By Caleb Camacho
“God never told me to become a minister,” Dr. Daniel Rodriguez says with unwary, passion-filled eyes. Hundreds of books, both in Spanish and English, fill any available space on the shelves of his office in the Religion Division. Pictures of his family and former classes stare down at a steady stream of visitors.
Not only does Rodriguez preach weekly to the Church of Christ in Hollywood, he also teaches three sections of the Religion 301 class. But becoming a religion professor and a minister was not what he had in mind 24 years ago when he enrolled as a freshman at Pepperdine.
Politics was Rodriguez’ first major interest as a young student. “I wanted to become president of the United States,” he said, and he would have been the country’s first Hispanic president.
Rodriguez entered Pepperdine in 1975. At the time, he had been a Christian for four years, and he was inspired with the idea that politics needed more Christians. “But God had something different for me,” he said.
In October 1976, Rodriguez attended the World Missions Workshop at Lubbock Christian University, an annual three-day lectureship that emphasizes worldwide Christian missions.
His only motivation for going was to spend time with his friend, Jeanette, and some Texan friends he had met that summer. Little did he know that this was to be the turning point in his life.
At the workshop, he received a spiritual calling. Rodriguez, moved by the workshop’s speakers and God’s call, decided to become a missionary. Upon his immediate return to Pepperdine, he switched his major to religion.
A year before graduating, in May 1977, he married his friend, Jeanette.
“We married before falling in love,” she said. “We were really good friends but decided to marry because we were both wanting to be missionaries.”
Together, they went to Modesto, Calif., to work with a Church of Christ for six months. They ended up staying six years. When the time was right, the Rodriguez’ decided to move on to a different ministry. The Modesto church was not willing to support them, but this didn’t discourage the Rodriguez’ to continue following God’s luring footsteps as they pursued that dream of becoming missionaries.
“We made decisions together,” Jeanette said. When they found out of two other families, one from San Antonio, Texas, and the other from Costa Rica, were planning to do mission work in Puebla, Mexico, they decided to join them.
Mexico was the final answer to many questions, the ultimate divine plan for mission work. With no financial support from a church and no mastery of the Spanish language, Dan and Jeanette took their two boys and two girls down to Puebla, Mexico.
“All along the way, there were spiritual signposts that showed us we were going to be fine,” Rodriguez recalled.
Within six months, a Church of Christ from Walnut Creek, Calif., provided financial support for the family in their work in Mexico. Rodriguez’s experience with missions burgeoned through Puebla’s congregation for the next nine years.
His long-awaited vision of mission work over political work became a reality. While he was growing up, Rodriguez said, he could always visualize arena speaking.
“There I’d be standing in front of thousands making my speeches,” he said, “but I could only see myself speaking politically and not spiritually.”
Rodriguez has spoken to thousands now, especially if you count all the students from his classes along with the different lectures he’s given at Abilene Christian University and elsewhere. He is a keynote speaker at the upcoming Bible Lectures of Pepperdine in May 2002, an event that brings thousands of Christians to campus.
“I’ve been preparing all my life,” he said. “When I was little, I would be the one that organized the games in my neighborhood. At age 14, I was an assistant director for the activities of a city park.”
During his nine years in Mexico, Rodriguez earned two master of art degrees. One was for teaching English and the second was for Spanish. A doctoral degree would only come through the opportunity Pepperdine offers to support minority scholars who would work for a doctorate.
“There is a time when a missionary has to go,” he said.
When this new door at Pepperdine opened, he took the step and moved his whole family back to California in 1994 to work on his doctoral degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Since then, his work has expanded beyond just the mission field.
Aside from preaching and teaching, Rodriguez is actively involved with the newly formed Dream Team, a small group of Christian leaders planning the structure and development for new Churches of Christ within urban Los Angeles. He does not know how much longer this stage in his life will last, but he is content to live and work in Los Angeles.
“God wants me here, and I’m giving it my 100 percent,” he said beaming.
Submitted March 21, 2002