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A night for God’s children to shine

Arkansas church rolls out the red carpet for kings and queens with special needs.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Crowns on their heads, the kings and queens flash huge smiles as they emerge from a sleek black limousine.

They wear fancy suits and formal dresses and seem to glide up the red carpet as the waiting crowd cheers.

The 150-plus royal guests pass under a lighted archway with the message “Night To Shine” flanked by the words “Hope” and “Dream.” Many pump fists in the air. Others simply glow.

The friendly paparazzi hold cameras and smartphones with one hand and wipe tears with the other — unable to contain a flood of emotions.

On this recent Friday night, more than 350 volunteers came together at the West-Ark Church of Christ to throw a giant party for God’s children with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs.

“This is a glimpse of the kingdom, that’s what it is,” said Chris Benjamin, preaching minister for the 700-member church. “You see the upside-down kingdom in action because those often overlooked are given special honor.”

Read the full story soon.

This story appears in the March 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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Driven by faith, Texas mom advocates for refugees

Reda Hicks, attorney, community activist and military wife, helps displaced families start over in the U.S.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

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 — whose husband, Jake, is a former Green Beret — 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.”

Read the full story soon.

This story appears in the March 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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‘Do we really trust God enough to love our neighbors?’

President Trump’s immigration orders spark passionate responses from Christians.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

“We Welcome Refugees,” declared the sign outside the Northlake Church of Christ in Tucker, Ga., on a recent Sunday.

That message reflected the intense national debate over President Donald Trump’s order to bar — at least temporarily — refugees from seven countries deemed terrorism threats.

Trump’s court-challenged travel ban and his push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border have sparked passionate responses from Christians.

Members of Churches of Christ express a desire to show love and compassion to refugees and immigrants.

But many voice concerns, too, for the nation’s security.

“For me, there’s hardly anything more clear in the Bible than welcoming the stranger,” said Jim Neal, a Northlake church elder who serves as director of operations for Friends of Refugees, an Atlanta-area Christian nonprofit. “It reflects so much of the character of what God is trying to do through his people.”

Read the full story soon.

This story appears in the March 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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Best of Get Religion: February 2017

Khouloud, 1 year and 3 month old refugee girl, holds her mother Mahal's hand. They are Syrian refugees. Mahal also has a  brand new baby boy, 1-month-old Khload, They live in the Rajab Informal Tented Settlement, in the Bekaa, Lebanon. Mahal and her husband fled the Syrian civil war 4 years ago.   Both children were born in Lebanon, while their mother lived in the tent.   Mahalís husband and 2 brothers share the tent. They have made many improvements to the familyís tent since they built it. Theyíve reinforced the structure and put up wooden walls in some places. However, when heavy snows came to the Bekaa Valley, someone had to go onto the roof to remove the snow every 30 minutes so that the roof wouldnít cave in.  World Vision operates a Child Friendly Space and Early Childhood Education center for Syrian Refugee children in Rajab.

Build the wall? Bar refugees? Christians debate Trump’s orders

Faithful contemplate how to balance compassion for immigrants with concern for national security.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

An Iraqi refugee who serves as a Christian missionary in the heavily Arab community of Dearborn, Mich.

Canadian church members who adopted a Syrian refugee family with six children.

An Illinois minister who prays with loved ones of undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

All voice strong opinions on President Donald Trump’s push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and temporarily bar refugees from seven countries deemed terrorism threats.

The Christian Chronicle invited them and others to share their perspectives on how to balance compassion for immigrants with concern for national security.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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Super Bowl-bound ACU alum ‘Turbo’ Taylor Gabriel counting his blessings

With Abilene Christian’s Wildcats, speedy Atlanta wide receiver learned ‘more of what it is God designed him to be.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. and Chellie Ison | The Christian Chronicle

With God, all things are possible.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver “Turbo” Taylor Gabriel — who will play in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots — has no doubt about that.

Case in point: Himself.

“From a little school in West Texas to the big stage,” he said on Twitter. “Thank you, Lord, for your favor.”

That little school in West Texas? It’s Abilene Christian University, where Gabriel played four seasons from 2010 to 2013.

“I think this place was the perfect place for him because of what we were doing here,” said former ACU head coach Ken Collums, who was fired in November after going 24-32 in five seasons with the Wildcats. “He learned here more of what it is God designed him to be as a man.”

Undrafted out of ACU, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Gabriel is “easy to overlook,” as NFL.com describes him.

But football writer Chris Wesseling says the smallest player in Sunday’s game won’t sneak up on the Patriots.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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Why this pastor believes media misinterpreted Trump’s order on refugees

By Bobby Ross Jr. | GetReligion

OKLAHOMA CITY — Media coverage of President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees from seven countries has displeased Bill Hulse, a Southern Baptist pastor in one of the reddest of the red states.

“I don’t think it was an attack on religion,” said Hulse, senior pastor for the Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. “I think he was pretty clear that this would be until we could vet who was coming in, that radical Muslim terrorists are our enemy right now.”

The phrase “Muslim-majority countries” — describing Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — has appeared in many, if not most, news reports on Trump’s action.

However, some — including the editor of the Wall Street Journal — see that terminology as “very loaded.” It wrongly focuses, critics maintain, on religion instead of the potential terrorism threat posed by certain countries. Others dispute the notion that this is anything but a “Muslim ban.”

Read the full column.

This analysis of media coverage appears online at GetReligion.org.