The scar on his neck serves as a reminder of a past life that caused more than just nerve damage. Most people simply ask that you earn their trust, but Eddie Rodriguez requires you to bring your spy gear to defeat his defenses.
“It’s very hard for me to let people in. I built a wall that’s very high, and if you climb over it, you’ll find fences with barbed wire, and after that, there’s a locked door…that’s the way I am, and I often back away when people start to get close.”
The self-protection started early. His father was murdered in gang-related violence when he was six, and afterwards his grandmother tried to kidnap Eddie as her own. His mom, wrestling with five boys, fought to survive in a tough situation. He was angry and reacted by imitating the world he observed around him.
“I went to the streets, you know, drinking, drugs, gang banging, everything…”
Eddie never held any childhood dreams for a future job or family because he didn’t expect to live long enough to see twenty-one. As a kid, he was smart, strong in math, and learned sign language early when he lost hearing in his right ear at the age of three.
Some of the signs he made provoked fights because they resembled gang signs, and others bullied him for doing well in classes. He remembers hardening into his street self after a friend grabbed him and offered a life lesson. “He said, ‘out here you’re either a sheep or a wolf. A sheep needs protection, but a wolf hunts instead of being hunted.’ So I decided to be a wolf.”
The path of the wolf led him into patterns of destructive behavior and painful isolation.
The scar on his neck was the result of someone stabbing him in a fight that escalated out of control. He almost died and was held in jail for attempted murder, but was released when the charges were dropped. His addiction to substances continued, and the walls keeping people out grew thicker, the fences higher.
Trying to establish a normal life in society, he landed in a transitional home. One of the residents kept talking about God and pestered Eddie into a wager with him that if he lost he’d have to go to church. He did lose, but arrived drunk his first Sunday on purpose, but when he left, he felt something pulling him back to the church.
Kicked out of the group home for drinking, he went homeless for eight months, sleeping on subways, often eating his only regular meal at the church. The darkness continued to gather around him, and his self-harm led to two failed attempts at suicide, a gun that refused to go off, and a last second trip and fall out of the path of an approaching subway train. He refers to those moments, and not dying from the stabbing, or surviving a car shooting, as true miracles in his life.
The rock bottom and turning point finally arrived when someone woke him up in Queens and took him to the hospital. His blood alcohol content level was 1.96. Again, he didn’t die, and instead of sobering up alone somewhere, he found himself in that church, praying for God to help him because he was going to take his own life…
“I remember the pastor grabbing me and saying, ‘I want to help you. Trust me.’ I said, ‘OK.’ It was the first time I trusted someone in years. They flew me to the DreamCenter in L.A. and paid for everything. Best thing that ever happened to me.”
At the Dream Center he was freed from alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana, and he’s now six years clean. They entrusted him with mentoring and leadership opportunities and he enjoyed the chance to share his testimony, to kindle hope in folks searching for signs of it anywhere.
“I love motivating people. I love sharing my experiences and encouraging them…you can overcome. I’m an ex-gang member, ex-alcoholic, who could still be in jail, who’s out here learning to trust God, and trust people. ”
After returning to NYC, he worked odd jobs, mostly with hard work and little pay. He began volunteering in the church, helping set up services, and now he’s training others on how to serve and lead with excellence. They’ve also given him opportunities to speak, something he not only enjoys, but considers a calling, to share as often as possible his tale of hope after brokenness.
“One young girl didn’t commit suicide after she heard me speak about my attempts. I want to learn the craft…I’m willing to make the transformation into a person who’s ready to speak on stage or own my own Chick-fil-A franchise.”
One night he attended a class at the church and heard Luke Cook teach on leadership. Eddie chatted him up afterwards and earned an interview which led to his hiring into the the Fulton Street fellowship, a new place to learn how to tear down walls and let people in.
Eddie admits that trusting people is still a process, and there’s residual pain from his past, but he’s taken big strides in the right direction. He’s reconciling with people, experiencing forgiveness, and throwing himself into the vision of Fulton Street: to pursue becoming better versions of ourselves.
“It’s a great team here. Great leadership, and it’s real. I love the teamwork, and the way the team looks at each other like family. When we struggle or fall, we all fall. We need to open up with each other and trust each other. I came here just to pay bills, but God has showed me something more.”