collection points can be traced directly to the Hicks' influence. Hearts have grown larger. Souls have found purpose.

"Now it's not just our church that's involved," Susan said. "It's the entire county.

Susan's journey took a significant step when she went on a Shoes for Orphan Souls trip to Oaxaca in 2010, where she fitted children with shoes that had been collected for the program. She saw firsthand the challenges the children there were facing. The situation was so stark it stopped Susan in her tracks. Right where God could speak to her heart.

"I was so overwhelmed by the condition of those children that I couldn't do anything," she said, holding back tears.

The trip elevated Susan's desire to help young people in need. She relayed her trip to Dennis during the entire two-hour car ride home from the airport. By the time they got out of the car, Dennis had committed to going on the next trip to Oaxaca.

The 2011 trip was as powerful as Susan described and more, Dennis said. Miracle after miracle took place. It was like living through events of biblical proportions, they said.

In one location, the mission team did not have enough of the right sizes of shoes for the children who were present. Leaders looked for more shoes to no avail. Dennis sat on his knees empty-handed before a little girl. The smallest pair of shoes available looked entirely too large for this girl’s tiny feet, but Dennis and a teammate, Andy, prayed that the shoes would fit.

“I put those shoes on her feet, tied them up, and they fit perfectly,” Dennis said as he relived the moment. “Andy started to cry. I started to cry. We couldn’t talk for an hour. The Spirit of God was so thick in there you could cut it with a knife. I have never been so close to God in my life.”

Throughout the week, shoes that had not been accounted for beforehand appeared exactly when they were needed and were always a perfect fit. God provided those shoes, multiplying the supply like He once multiplied the fish and loaves in the Gospel of Luke to feed a crowd.

God is working through Shoes for Orphan Souls, the Hicks said. Cleaning the fit of vulnerable children and placing new shoes on their feet radically changes a person's life. The gift of shoes helps children understand people care about them. Combined with the attitudes of the trip participants, shoes provide a gateway for children to see there is a God who loves them.

"It's not going and dropping shoes off," Susan said. "That's not what Buckner is all about. They're about sharing the love of God and the folks who put the shoes on are showing the love of Christ."

The Hicks plan to help lead Scottsboro shoe collection efforts again in 2014. They want to go back to Oaxaca– Susan for the fifth time, Dennis for the fourth. They pray for the children there daily. Volunteers like them are the heart and soul of the Buckner program.

They smile warmly at each other as they talk about how God has called them to serve vulnerable children. They're committed to doing just that. They may just approach it in different ways.

"It's a big piece of my life," Dennis said deliberately. "I would be less of a person without Oaxaca."

Or if you prefer, Susan, her hands trembling as she speaks: "There was a young girl there that stole my heart."

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