Ryan Rouse had every intention of spending many years as a youth pastor. He was content with his position, serving seven years in Clermont and then another seven in Jacksonville. He had led many international youth mission trips and never imagined he would actually move to a third-world country and engage in full-time mission work.
The former Winter Garden resident said now he is doing exactly what God wants him to do. In June 2013, he and his wife, Stacie, packed their belongings and their two young children, Hayden and Piper, and settled in the city of Cabaret, Haiti, three miles from the orphanage they operate in the village of Bercy.
LIFE OF SERVICE
Stacie Rouse is from nearby Plant City, but she and Ryan met in Israel when they were on separate mission trips. After marrying, the couple continued taking trips to help others. In 2010, they went to Kenya and fell in love with the people and the missionaries there, she said, and a seed was planted in their minds.
Ryan wasn’t ready to give up his youth ministry, but they still felt called to serve. So they started a homeless mission they called Community in their backyard.
“We felt an awakening in Kenya,” Stacie said. “We thought, ‘Why wait till God calls us to Kenya when we can do something here?’”
Ryan said he always talks to God in prayer when he is mowing the grass, and he recalls getting the message one time to hold a barbecue on the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. They invited a group of homeless people in the area to spend the afternoon eating and watching sports on television. And they made some new friends.
Every Saturday — for two years — they fed them, hearing their stories and becoming closer with each meal shared.
“It’s easier to build relationships around the table, not in pews,” Ryan said.
Through this experience, the Rouses discovered their perception of poverty changed, Stacie said. The couple went from “they are homeless, but they are our friends” to “They are our friends who happen to be homeless.”
Three homeless people spent a Thanksgiving with their family, and several of them have attended family weddings and been there when the Rouses adopted their son and daughter.
This Community program began to work on Ryan, shifting his mind from youth ministry to caring for “the least of these,” he said.
Haiti wasn’t on the Rouses’ radar until November 2011, when Ryan was needed to lead a group of college students on a mission trip. He returned home with a new humanitarian direction.
VISITING THE ORPHANAGE
On their 10th wedding anniversary in 2012, Ryan and Stacie traveled to Haiti and spoke to the missionaries there. They walked to the orphanage, and children of all ages gathered around them, eager to meet the visitors. The Rouses knew this is what they wanted to do.
The senior pastor at First Baptist Church Orange Park, where Ryan was youth pastor, offered to keep him on the payroll if he would agree to be the church’s missionary to Haiti. The Rouses joined Cabaret Haiti Mission and, after a year of preparation, made the move.
Ryan serves as administrative leadership for the ministry, and Stacie is the sponsorship coordinator. An older couple lives at the orphanage.
The Rouses have a home in Cabaret, Haiti, just down the street from the orphanage. They live there with their two 4-year-old children and another child they are fostering and in the process of adopting.
They met Islanda on their second trip to Haiti. All of the children in the orphanage were split into groups for a series of questions. Islanda was in Stacie’s group.
“I knew she was my child when I met her,” Stacie said.
Islanda is Haitian and speaks Creole, a language that Ryan and Stacie are still learning with the aid of an online tutor. Because their little ones don’t understand Creole or French, Stacie home-schools them. Many of the orphans understand English, having learned it from the mission teams or from watching movies in English.
Most of the children in the orphanage have been abandoned by their parents, who can no longer care for them. Others have no parents at all. Their newest charge is a 10-year-old girl whose mother recently died. The child attended her mother’s funeral and then went directly to the orphanage.
Photos and descriptions of the children are on the website, cbhaiti.org, for people interested in sponsoring a resident at the orphanage. Ryan said it costs $300 a month to care for one child.
There are teenagers, such as Widmy, 16, who is there with his two sisters, Alisca, 14, and Daphne, 13. Their mother was too ill to take care of them. He loves playing soccer and reading about history and dreams of becoming a pilot.
Eveline, 11, and her sister, 16-year-old Edeline, were taken to the orphanage when their father died in the 2010 earthquake and their mother was unable to care for them. Eveline is artistic and likes watching “Tom and Jerry”; Edeline’s favorite movie is “Cinderella.”
Jacob, 8, and his brother, John Lito, 9, like playing games; their sister, Junia, is 6 and loves baby dolls. All three arrived at the orphanage after police removed them from their mother’s care because of mental instability.
Some are even younger, like 1-year-old Ela and Bensaika and 3-year-old Luckson.
To make a general donation to the orphanage, send checks to Cabaret Haiti Mission, 2700 University Blvd. S., Jacksonville, Florida 32216; and write Rouse in the memo line.
In 1998, the Jacksonville Baptist Association established JBA Haiti and launched the Cabaret Baptist Children’s Home outside the city of Cabaret.
In 2014, the ministry became its own independent organization known as the Cabaret Haiti Mission. Through partnerships, it provides health care, education for children and adults, employment and orphan care. The CHM ministry consists of an orphanage, two churches and two schools all working together to change the region’s future.