Diego Rodriguez conducts a jail ministry at the Booneville City Jail each Friday afternoon.
Even though he has been meeting with those incarcerated at the jail for only about a month, and although it was a holiday weekend last Friday, a day after being in Little Rock with family, Rodriguez never considered skipping a week.
"Over the holidays it’s depressing on a man. You know they get on the phone, they hear their families. They’re trying to have a good time but, then again, they’re not because they’re missing part of their family," said Rodriguez. "All that is is a bigger trap the devil is laying because they get more bitter, and they get angry and they think this is just how I am."
Even if they are not receptive to the message, inmates find it difficult to resist Rodriguez.
"They receive me because they know I’ve been where they’re at," said Rodriguez. "Not to put anybody down but if you ain’t never been there, they’re not going to listen to you."
As well as commit, he says, and looking to be baptized.
Rodriguez lived in Booneville as a teen before running afoul of the law, often. It was during his last stint in an Arkansas prison when Rodriguez was converted.
"I tell them it’s not the drugs, it’s the devil behind it. I know it wasn’t just the white substance. It was the devil that used you until you weren’t no good no more."
Through the ministry Rodriguez has encountered those from his past, who know intimate details from his life. They too have received him well, Rodriguez said.
"I’ve baptized them and God has filed them with the Holy Ghost," said Rodriguez. "Baptize them in Jesus name. That’s very important because Jesus’ name is where the power is. That’s what saved me."
Rodriguez accepted salvation behind bars.
"The last time I was in I died on a horse," said Rodriguez. "I had a horse accident, I had internal bleeding from being thrown. When I was on the hospital table, it was powerful — I died and God resurrected me, and called me out by name.
"For 28 days he dealt with me and I repented of my sins. Then he filled me with the Holy Ghost while I was in. And I was baptized in Jesus name. He healed my back and healed my body."
Rodriguez said he committed himself, full fledged, to God through the experience and "he got me out of prison and I’ve been preaching the gospel ever since."
That was in the state of Florida. But then came the call to come home.
"It was a lot of prayer and fasting to come back here, because to be honest with you, I didn’t want to come back here," said Rodriguez.
Still, he resisted the urge to say no.
"I preached revival at Cornerstone Apostolic Church," said Rodriguez. "God moved mightily. People got healed — one man got healed of diabetes. People were baptized in Jesus name and just reaching out to the ones I know.
"I came back to evangelize the town in Jesus name. This town needs to be reclaimed by God."
Rodriguez said it has been difficult but he has been well received.
"You know the community has been open because they can see the difference in me. They know there is somebody different in there," he said.
Rodriguez said he has a burden for the city now.
"God has laid this town on my heart. Where I used to raise Hell, plain and simple. I want to bring Heaven down here," said Rodriguez. I know a living God that will do it. His name is Jesus.
"I’ve been blessed by God. The chief (Al Brown) and a couple of the officers have welcomed me with open arms."
It is a personal journey too.
"I want to come back and make things right I’ve done wrong, but I can’t do that unless God does if for me, said Rodriguez.
The ministry goes outside the jail.
"I’ve been going out and evangelizing the town. Going into the worst neighborhoods, knocking on doors, preaching the gospel — death, burial and resurrection," said Rodriguez. "Bringing people out and telling them about the real Jesus in the Bible, and showing it to them.
"There’s a better way. This town is hungry, we’re losing too many children. If the church does not stand up this town won’t last much longer. It takes prayer."
He is also using the old-fashioned word of mouth in which people see "what Diego’s got," and social media to reach those starving for the message.
In one case, Rodriguez said, a young man was baptized, is off drugs. A woman, he adds, beginning with a Facebook post, is likewise clean and has retained children she feared she would lose, is taking those kids to church and bringing others to the Lord.
"This is a real thing. This is really God. It has to be God because man can’t do it," said Rodriguez. "It’s not the people who are bad, it’s the devil who’s behind them."
Now 40, despite the wear and tear of the life of sin, Rodriguez has an appearance of a man much younger.
"That’s God," he insists.