Graduate overcomes educational barriers

PLAINVIEW – Earning a bachelor’s degree in college is for some easily attainable. For others, completing their childhood schooling is daunting at best, and college is not normally in the cards.

Such was the case for Santos Rodriguez, who overcame several barriers to his education in order to earn his bachelor’s degree a few years. On Saturday, Rodriguez will far surpass even his own goals by receiving a Master of Arts degree in religion at Wayland Baptist University. Commencement ceremonies will be held at 2 p.m. in Harral Auditorium.

His struggles started as a child in his native Mexico, where he finished the sixth grade. Further educational opportunities did not exist in his hometown, and going away to attend more school was the only other alternative.

“The townspeople where I lived all took up money to send me to another town, but the paperwork got messed up and I didn’t get to go,” Rodriguez said, recalling how his dream of education slipped out of reach.

In addition to this, family difficulties made the boy’s life tough as well. His mother died when he was nine, and his stepfather mistreated him. His mother’s family refused to take the boy in and suggested he go to an orphanage instead.

Finally, an aunt took the boy in and raised him and a brother, who now lives in Oklahoma. At age 15, Santos left Mexico and came to the United States, specifically to California. Working as a laborer in various fields, he lived in eight different states for the next several years, recalling his love for the adventure of moving to a new place.

In 1977, he moved to Plainview and worked for the Edmonson Co-Op Gin, where he soon met a local pastor named Glen Godsey. Godsey was preaching at Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana in Plainview and invited Rodriguez to attend church services there. He began attending and was saved in 1979. Soon thereafter, he began dating Godsey’s daughter Yolanda, though the two “didn’t like each other at first.” Things would change, however, as the two were soon married.

Rodriguez continued to work in labor fields including carpentry and electrical work, but surrendered to the ministry, feeling God had a calling on his life. He also participated in many mission trips through the years, often serving as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking people. It would be on one such trip that Rodriguez would get a clearer picture of his call.

“On one of these trips, I was informed at the last minute that I would be preaching because the local pastor had an emergency,” he recalled. “During the invitation time, I came down myself and surrendered to preach.”

In 1984, Rodriguez suffered a back injury that left him unable to work in the same manner he had before. During his hospital stay, he had plenty of time to think about the future and decided that pursuing his education might be the only option.

“Every time Yolanda and I would pass by the campus, I’d say, ‘This is the school I’ll be coming to,’ but I was cynical about that, because I had no education,” Rodriguez said. “I think I was being rebellious against God, so He put me on this path.”

After he recuperated, he approached the admissions office at Wayland about pursuing an associate’s degree and did so within the next few years. In 1990, he felt led to earn his GED through the Plainview schools. Content for the time being, Rodriguez continued working in labor fields. A trip to Russia in 1995, however, changed his course again.

“We went on a mission trip, and God opened my mind to coming back to school for my bachelor’s degree,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not me, it’s only God that always makes things work out.”

He returned to Wayland that year, carrying a full load while working full-time in a new position: he was now serving as pastor of Iglesia Bautista Date Street in Plainview. Rodriguez earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and religion in 2000, an enormous feat in his opinion, given his educational background.

But that milestone would prove to be just another step in his educational journey.

“A year after I finished my bachelor’s degree, I began to have that urgency to learn more,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just something inside me. I like school and I like to learn. I think I’m trying to fulfill God’s purposes and fill a void in my own life.”

Rodriguez researched the graduate program at Wayland, noting that going further with his education “seemed like a dream.” With the religion faculty supporting and encouraging him to pursue the degree, he felt confident to tackle the task.

And on Saturday, Rodriguez will be hooded for the master’s degree in religion, as more than 100 students receive diplomas from Wayland. The process has been one he’s enjoyed, particularly the theology and Biblical history classes. But there have been some struggles along the way, particularly with math and writing term papers, a skill he admits is troublesome.

“There were times when I wanted to quit, but I’d calm down and decide to go on another day,” he said.

But looking back, Rodriguez said he never regrets one step of the journey.

“My mind has opened to the fact that there’s more than one way to see the Bible,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s making me a better pastor. I understand and love people more, and I’m more open-minded to people and understand more how they feel.”

Rodriguez plans to remain in the pastorate in Plainview and said he might try teaching one day if the Lord leads him in that direction.