As her vehicle tumbled down the side of the mountain, Susanne Rodriguez (Sarasota, FL) had instant clarity about God’s presence in her life.
Susanne’s childhood had been marked with personal struggle; she was surrounded by poverty, drugs and physical abuse. Even so, she recalls with confidence, “God has always knocked on my door.”
“I remember walking myself to church as a child,” she remembers. “I’d ask myself, ‘What is it with this God? Where is He?’”
Then at age 21, Susanne was in a serious car accident while on a trip with grandmother to Greece. She found herself tumbling 250 feet down the side of a mountain, with nowhere to look but up.
“I definitely had a conversation with God,” she recalls. “I prayed, ‘I don’t want to die; this is not where I want to be.’” In those moments between life and death, she promised God she would raise a child to know Him and serve Him, if only God would let her live.
As the dust settled at the bottom of the mountain, Susanne knew she’d experienced a miracle; she escaped without a single broken bone.
“I knew God truly had His arm around me. And it changed me.”
Susanne resolved to keep her promise that she – and any future children – would live in service to Him.
Mama Sue makes a mark
Nearly three decades, one husband, and two baby boys later, Susanne is continually amazed at the way God continues to weave the twists and turns of her life into one extraordinary story for Him. At every opportunity, she uses her influence to point others to Jesus.
Today, her passion is serving the homeless population of Sarasota, Florida, where she is a board member and volunteer mentor for Hope Kids. Hope Kids provides hope, help, and basic care to more than 2,000 impoverished or homeless children and young adults.
“I believe God has equipped us all with the right set of tools,” she says, “and I am blessed to have to gift of listening, dialoging. So I mentor children. I do not give them advice; I ask questions that allow them to believe and see what God has planted within them.”
“Throughout all these years,” she adds with a laugh, “I have adopted a bunch of children who call me ‘Mama Sue.’ Hallelujah. I really have to thank God for all of this.”
Lately, Susanne’s been thanking God more and more for the way He is opening up new doors of ministry for her oldest boy, Alex.
Like his mother, Alex has a gift for connecting with and empowering others – though in a completely different forum. At age 22, Alex’s messages of faith, hope and love on social media are striking a chord with an ever-expanding audience.
His first ever post to Vine – at just 6 seconds long – was viewed more than 22,000 times the day it was shared. As of September 2015, his cumulative posts on Vine, Vimeo, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have been viewed more than 44.2 million times. And because of his growing reach, he’s been invited to speak at an upcoming TED Talk.
Amazed, Alex explains, “I realized these messages are short enough to capture interest, but deep enough to really connect.”
One of the most meaningful responses he ever received was a three-page letter from someone who was on the verge of committing suicide. Ultimately, he chose life after finding hope through Alex’s posts.
“I love that Alex is reaching out and doing phenomenal things,” says Susanne. “He’s reaching thousands, maybe maybe millions of people. God is allowing him to really be out there, and I’m just really, really proud of him.”
Jesus takes the lead
Together, Susanne and Alex attended a Lead Like Jesus Encounter and facilitator certification training this summer, at the encouragement of their personal friend, mentor and “angel” Barbara Glanz (LLJ Leadership Development Facilitator). They believed it was a natural and effective way to increase their personal influence.
“I’m just so excited that we could attend the Lead Like Jesus Encounter together,” says Susanne. “I know this is the next stepping stone for God to reveal to us even further what we can be, what He can do through us.”
Alex agrees, adding that he believes Lead Like Jesus has tremendous potential to connect with younger audiences.
“What Lead Like Jesus teaches about the heart, the head, the hands, the habits – I want to be able to teach that to youth because it's just so fundamental in my eyes. It could change the world in a powerful way.”
At the end of the day, Susanne and Alex both know that Jesus is the true Source of transformation – and so they gladly let Him take the lead.
“The canvas He has woven in my life, to make this family and to make all this happen in His name,” marvels Susanne. “No joke, it’s amazing.”
“I am not here to fix,” she adds. “I'm here to serve, to be a light. Maybe the light can show others how they can follow Him.”