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From Medicine to Ministry: Miguel Núñez and His Call to Teach

October 20, 2014

In August of 1997, Miguel Núñez began teaching a Bible study in his home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. About a dozen people were at the study, the seed of what is now International Baptist Church, where Núñez serves as pastor, and where about 2,200 people worship on Sunday mornings.

This study represented, simultaneously, a continuation of what Núñez had always done and always planned to do – teach – and a dramatic turn from the previous two decades of his life.

The Doctor
Prior to 1997, Núñez dedicated his education and career to practicing and teaching medicine. The opportunities came quickly, as he received and accepted invitations to give informal talks about medicine while still a medical student at Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo.

Some of that early teaching gained Núñez more than just experience in front of a classroom, it introduced him to Catherine Scheraldi, the woman he would marry. She was from New York, but attended medical school in the Dominican Republic, and it worked out that “she was my student at some point,” he said. They married in 1980.

The two of them moved to the United States in 1982, where Núñez did three years of training in internal medicine at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey. From there, he did two years of work in infectious diseases at the New York Medical College, becoming board certified in both internal medicine and infectious diseases. Eventually, Núñez accepted a role as assistant professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, doing what he had always planned.

“My plan was to be in some kind of teaching position permanently,” he said. “I was just trying to build my own kingdom.”

The Sunday School Teacher
In 1988, around the same time he accepted the teaching position, Núñez and his wife began attending a small Evangelical Free Church, where, Núñez received an opportunity to teach a Sunday school class.

It became clear that medicine was not the only thing Núñez liked to teach.

IMG_0002“As soon as I learned something about the Bible, I was eager to teach it to somebody,” Núñez said. This desire to teach led him to arrange trips from the U.S. back to the Dominican Republic, where he would gather his family for a night and teach them.

“I always had a good relationship with my family,” Núñez said, “so they would just come out of respect, thinking, ‘It’s just one night, only an hour or two, so let’s just go,’ and they would come. That’s the earliest memory I have of when I would teach the Bible.”

Once Núñez’s desire to teach the Bible met with the opportunity to do it at his local church, he began to consider a career change.

“For the first ten years [in the U.S.], I wasn’t thinking ministry at all,” he said. “But around year ten, because of the passion that I was experiencing for learning, studying, and teaching the Word, I thought I should go into ministry.”

Núñez responded to this thought with prayer, in part because he knew the idea of ministry would come as a surprise to Catherine. Núñez prayed and decided he would talk to her about it the next day, and that he would take her answer as an affirmation or a negation of his call to ministry.

“The next day, she was totally against it,” he said.

Núñez took his wife’s response as the Lord’s leading, and didn’t talk about ministry again for two years. When it came up again, it wasn’t by his initiative, and something had changed.

After church one Sunday in 1994, Núñez was sitting at home reading some material one of his pastors gave him. Catherine saw the book and said, “Maybe you should check that out.” After inquiring what she meant, Catherine replied that he should consider ministry.

“Well, there’s a problem now,” Núñez remembers saying to her. Catherine’s desires had changed, but his had shifted, too.

According to Núñez, “I told her, ‘in the last two years, we’ve gone four times to the Dominican Republic, and while there teaching and attending patients, the Lord opened my eyes to a large sector of the population that is totally unreached. I think he’s calling me to go back there to reach that population.’ And she said, to my surprise, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’ So, I was convinced that it came from the Lord.”

During the next three years, Miguel and Catherine prepared to leave both the United States and the career he spent so long building. They sold their medical practices and moved to the Dominican Republic in May of 1997.

The Pastor-Teacher
Just three months after leaving medicine and relocating to the Dominican Republic, Núñez started the Bible study. Núñez would welcome a small group of people into his home on Thursday nights to go through the Gospel of John. It didn’t take long for Núñez’s teaching to bear fruit.

IMG_0008In the first months of the Bible study, about 20 people put their trust in Christ, providing firm confirmation that Núñez was in the right place. “About six months into it, we had 40 or 50 people gathering,” Núñez said. “Some of them were saying, ‘We need a church.’ So, I finally told them, ‘Well, that is my desire.”

In January of 1998, they began International Baptist Church. Now, almost 17 years later, the church has seven full-time pastors and other staff, which means that Núñez devotes much of his time and energy to setting the vision for the church and for his staff, leading the leaders of the church, and, of course, preaching and teaching. That much has not changed.

So says Eric Jimenez, who was a member of the church between 2004-2010, and, though he has since moved to the U.S., still remains close with Núñez. “Early on, I saw him as a teacher,” said Jimenez, who made his first profession of faith just two weeks before going to International Baptist Church. “Miguel was a teacher for me. It was a fairly small church at that moment, and there was constant teaching.”

Jimenez is now a student at Southern Seminary, and credits the influence of Núñez and the church for preparing him more than he recognized. “When I came [to seminary], one of the first things I was able to identify was that all the things that were being taught, I had already been taught about,” said Jimenez, who named his son, Hesed, after hearing Núñez teach the meaning of the Hebrew word. “I couldn’t believe how much teaching I got from this man, who made sure people were learning the nuts and bolts of Scripture.”

The opportunities for Núñez to teach the nuts and bolts of Scripture now extend well beyond the walls of his church. In addition to authoring two books and serving as president of Integrity and Wisdom Ministries, Núñez is a member of the council for The Gospel Coalition, which gives him opportunities to write and teach in both English and Spanish. At The Gospel Coaltion’s upcoming national conference, Núñez will lead an all-Spanish pre-conference with pastor Juan Sanchez. D.A. Carson, one of TGC’s founders, said in an email that he invited Núñez to the council because Núñez was so clearly “in the Reformed heritage, committed to expository preaching, and entirely in line with the foundation documents of the coalition.”

Núñez has traveled to most of the countries in Latin America, and frequently travels to teach at various conferences and seminars. The few weeks before our interview, he traveled to Costa Rica and Haiti, and was about to travel to El Salvador and Mexico.

Núñez’s influence has risen throughout Latin America during the last decade as a result, in part, of his weekly TV program, “Answers.” The 60-minute program “presents the biblical worldview about different issues and topics,” Núñez said.

The Leader
While the moral revolution has not swept across the Dominican Republic with the same velocity it has in the States, there are still issues Núñez faces in his ministry and sees in the culture. One of those issues is a lack of male leadership.

“We have a male crisis,” he said. “Men have not assumed their roles, and if the men aren’t doing that, the women will occupy that space.”

Núñez faced the reality of male vacancy when International Baptist Church began, and there were no men to lead. “Most of the people coming were women, like in every church in Latin America. We decided we would pray for men. And the men began to come.”

IMG_0017What does Núñez do when the men show up? Don’t let this surprise you: he teaches. “We need to teach men that they’re created in the image of God, and that the role of a man is the role of a man no matter where he is. It might look one way at home, and another way at church, and another way at work, but he is a leader by design. So, we need to help them see the image of God in that, and teach them to know how the image of God looks in different settings.”

Núñez’s initiative to invest in the men around him is something he learned from an important man in his own life. Despite losing his father at age 11, Núñez recalls instances when his father, who was a teacher by profession, took the initiative to invest in him, like when he told a young Miguel at his first communion in the Catholic Church that, despite the church’s traditional teaching, Miguel should confess his sins to the Lord, not to any human priest.

“He taught me to read the Bible,”Núñez said, “and he showed me what was congruent with the Bible in the Catholic Church and what was not, and told me not to follow that wrong teaching. The Catholic Church was almost all that existed in the Dominican Republic, but he knew the Lord.”

By the time Núñez’s father died, “he had planted enough truth in me.”

Núñez has taken that truth and sought to pass it on.

“Every 18 months or so, I take a group of men and try to develop them as leaders,” Núñez said. “That training goes for about 9-12 months, meeting every two weeks in my house. This is not doctrinal training, this is leader training.”

The way Núñez sees it, this sort of training and teaching is not optional for pastors.

“Pastors need to teach this in different settings all the time. You can’t just teach it one time in a course on masculinity and then forget about it, you teach it every time you can. Pastors have a monumental role of teaching and modeling that leadership role every place we go. Being a godly male leader is a lifestyle.”

According to Jairo Namnun, Núñez walks the walk.

“Miguel is the most godly man I’ve ever met, by far,” said Namnun, who worked for three years as Núñez’s assistant and says, hardly a few days go by when they’re not in touch, despite Namnun now living in Louisville, Ky. “I’ve been with him in all circumstances, and he’s the same guy. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s a godly man that really cares about the life of the mind, and not just the life of the heart—which is not common in Latin America.”

The Reformer
When Núñez returned to Latin America to begin his Bible study in 1997, biblical, Protestant theology wasn’t common, either.

“If we were going to attract anyone, they were going to be Catholics,” he said.

The longer Núñez continues his ministry, though, the more common biblical teaching and the life of the mind become in Latin America. In fact, just 17 years into his ministry, Núñez and his teaching have already played a significant, Luther-like role in the outbreak of Protestant teaching in this predominantly Catholic part of the world.

“We are beginning to see what God is doing in Latin America,” Núñez said, “a continent that was totally bypassed by the Reformation. People are now hearing Reformed theology 500 years later. There’s something fresh about what’s happening. To see the same Word working the same way it worked in the past is amazing.”

Proclaiming that Word is not what Miguel Núñez thought he would do with his life. But here he stands, and as long as the Word keeps working, Núñez will keep teaching.


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