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What caused you to leave the medical profession to become a pastor and plant a church?
Before I answer the question, just for the purpose of clarity, allow me to say that I still see some patients in the field of infectious diseases. They are usually complicated cases where my primary role is to offer an opinion or a treatment in cases where no explanation has been found or where the previous treatments have failed. I might see two to four cases like this a week, at most. I do not have a medical office and patients must be referred by another physician.
Having said that, let me answer your question. My wife and I were both doing our training in internal medicine in New Jersey when I developed a hunger for the Word of God. This began in 1983, right after the death of one of my brothers, who was a pilot and who died in an aviation accident in North Adams, Mass. My hunger increased through the years, and as my passion continued to develop, a new hunger arose: to teach the Word of God. Although initially my desire was to remain in the United States practicing and teaching medicine, after about twelve years of living there, God opened my eyes to a sector of the Dominican population that was educated, professionally trained, but lost. In addition, this group had distanced itself from Christianity because quite frequently what they had seen was a version of our faith that was not biblical but rather mainly emotional and noncoherent. My eyes were opened from above, which allowed me to see what was happening in the Dominican Republic. God planted a new vision in my mind to come back to Santo Domingo and plant a church to reach this population and then to use the converted group to reach those with less means, who are also in need of the gospel. Therefore, after living in New Jersey for fifteen years, we both left the United States in 1997 and came back to Santo Domingo to plant the church that I now lead. I felt this vision confirmed when my wife expressed her support of this new endeavor, being willing to leave her country and a thriving medical practice after so many years of training. We thank God that by His grace, we did not succumb to success syndrome.
Outside of the Bible, what has been the most influential book in your life? Why?
It is hard for me to mention any single book, since books affect you in different ways and at different times in your life. It is easier for me to mention an author who is able to affect you through his books and even his messages. In this case, I would have to say that R.C. Sproul has been the most influential author in my life. His series on the holiness of God, during the earliest stage in my Christian walk, in addition to his constant teaching about the character of God, compelled me to search the Scriptures to see the holy character of that sovereign God that R.C. constantly spoke about. I can truly say that my life has been profoundly impacted by the character of God, and the main person I can point to in this regard is R.C. Sproul, since I have listened to a countless number of his teachings on philosophy, theology, apologetics, and worldview. Others have influenced me in other directions, but when it comes to the appreciation of the character of God, R.C. is the person I have to mention.
What is the purpose of Ministerios Integridad & Sabiduría, and what does the ministry do to fulfill this purpose?
The main goal of Wisdom & Integrity Ministries (this is the name in English) is to proclaim the revelation of God and to present the biblical worldview to our generation in a clear and convicting way for the glory of our God.
To that end, the ministry organizes conferences, participates very actively in conferences in Latin America, at which I speak, produces audiovisual material, and sponsors daily podcasts. Occasionally, it has organized debates, and it has helped with the production of seven different books written by me. In addition, we currently have a teaching institution to train pastors and leaders, which is called Instituto Integridad y Sabiduría.
What is the most significant influence in the spiritual lives of the people in the Dominican Republic? In the rest of Latin America?
Roman Catholicism is the most significant spiritual influence in Latin America; however, it is important to recognize that the animism of the Global South is an ever-present reality as well. A lot of what we see in the Pentecostal movement is the result of people with an animistic worldview who have come to faith but who have not been instructed biblically. Therefore, they continue to see things through a distorted lens.
What do people outside of Latin America commonly misunderstand about the Latin American church?
Some people look at evangelical Christianity in Latin America and make certain assumptions that are flawed:
- Some assume that Latin America is already evangelized and therefore conclude that the Great Commission has been fulfilled in our region. That is false.
- Others assume that because Latin America is part of the Global South, all people are not educated. That is also false—many are highly educated.
- Others do not realize that the evangelical movement in Latin America is very young. We have had a missionary presence in the region for about 150 years, but the church planting movement did not begin until the 1970s. On the other hand, Reformed theology is just getting to be known on a large scale in the last seven years. Before then, there were Reformed churches here and there, but the doctrines of grace were unknown to a large majority of the population.
What are the most important needs of the Latin American church that we can pray for?
- Latin America needs to be re-evangelized because it has been inoculated with the wrong message; therefore, people have developed “antibodies” to the real gospel.
- Theological training is of the essence.
- Leadership development is also another priority.
- The formation of a biblical worldview is essential to believers.
- Last but not least, we must train pastors in expository preaching of the Word. That is a missing jewel.
What are the mistakes that North American Christians have made in seeking to reach people in Latin America with the gospel?
To reach people with the gospel, one must know their worldview, and knowing the worldview of the people is more than just taking a course in a teaching institution.
We must love the gospel, but we must also love the lost even if they do not convert, as Christ loved the rich young person who went away from Him. And yet the text says that Christ loved him (Mark 10:21).
Besides prayer, what can Christians outside of Latin America do to support the church there?
Come and see it. There is nothing like seeing the need and seeing the hunger for the Word of God at the same time. God is moving in amazing ways, and that is evident to those who visit the region. Also, people can support financially those ministries that are involved in the training of the Latin American church.
What role do you see apologetics playing in the evangelism of Latin America?
It is an important tool, especially when it comes to reaching the educated and others who have rejected Christianity because they consider it a faith primarily for those without an education.
What kind of impact is Reformed theology having in the Dominican Republic and in Latin America in general?
At present, the doctrines of grace are being proclaimed and embraced by a large number of the evangelical population. I think the movement is strongest in Santo Domingo, but every place we go in Latin America, we see the same phenomenon—young people believing this “new teaching” and being excited about it.
What encourages you about the church in Latin America?
- A new hunger for the Word.
- A large number of people leaving churches with nonbiblical teaching and seeking churches where the truth can be found.
- People still submit to their pastors, so they can be shepherded effectively.
- People still believe in the supernatural, so in general there is no difficulty in believing in the Word of God, which is inerrant and infallible.
You have said before that the Reformation passed over Latin America. Why do you think that is?
- Spain and Portugal, two major Roman Catholic countries, controlled the seas at the time of colonization; therefore, Protestantism was almost prohibited in our nations for a long time.
- Most missionaries who came to the region came from the United States after the Second Great Awakening, so, by and large, they were not Reformed.
- Reformed theology is more appealing to those who are educated. As our nations have achieved a higher level of education, we now have a new and growing interest in Reformed theology.
How do Latin American Christians view Scripture?
They see it as the Word of God; they believe it is inerrant and infallible (in general), but the problem is that for most, the Bible is not sufficient, and that accounts for all the claims of extrabiblical revelations we encounter in the lives of many.
What are the greatest social issues or pressures the Latin American Church is wrestling with currently?
Latin America is a land of contrasts: there are lots of people and families who have accumulated a good amount of wealth, but a large number of people are still living at the poverty level. The same is true with education: many have a great education, but a large number of people do not have a good education. The number in each group may vary from country to country, but the reality is the same.