Author's note: This originally ran as a blog post on my SAU Freshman Blog.
My name is Bryant Rodriguez. I am a freshman. I am a Theology major. I study at Southern Adventist University. These facts you read are straightforward and simple to track. However, the way these facts came to be is neither straightforward nor simple. My story begins in Germany where I began working in March of 2013 with no expectation to attend college within the year.
College was not on my radar because I was in Germany on a yearlong internship. I flew into Frankfurt, Germany on March 22 with the intention of being with Amazing Facts Europe in Darmstadt, Germany for a whole year. Since I was supposed to work with them until spring of 2014, as recently as early June of this year, I did not think college was even a possibility until maybe 2014. At that point in my life, learning to ‘spreche sie deutsch’ was much higher on my priority list than figuring out majors and schedules. So what went wrong? Well, on June 17, I received confirmation that I would need to leave the country and return to the United States on the 19, because my volunteer visa wasn’t going to be granted. From the 17, it was five days until my 90-day visitor’s visa ran out and I became an illegal alien in Deutschland. As you can imagine, I packed quickly.
I will note I had some warning before receiving the bad news. Nevertheless, the departure from Germany was a blur. As I flew into Minneapolis, I came with much dread and many questions. What do I now? Was Germany a mistake? Could I go back? Does God have any say in this? Would God be upset if I retreated from ministry for a while and worked a 9-5 job? I mean, after two years of jumping from ministry to ministry, I was beginning to feel burnt out. It seemed an eternity since my high school graduation in 2011...
The questions continued but I will spare you from the rest of my melodramatic monologues.
I found my solace and comfort at a camp meeting held by Light Bearers, the ministry that educated and trained me in personal evangelism. In exchange for my volunteer work, they covered my airline fee making it possible for me to attend on short notice. It was blissful. Manual labor, photography, video work, and of course, reconnecting with friends and mentors filled my days and I did not mind it one bit. My soul was both encouraged and challenged. I was reminded that no matter how exhausting ministerial work may be, it is a great privilege to minister. Moreover, I was told, I could not forget the huge role ministry takes in forming my Christian identity. The message was clear: before anything else, I am a disciple of Christ, a proclaimer of the good news about His kingdom. The purpose of rest, my friends told me, is to return better not run away.
When I returned home from Oregon, I no longer wanted to retreat. My prayers took a different route and I repented of my weakness. I pleaded for the presence of God’s Life-giving Spirit; I wanted the Spirit to be my strength because I had none. As I opened myself up to God’s wisdom, the thought of school came up. What if I went to college? I remember immediately recoiling from the thought. What do I need college for? Besides, I do not have money and it is so late to apply. My family cannot afford it.
The thought did not go away. In fact, as July began, I was plagued by the college possibility. So much so, I began to move forwards with the possibility; filing my FAFSA and reactivating my application at Southern Adventist University. Soon, there came a place of no return. Time was winding down. It was time to commit. My emotions were intense and my fears great. They pushed me into an honest inner dialogue.
You like books, Bryant. You like academia. You like classrooms and dialogues with professors. Besides, consider the opportunity to minister to your peers for four or five years. Isn’t that thrilling? No door knocking! And who knows, what if you are even able to add something of value to the storied legacy of Southern Adventist University? Why not go to college?
In the next few days, I finalized my application, enrolled in SmartStart, and made my parents take the seventeen-hour drive from Richfield, Minnesota to Collegedale, Tennessee to begin my Life & Teachings of Jesus class one day late. That too has passed and so have my first three credits of college studies. Now, I am three days into my first fall semester. I have books from the campus shop and a student ID card with a photo of me I do not like so you know it’s official. These are facts I love.
From my experience in Germany, I have learned to approach the future with humility. It is not something to be certain about. However, I can be certain of three facts. First, my name is Bryant Rodriguez; and second, I am here to learn and grow while I pursue my Theology degree. Third, as a student at Southern Adventist University, I plan to not only strengthen my own mind and soul, but will also look to help that process occur both for my peers and community. These three simple, straightforward facts are the end of one journey and the beginning of another. This one will be longer than seventeen hours, longer than three months, longer than anything experienced since high school, but that’s fine.
I like adventures and I suppose that is also a fact.