LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Darrell and Nicole Roberts are far way from their roots in East Texas, but that hasn't stopped them from using a Texas-themed coffee shop in their fight against world-wide human trafficking.
The Roberts family is from the Lufkin area, and for years, they have had a heart for Belgium.
"When I was 16, I was able to come over here and learn the language and meet the people," Darrell said. "It just seemed like we were supposed to be here."
Darrell, from Apple Springs, has a background in counseling and education. His wife Nicole graduated from Central High School and has a background in the hospitality business. The two also share a common passion to fight the injustices in the world.
The idea to move to Belgium and open the coffee house has been on their minds for about five years.
"We were really dragging our feet on it," Nicole said. "We didn't know how to begin or what to do exactly. We knew if we were ever going to do it and do it right that we were going to have to go all in. We ended up selling our house, and then we decided to open up our doors and sell all of our stuff because it is stuff. We were willing to give up all of our stuff to help out others in a world were there is so much going on all the time."
The Roberts said it was a tough decision.
"It seemed right for our family," Nicole said. "Not right for everyone but it was something we were called on to do. There are a lot of bad things in the world with poverty and hunger, and for us who have been so blessed with a wonderful life, it just seemed right to go somewhere and make a difference."
The coffee shop opens daily at 7:27 a.m. It is a strange start time, but Darrell Roberts said the time carries a very important meaning.
"There are 27 million people stuck in this human trafficking problem, so when people asks us why the start time, we are able to then get a conversation going about the problem of Human Trafficking," Darrell said.
The Texas Coffee shop sits in a shopping area of Mons. About an hour away in Antwerp is a major red-light district where women can be seen in windows and paid for sexual services.
"It's a dark and scary place," Nicole said. "You don't judge these women. Many have been forced into this. You have sympathy, and your heart hurts for them. There are not many in Belgium that are taken into the trafficking problem. many are coming from places like Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungry and then are being sent to Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. It's hard to get an exact number since so many issues cross boarders here."
On December 1, when the Texas Coffee Shop was officially opened, the shop brought a feel to Belgium that many people have embraced. It was a style that did almost not happen.
"We originally were going to just come over and start a coffee shop," Nicole said. "I was going to go to classes and learn how to make pastries that are common here. One of my friends then talked to me and said, 'Nicole why are you going to try to make something that these people have been making their whole lives. You should bring something they have never seen before or had.' It was the best decision we could have ever made."
"The people love it," Darrell said. "A lot of people here have grown up watching 'Dallas' and John Wayne, so the moment they walk through the doors, they see a rustic flare. Something they speak of is the warmth of the place."
"They like to come in and take the cowboy hats off the walls and take pictures with them," Nicole said. "[It] has been great because then they put it on social media and get our name out there, and others then show up and see what we are about."
Not only did the shop bring some Texas flare but it also brought a haven for victims of the sex trade.
"They have no work experience," Nicole said. "They have no job experience to put on their resume that make them hirable here, so what we are wanting to do is teach them job skills to teach them how to prepare for an interview and to teach them how to handle your finances and these kinds of things."
Nicole added that the services are expanding in the near future.
"We are going to have the women make fair-trade items and sell them here in the shop and the money they raise goes back to them," Nicole said. "We are starting that in January."
The Roberts family said they are always looking for more financial help from their friends in the Pineywoods. To help out with the Roberts' mission, click here.