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The Persistent Need for Rescuing

Mission chaplain never loses hope anticipating that men will turn their lives around.

Agustin “Tino” Rodriguez Jr. has been a credentialed Assemblies of God minister in the Southern Pacific District for 45 years. Rodriguez has deep roots in the Fellowship. In fact, his father, 87-year-old Agustin Rodriguez Sr., still pastors Iglesia Principe de Paz de las Asambleas de Dios in Vista, California.

After he and his wife, Linda, graduated from Latin America Bible Institute, Tino Jr. pastored Iglesia El Gólgotha in Richmond, California, for a decade. He became an AG U.S. Missions racetrack chaplain at San Luis Rey Downs north of San Diego in 1985, working behind the scenes with the grooms, exerciser walkers, trainers, owners, security personnel, shoers, and veterinarians.

Since 1996, Rodriguez has been an AG chaplain at Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Rodriguez and other chaplains minister at the largest Christian homeless shelter in the U.S.

For his first 17 years at the mission, Rodriguez helped men struggling with a variety of addiction issues in the initial phase of the yearlong residential recovery program that is focused on discipleship and recovery. Since 2013, Rodriguez has been involved in the advanced apprentice stage, where men can stay for an additional year to 18 months. The mission helps men return to school, connect with potential employers, find housing, and get plugged into a church. Those in the program are required to save two-thirds of a monthly stipend and to devise a budget.

Rodriguez has noticed a change in clientele from when he started over two decades ago.

“With the complexion of the population now, there are more mental health cases and medical issues,” Rodriguez says. “But there will always be a need for the rescue mission and the entry level services of providing a meal and a bed. In California, when people lose their job, they can lose their home.”

Certainly the mission isn’t designed just to return men to the streets in the same way they came. Besides spiritual disciplines, Union Rescue Mission offers a medical clinic, dental office, legal services, and professional counseling.

The low-key Rodriguez provides case management to 40 men, individual counseling, 12-step program teaching, and group processing of whatever stressors the men are going through. The bilingual chaplain plays guitar and bass in English and Spanish worship services at the mission, which has a number of clients originally from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

“We try to help men process so they just don’t bury things deep within,” says the 66-year-old Rodriguez, who has four grown sons. Rodriguez, who meets at least weekly with a team of other chaplains, remains optimistic about those in the program, even if they revert to addiction.

“I tell myself the last chapter hasn’t been written,” Rodriguez says. “The seed has been planted, and they may return a second or third time after relapsing before that seed finally connects.”

Those who drop out because of regression are met with kind words from Rodriguez, who prays with them before they leave. He urges them to call when they are ready to return, warning that they can’t carry their burden alone.

Enrique Garcia, 50, considers Rodriguez as a friend and big brother. Garcia has known the chaplain for more than two decades, and served as his new life group coordinator between 2011-15. Now Garcia is warehouse and transportation supervisor for the mission.

Garcia credits Rodriguez for helping to keep him steady through seven years of drug sobriety — when he never had more than a few months of sobriety before hitting rock bottom in 2011. Garcia started using cocaine at 19, and even kept up the habit while earning a Bible college degree. In 2011, his drug dependency resulted in the loss of his car, job, and apartment — and readmittance to the residential mission program he left years earlier. Now he reads the Bible daily without fail before going to work, a trait he attributes to Rodriguez’s one-on-one mentoring.

“Tino always wanted to make sure I’m on the right track,” Garcia says. “He wanted me to be transparent and not hide anything from him so that I can succeed in life. I think he’s done a pretty good job.”

Rodriguez, who has a bachelor’s degree from Vanguard University and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Azusa Pacific University, isn’t slowing down. He also is a part-time marriage and family counselor at Samaritan Counseling Center in Upland. In addition, he is counseling pastor at Church of the Redeemer in Baldwin Park.

IMAGE - Tino Rodriguez (right) has helped Enrique Garcia and many other men at the mission. 

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.