When Texas Baptist Men sent Ernie Rice to Haiti in 2011 to explore ways the missions organization could help meet continuing needs after a devastating earthquake, he expected to spend a few days assessing the situation, report his findings and move on to other projects.
God had other plans, he discovered.
Recently, Rice and his wife, Sharon, moved to Haiti to work full time with We Care Haiti, a Christian nonprofit organization McKinney businessman James Cundiff founded. The couple will return to Texas briefly in September for the expected arrival of their first grandchild but otherwise are setting up permanent residence in Haiti.
Rice worked with We Care Haiti as a TBM representative when he led a building project to construct classrooms and put a new roof on Croix Hillaire Baptist Church and School near Petit Goave.
Rice began to make frequent trips to Haiti and developed a close friendship with Cundiff. The Baptist General Convention of Texas disaster response program has mobilized volunteers to serve with We Care Haiti for the last two years.
We Care Haiti began by providing food for children in the weeks immediately after the 2010 earthquake.
As the ministry expanded, it developed partnerships with 60 organizations to provide for the needs of orphaned or needy children.
“We’re particularly attracted to partners that care for kids and do it in the name of Jesus,” Rice said.
We Care Haiti developed a five-point wellness program:
• Nutrition. We Care Haiti offers high-nutrition food to churches, schools, orphanages and other organizations that care for children.
• Water. Texas Baptist Men provided 15,000 water purification systems to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. We Care Haiti continues to rely on TBM to help supply pure drinking water to children.
• Vitamins. Many Haitians suffer from malnutrition, and children may be stunted in their development. We Care Haiti offers multi-vitamin nutritional supplements.
• Anti-parasite pills. Inadequate sanitation makes parasites a problem, but medication taken once every six months can prevent their growth. “It’s tough getting the food to the people who need it, and we don’t want some worm to get it,” Rice said.
• Wellness checks. We Care Haiti is seeking to establish medical and dental clinics to provide preventive care. TBM recently supplied two dental chairs to be used in clinics.
Rice will support those initiatives, as well as serve as construction coordinator for projects to build children’s homes and widows’ cottages. As much as possible, We Care Haiti hires local labor to provide employment and secure a “buy-in” from local communities, he noted.
“Otherwise, it’s just Santa Claus,” he said of direct, low-involvement aid. “We’re committed to a peer-to-peer ministry, working alongside the people rather than coming in and doing the work for them.”
First Baptist Church in Stockdale and Gambrell Baptist Association are providing ongoing support for the Rices and their ministry in Haiti. Texas Baptists’ disaster response office helped create the We Care Haiti website to promote the ministry.
“God gave me a heart for the people,” Rice said. “It’s a matter of the heart, not the head. I never thought I would be doing this at 60. But I’m having the time of my life.”
Editor’s Note: The article was edited after originally posted to correct a reference to “Stockton” rather than “Stockdale” and to include information about the role of Texas Baptists’ disaster response program.