November 7, 2008
University Fellow’s Father A ‘Moral Exemplar’
Allow us to reintroduce the Old Testament prophet Jonah, or David Rodriguez as he is now known. You will recognize him by his beard, glasses and traditional Cuban guayabera shirt. His mission is in Miami rather than Ninevah and he was disgorged into his new life by an overcrowded, leaky ship rather than a great fish.
In early November Rodriguez visited Samford’s campus to reunite with his daughter, Deborah, and serve as Exhibit A for student consideration of modern “moral exemplars”.
His story, with its themes of exodus, calling and the crucible of suffering is as compelling as any of the others his daughter and her peers are currently studying in Samford’s new University Fellows program.
In a presentation to the other students in the program, Deborah Rodriguez read her account of her father’s escape from Cuba, and then translated his Spanish as he finished the story and answered questions.
Like Jonah, David Rodriguez embraced his calling reluctantly, in flight and by losing everything. He arrived in this country in 1980 as part of the mass exodus of Cubans commonly known as the Mariel Boatlift in reference to the harbor from which thousands of decrepit vessels departed for freedom. His daughter’s essay--Y Dios Me Salvo*, winner of a National Scholastic Art & Writing Award--describes in grim detail the ordeal of this one of 125,000 refugees—the violent government oppression, the siege conditions at the Peruvian embassy where he sought asylum and his escape from Cuba aboard the sinking ship Veronica Express.
This son and grandson of Christian pastors arrived in the U.S. with little more than his life. Alienated from his country, separated from loved ones, “completely abandoned” and with only a car for a home, Rodriguez fled from his faith for a decade.
Rodriguez acknowledges that he was no moral exemplar in that time, but he gradually reclaimed his life and the faith of his fathers. When an acquaintance told him he believed God was calling him to the ministry Rodriguez felt compelled to apply for admission to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
A seminary official advised him that he was not a good candidate due to his years in the moral wilderness, and offered little hope that his application would be approved by the admissions committee. Rodriguez was secretly relieved by the news but admitted to the official that he wouldn’t be able to close this door if God had indeed opened it. Two weeks later Rodriguez learned that he had been accepted to the seminary by unanimous approval.
Since then, Rodriguez has served as a pastor in Kentucky and Ocala, Florida, and raised a family with his wife, Fanny, whom he met in church after reclaiming his faith. Their lives have not been easy, but Rodriguez believes that is how people learn to rely on faith. He said that when the Cuban government froze his father’s and other pastors’ bank accounts in1965, his family survived on the generosity of their church community, finding greatest abundance in greatest hardship.
Today, Rodriguez is rich only in dedication to his work as pastor of the Coral Hispana church in Miami, and in pride in his “spiritually mature” daughters and pastor sons. And, as any good prophet would, he sees a divine plan in the achievements of his Samford daughter, who holds several merit-based scholarships, including the Presidential Scholarship, University Fellows Scholarship, Minister's Dependent Scholarship and National Hispanic Scholarship. Referring to her essay about his experiences, he said, “Yes, Deborah wrote it, but the author is God.”
*And God Saved Me