At age 18, Bjorn Rodriguez became the youngest pastor of a church in Davao, Philippines. And later he became the church's first missionary in the jungles of Sorong, Irian Jaya, and Papua New Guinea.
On cold nights in Irian Jaya, the Indonesian side of New Guinea, big mosquitoes and rats challenged Bjorn John Rodriguez's resolve. They were enough to make him think twice about finishing his missionary training on the isle. But Bjorn didn't leave - even when he had to drink dirt-colored water from a well and eat bat meat.
Bjorn knows the years he has spent among the Muslims, animists and the poor are a testament to God's plan and the culmination of his journey from despair as a grieving boy dabbling in alcohol, drugs and gangs to hope in Christ.
"I believe God allowed me to go through years of missionary work in this part of the world to show me reality in the world," he says. "Christianity can be so relaxed - going to church and so on, but not in these areas. That world truly needs the Savior."
The Luckiest Boy in the World
As a boy growing up in the vicinity of the southern coastal Philippine city of Davao, Bjorn spent his afternoons swimming among the fish and water lilies and playing with his three siblings in the swampy village of San Juan. When he registered at the student center and received his first sponsor at the age of six, young Bjorn bragged to his friends that he was the "luckiest boy in the world."
But just four years later, life as Bjorn knew it would change forever. His mother, Virginia, died just a few months after his 10th birthday. Young Bjorn was shocked by his mother's death, but was even more devastated at the words of those who sought to console him - "God took your mother," they said.
Filling a God-Shaped Hole
Bjorn sank deep into rebellion and his childhood memories were replaced by bitterness and despair. By the time he was 13, he was working three jobs. Drugs and alcohol eased his pain, but not the restlessness he felt.
Despite everything, Bjorn remained in the Compassion program. He continued to attend church, and though he couldn't see it then, the words and prayers of his teachers and his sponsor were taking root.
"My sponsor never changed from the time I started Compassion until I graduated from college," says Bjorn. "She never failed to help me in prayer."
In 1996, at the urging of the student center's director, Bjorn attended a youth camp. Each night Bjorn hardheartedly listened to the praises of his fellow campers. But on the final evening, the message of a God who had experienced grief and sadness at the death of His son struck a chord with the still-broken-hearted Bjorn. That night, Bjorn realized that the hole in his heart he had tried to fill on his own could only be filled by Jesus.
"I wasted many years of my life," says Bjorn. "What I looked for all these years was Christ all along."
Rebuilding a Broken Life
After completing high school, Bjorn earned a degree in theology and is now working on a second degree in psychology. He has worked as a caseworker at Compassion and a foreign missionary to Papua, New Guinea and Indonesia, and he currently serves as the District Youth Director for a Compassion-assisted project in Davao. When he completes his schooling, Bjorn plans to return to the mission field to continue sharing his message of hope and healing.
Bjorn says he remains thankful to Compassion for not giving up on a confused, grieving boy.
"The (Compassion) student center never grew tired of me," says Bjorn. "They loved me as I am. They encouraged me to go on, and they helped me to build my life again."
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