The youth minister asked everyone in the circle to stand up and join hands to pray, but Roger Rice didn’t have any arms, much less hands. It was his first time at church after a long absence, and he was skeptical about how he’d be treated.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – The youth minister asked everyone in the circle to stand up and join hands to pray, but Roger Rice didn’t have any arms, much less hands. It was his first time at church after a long absence, and he was skeptical about how he’d be treated.
“I wondered how he was going to react to me being right next to him,” Rice said of the youth minister at Westwood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. “But without any hesitation at all, he reached and touched me on the shoulder. It was at that moment that God touched my heart and I realized how stupid I had been and that I needed Christ in my life.”
Rice, who stands three foot, four inches, was born in the late 1950s with severe physical handicaps caused by an inadequately tested drug that was intended to prevent miscarriages and control morning sickness. Medical professionals advised Rice’s parents to place him in a nursing home because of the burden he would be to them and because his quality of life looked dim.
But a nurse at the hospital where Rice was born privately told his mother not to put him in a nursing home because God had a plan for his life that would not come to fruition if he were abandoned.
The first five years of Rice’s life were largely spent in hospitals where doctors experimented with casts, leg braces and artificial arms, but in the end his body proved to be too small for any of the experiments to work. Doctors said he wouldn’t live past age 10.
At age 11, Rice summoned the determination to learn to walk, first by leaning on a coffee table until his legs were strong enough to support his body. At 16, he was accepted into high school, and eventually he served as president of the Student Government Association at Columbia State Community College in Middle Tennessee.
He had defied the expectations of those who said he’d never amount to anything, and he still had more to show them. Rice said he was on top of the world when he transferred from Columbia State to Memphis State University with intentions of becoming an attorney.
“This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act. They did do some modifications for me, but they fell short,” Rice told Baptist Press. “I couldn’t get in buildings. I’d sit there and have to wait and wait and wait to get in.”
Once, Rice found himself caught in a terrible thunderstorm that God would use to alter the course of his life. He was outside his dormitory, and no one was there to help him get inside.
“I could get in my room if I was inside the building, but I could not get in the building,” he recounted. “I was caught out in the storm, and it scared me to death. It was one of the worst storms that I’ve ever been in with lightning and thunder and really hard rain.”
Rice, who today moves around in a power wheelchair and uses his feet to do nearly everything a person’s hands would, went back to Nashville and obtained a license to practice broadcasting. He had kept the score books for his high school and community college teams by writing with his toes and had served as a public address announcer, so his Plan B was radio. He approached a small town station near Nashville and asked for a job, but another door was slammed shut.
“The station manager said that he was looking for someone who had three arms, much less someone who didn’t have any,” Rice said.
Soon after, God orchestrated an encounter that would give renewed purpose to Rice’s life following those two failed career attempts. He heard about a young man with physical disabilities who was confined to a nursing home, and Rice went to visit him.
“When I got to the door of his room, he thought that I was lost and was going to help me find the right room,” Rice said. “I said, ‘No, I’m here to see you.’ He was shocked.
“As I went on in and started talking to him, he told me that I was the first person to come to see him specifically since his parents. He was only 22 at the time that I met him, and somewhere around 18 or 19 his family brought him to this nursing home and literally left him at the steps. They left him outside, and they never came back.”
The young man, named David, told Rice to look out the window at the nearby shopping mall complete with a movie theater, restaurants and all kinds of stores. Then he asked Rice to look at his roommate, someone who Rice said looked dead except for his chest moving to indicate breathing.
David told Rice he could look out the window at the world’s charms but was stuck inside with death, and he had lost the will to live. A short time later, David died of complications from a common cold.
“That’s when I realized what my mother was told when I was a baby, ‘Don’t put Roger in a nursing home because God has a plan for him, and if you put him in a nursing home that plan will not come to fruition,’” Rice said, adding that the encounter with David also planted a seed for wanting to help others avoid the young man’s fate.
In 1987, when Rice was 29 years old, a teenage friend repeatedly asked him to go to church. But each time, Rice gave an excuse for why he couldn’t go, even saying that he didn’t want people to stare at him because of his physical disabilities.
Finally, Rice agreed to go just once, and he found himself with his friend in the aforementioned youth department, in a circle, sitting beside the youth minister. Rice was not a Christian, though his mother had always told him, “Roger, God is watching you.” He had been a typical teenager and college student, he said, and church “was the last thing on my mind.”
When God broke through to Rice’s heart using the youth minister’s compassion, Rice said he knew what he had to do. He had just heard about Jesus, and the next day he went to the top of a parking garage to watch the sunset and meet his Savior. He was baptized shortly thereafter, and soon he was a Sunday School teacher, Royal Ambassadors leader and even an interim youth minister at Westwood.
In 1997, Rice met Martha Santana through a mutual friend, and three months later they married. A year later, their daughter Pricila-Melina was born.
“God double-blessed me with the wife that I thought I’d never find and with a daughter,” he said. “I had been teased that I’d never have a child of my own, and within a year and three days, God gave me both.”
As if his own survival story wasn’t enough, since meeting David in the nursing home that day a desire had been growing in Rice to help others with physical disabilities.
“David had full use of his upper body, and mentally he was one of the brightest, smartest people I ever met,” Rice said. “He was a man that could have worked and wanted to work, wanted a life. But because no one knew or cared about him, he died.”
Primera Iglesia Bautista, the church Rice now attends in Nashville, has made him an official missionary to physically challenged adults, and he founded a non-profit ministry called Look Mom, No Arms with a goal of building 20 individual homes and a center for assistive technology for physically challenged adults.
“The center will be the focal point of the community,” Rice said. “It will draw clients from all over the U.S. We’ll have four hotel-like suites for out-of-town clients, and they can stay there while our rehab engineers evaluate them and determine what kind of equipment they need. Whether it’s adaptive equipment for the home or vehicle or office, we’ll be able to do that right there on the spot.”
In order to get his dream off the ground, Rice is trying to raise money. The first step in the process was to secure a minivan donated by two Nashville auto dealers, which he received this summer. Now he’s on a quest to raise $100,000 to cover the cost of high-tech equipment that will enable him to drive the van himself.
“This van will become a fundraising tool for me,” he said. “Nowhere in their wildest imagination would someone believe that a little guy that’s only 3’4” and doesn’t have any arms would be able to drive.”
Rice currently speaks at churches in order to share his Christian testimony and to create awareness about the potential that physically challenged people have to live a mostly normal life.
When Jesus walked the earth, Rice said, He healed people physically and spiritually.
“… I’ve been very blessed that people helped me with my struggles, and now God wants me to help those who aren’t as fortunate – in both ways, in helping meet their physical needs and their spiritual needs.”