Opinion

An Immigrant Story: Professor Rodriguez

My name is Juan Carlos Rodriguez. I am from the city of San Salvador in El Salvador. I teach mechanical engineering at John Brown University. My immigration story is a little different in the sense that this is the second time I get to live in the United States. The first time I came to the U.S was in 2002, and I lived here for six years. Four of those were for my undergraduate degree at JBU and two for my master’s degree. I went back home for another six years after that. I worked as a mechanical engineer and got married there during that time.

By 2014, I had a really great job (stable, great company and high earning). Sometime in February, I received a message on Facebook. Steve Beers, vice president of student development at JBU, was visiting El Salvador and a group of JBU alumni were organizing a meeting at Pizza Hut. During that dinner, Beers told me there might be an opportunity that I may like. This opportunity involved studying a two-year master’s degree program with JBU and a part-time position being the resident director of the Townhouses. My wife and I prayed A LOT about this, and we felt God was guiding us to quit our jobs, leave our friends, our families, our church and sell everything that we had and move to the U.S.

We moved to the U.S with only two suitcases each. I was back being an international student with all the limitations that entails. My wife’s visa was a lot more restrictive. Her main restriction was that she was not allowed to work anywhere in the U.S. The stipend I was receiving was very little. I calculated that it was about 12% of what I was earning in El Salvador-and El Salvador has much lower living costs-but we knew God had called us to come to serve at JBU.

I loved my job as an RD, and I learned a lot from the master’s program. However, during those two years, I got very sick with a very harmful bacteria in my stomach. This caused terrible pain that wouldn’t go away. It also greatly limited my ability to eat.  We couldn’t afford healthcare here in the U.S., which meant that, during the summer, we traveled back to El Salvador to see the doctors because it was cheaper than getting treatment here. I am grateful we had the means to get medical attention that way.

We also faced several other hardships that immigrants face all the time. A very recurring thought for us was, “If we were in El Salvador, none of this would be happening, or at least we would have the means to fix it.” But by God’s grace, we kept trusting that God had a purpose for us being here. I felt that God was in some ways letting my wife and I share in the sufferings of Jesus. Jesus was okay in Heaven, but He came to Earth and willingly put Himself in a position where He would suffer. I learned in a personal way that Jesus valued God’s glory above His safety and comfort. I also learned a bit more about the value of a citizenship. It was weird not to have the same privileges compared to everyone around me. I learned that, ultimately, God takes care of my family not because we are citizens of El Salvador or the U.S., but because He takes care of the foreigners (Psalm 146:9) and because, through Jesus, we are ultimately citizens of Heaven (Phil. 3:20).

A few years later, God opened the doors for my wife and I to become permanent residents of the U.S. This sounds easier said than done. There were several legal processes needed for this to happen and I can only say that God kept opening the doors for us.

My immigration story to the U.S. is nowhere as difficult as some other people’s, and we are grateful for that. We learned things from God that we would not have learned unless we had become immigrants. We are thankful to Him and to all the people who have helped us in this journey. We are thankful that little by little, day by day, we have two places we can call “home.” By God’s grace, little by little, day by day, we are inching closer to our permanent one, too.