When Reverend Samuel Rodriguez was 14, he heard a voice tugging at his heart telling him that he was going to preach to America one day. He never thought it would be about the importance of health and exercise.
On Saturday, Rodriguez will be sharing the podium with First Lady Michelle Obama in Longwood, Fla., to talk about how far they’ve come in the two years since initiating their second annual 21-week weight loss challenge for Hispanic pastors – part of the First Lady’s national “Let’s Move” campaign.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm for the First Lady’s campaign,” says Rodriguez. “Our churches are energized. We understand that a healthy child results in a healthy family, church, and community.”
Forty-two-year-old Rodriguez, who himself has lost 38 pounds since he started changing his eating habits two years ago, says he would like to see every Latino, every American, committed to tackling child obesity.
“We can do it,” he says. “We don’t have to do away with our cultural preferences but just make better choices.”
Rodriguez, will also talk about accessibility, as he understands that one out of four Latinos suffer from malnutrition or poverty. He says it doesn’t require breaking the bank.
He says he himself started making changes in his diet by replacing lard for olive oil for example. He starts his day with a yogurt with grains or nuts, and a glass of orange juice, has a soup and salad for lunch, and a great Hispanic meal at night.
“I like my carne asada,” says Rodriguez. “I like my tortillas and rice and beans, but since the campaign started two years ago, I lost 38 pounds. I’m in the best shape of my life, because I was convicted and was made aware.”
He says that by preaching this new gospel and making his congregations aware, he is changing lives. He is changing lots of lives considering he is the president of the nation’s largest Christian Hispanic organization, representing more than 16 million Hispanic evangelicals.
“People feel great when they are eating healthier,” says Rodriguez. “They feel good physically and spiritually. They are more confident on job interviews and have a greater sense of confidence and self-assurance. There are consequences all around.”
He says it also creates a sense of community. At his home church in Sacramento, Calif., New Season Christian Worship Center, his wife plays an active role recruiting the ladies for Zumba classes. Together, they are making weight loss a fun and communal endeavor.
Edixon Martinez was one of the 15-20 Hispanic church leaders to partake in the weight loss challenge. He also participated last year and started off weighing 240 pounds. The lifestyle was so life changing for him that he started researching and watching documentaries such as, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Food Inc. He now eats almost an entirely vegan diet and weighs 200 pounds and dropping.
“I’ve never been a vegan, but now I don’t crave bad stuff because I don’t want to put it in my system,” says Martinez. “I can probably eat meat again, but I don’t care for it.”
He says he thinks healthier lifestyles overall are growing in popularity in the church. Although some people still hate it, he considers himself one of the fortunate ones, and says that Rodriguez has been a good leader and example.
Rodriguez, who calls himself a cross between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr., now contains a dash of Richard Simmons.
“I personally bare testimony,” he says. “I lived it and am still living it.”