JEFFERSONVILLE — Barbara Anderson recalls receiving a call from the Rev. Berniece Hicks one day.

During their conversation, Rev. Hicks told Anderson that a former chef of President Bill Clinton was now on her staff. She also asked if there was a special dish those living at the Haven House homeless shelter in Jeffersonville would like cooked for them.

"I told her they never get chicken and dumplings," Anderson, shelter director, recalled. "She said that was her specialty. So she brought in some workers and cooked chicken and dumplings. Then she held court and it was amazing how they [residents] opened up to her."

Rev. Hicks, who founded the Christ Gospel Churches International, which has its headquarters on 10th Street in Jeffersonville, died Sunday. She was 99 years old.

A letter dated Aug. 12 from the Rev. Allen Conway to members of the church confirmed her passing.

"It is with great sorrow to share that our mother, and our Beloved Pastor and Spiritual Guide, Rev. Bernice R. Hicks, has passed from this life to eternity. She went to her Heavenly Home earlier this afternoon."

Under her leadership, Christ Gospel Church has more than 2,000 members at its Jeffersonville church, and more than 1,000 congregations throughout the world. She also wrote more than 120 books during her ministry.

Andrew Takami, a longtime member of the church, called the religious leader a "mentor" and said the two had a deep friendship.

"She had a lot to do with my spiritual growth," Takami said. "We were very close."

Rev. Hicks formed the Pentecostal religious community and according to the church's website, based the core of her teachings on the Old Testament Tabernacle. Up until recently she still attended service each Sunday to preach the word.

"She often said she didn't find the word retire in the Bible. She didn't think the apostles retired so why should she," Takami said. "There were other ministers who assisted, but she was absolutely involved."

Anderson said she remembers when an out-of-town church family was involved in a serious car accident locally. The mother was killed and other members of the family suffered severe injuries. With the survivors unable to travel, Rev. Hicks made sure they were taken care of during their rehabilitation. She rented a house for the family, had an army of volunteers assembled to work on it, and in one day it was ready to be occupied.

"I've never seen anything like it. There were like 75 people that day working on the house," Anderson said. "They took care of that family. She was an amazing woman."

There is still no word on who will replace Rev. Hicks as the head of the church, but Takami, who is the corporate secretary for the Christ Gospel International Board of Directors, said she made sure there would be a smooth transition.

"The organization is in really good shape," he said. "She prepared well for this day. Systems were put in place. We have a strong board of directors and will have a number of people step up. I am sure we are not going to do anything quickly. She would want us to continue to preach the living Christ to a dying world."

In his letter Conway said the congregation prayed for years not to take Rev. Hicks before her appointed time "ensuring she could deliver the complete message of what God appointed for her. God answered our prayers."

While Rev. Hicks accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior at age 19, she never intended to become a preacher, according to her biography on the church's website. She studied the Bible, volunteered at her church, and began hosting missionaries. She quickly gained a following that has continued to grow.

Takami said funeral arrangements have not be made. Rev. Hicks is survived by two daughters, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"She is going to be very missed in the community," he said. "Her community of friends have been overwhelmingly supportive with their sympathy and support. She gave so much love and had so much strength. People who knew her said she had tremendous love for everyone."

Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Contact him via email at chris.morris@newsandtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NAT_ChrisM.

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