Editor's note: Missionary profiles are an ongoing feature in Engage magazine in which we spend a little time with a Nazarene missionary individual or family each week to learn more about who they are and what God is doing where they are.
Rubén Eduardo Fernández and Mónica Elizabeth Mastronardi de Fernández (pictured left with son Andrés) have served in Costa Rica since July 1995. Rubén is rector of the Nazarene Seminary of the Americas (SENDAS) and regional education coordinator for the Mesoamercia Region (MAR). Mónica writes regional discipleship books (designer of the ABCDE plan, Discipleship for Life); writes and edits regional theological education; and is vice-rector of Institutional Development (SENDAS).
Prior to serving in Costa Rica, Rubén and Mónica were pastors and professors in Buenos Aires. They have two children: Andrés Esteban, 24, and Juan Manuel, 28.
Engage: What is your favorite aspect about what you do in your current assignment?
Rubén and Mónica: We enjoy teaching, capacitating current ministers and shaping new leaders. Rubén enjoys contributing to the development of the theological institutions of our region. Mónica likes to write and produce discipleship books and books for the believer’s formation in the life of holiness and training to serve in the ministries of the church.
Engage: What are some of the challenges that you face as you do your job?
Rubén: The need to bring education to all levels in a region with many languages and a wide cultural diversity. Also, how expensive traveling is, especially among the islands of the Caribbean.
Mónica: The greatest challenges in the education ministry are three: 1) The education of multicultural students that reside in such diverse contexts. 2) Education by means of new technologies: video conference and online courses. 3) The lack of people with the preparation to produce books and who have the calling to serve.
Anecdote: In June 2012 we toured through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to promote the new Leadership School program (a preparation-for-ministry plan for laypeople according to their gifts and calling), as well as promoting the education programs in new formats (online, video conference). In Puerto Rico, we ran into three alumni of the Master’s in Church Missions program. All three studied in the sub-headquarters of the program in Puerto Rico while serving in different jobs as professionals. We had the privilege of being their professors. Nowadays two of them are pastors. One of them (Ricardo González) pastors a new church he founded among university students. Another (Nancy Maldonado) was a youth pastor and now pastors one of the main churches of her district. The third (Fernando Mounier) works as spiritual counselor to terminally ill patients.
Engage: How did you first recognize God’s calling to become involved in missions?
Rubén and Mónica: In our case, since we are not from the U.S., we never thought that God could call us to a career in missions. No one preached to us about the calling to transcultural missions. When in 1995 Dr. Mario Zani invited us to pray for the need for a couple to lead SENDAS, and after a wonderful interview with Dr. Bruno Radi to present us as candidates to the regional advisory committee (RAC) of the South America Region, as well as through prayer and doors that began to open, God confirmed that His will was for us to go and minister to a different country.
Engage: Please share an anecdote from an event or an important moment that took place during your current assignment.
Rubén and Mónica: We are very excited that our children were called to be pastors while in Costa Rica. We are proud of them, of their willingness to obey the Lord’s calling. Since they were children we told them that our desire was that they would be good Christians. We never pushed them into the pastoral or missionary ministry because we know that depends on a calling and a personal willingness.
The first to discover his calling was our younger child, Andrés, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theology from SENDAS. He began his studies at the age of 16, four nights a week, while finishing high school at the same time. As a mom I worried because it was a heavy load and I asked him if it would not be better to wait until he was out of school to study at the seminary. He responded, “Please, Mommy, don’t ask me to quit my studies at seminary because it’s what I enjoy the most.” To our amazement, his grades in school became higher and his grades at the seminary were among the highest.
One New Year’s Day we were sitting at the family table during a time of testimonies and petitions for the new year. We asked our children to talk about what they saw themselves doing in the future. Andrés said he could not imagine himself in the future doing anything other than being a pastor. He has served for a few years now as youth pastor at the Los Ángeles church in San José, Costa Rica and assists at SENDAS with the technical aspects of the video conference classes.
Our older son graduated with a degree in communications from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. He was always involved in ministry with the youth and in praise band. He is a skilled communicator and translator and serves at General Assembly. He is very creative and has many artistic gifts. He discovered his pastoral calling after his marriage. His wife, Stephanie (the granddaughter of Baptist pastors), after realizing his ministerial gifts, encouraged him and now he is a full-time pastor and enjoys pastoring the youth.
Engage: How do you maintain a close relationship with God and your family amidst the demands of missionary service?
Rubén and Mónica: With our God we have both individual devotions and as a couple. We share much with our children and we are very good friends. We have our older son, Manuel, our daughter-in-law, Stephanie, and our little grandson, Diego, who is 14 months old, far away. Manuel serves as a youth pastor at Spokane First Church of the Nazarene in Washington state. We stay in touch through Skype. Andrés still lives at home and his girlfriend is Costa Rican.
It is most difficult with our family in Argentina, especially with Mónica’s parents, who are elderly. It is also difficult to find time to relax together as a couple in the middle of so many responsibilities. However, we make it a point to take time to rest each week and vacation at least once or twice a year.
Engage: What are the rewards of what you do?
Rubén and Mónica: To us, the greatest joy is seeing how our children love the church and dream like we do of a mature, holy church that serves the world, being salt and light. To them it is really worth investing their lives in what will produce treasure for eternity.
In our ministry we take joy in seeing how our students grow in their ministry and are transforming the lives of people and communities around them.
A prayer that was answered many years ago is that today there are a multitude of youth and professional laypeople who wish to receive a theological foundation to better serve the Lord. Many of them are bringing together their professional foundation and their service in the church, and the church is becoming more enriched ministerially.
During the past year, 664 professors have helped us in the Mesoamerica Region. They taught 2,357 courses in 300 satellite locations to 4,515 students that participated in the classes (86% of which are Nazarene and 51% who are currently pastors or have a pastoral calling), and graduated 414 people.
On a family level, as pastors and missionaries, we have had some dire financial times, but God has always been faithful and generous. He takes care of our needs and has always provided for us. To Mónica it has been a tremendous gift from the Lord that the discipleship lessons written for new converts in our region have been adapted for the Eurasia Region and translated into over 20 languages.
Engage: What are some aspects of the culture where you live that you have come to love or accept?
Rubén and Mónica: The Costa Rican people are very respectful; no yelling is heard on the streets, you do not hear any curse words. People are cordial, humble, attentive. They love and value their leaders and respect people who have made the effort to obtain a college degree. They do not need to have much (materially) to enjoy time with their families and friends. Their families are very close (and) in many churches you can feel that brotherly love and care for each other, which characterizes the authentic people of God.
Engage: What do you do to have fun?
Rubén and Mónica: We watch movies as a family. We go to the swimming pool and play. The men watch soccer. We go to the beach, make trips to natural parks (volcanoes, the zoo, etc.), go out to eat, play board games, and solve puzzles.
Engage: If people knew something about you, what would they be surprised to find out?
Rubén and Mónica: Rubén is introverted and shy. He is a good singer and still has his first guitar, which he got when he was 15. He likes to play tango and Argentinean folk music.
About Mónica, her father wanted her to become an architect. She actually has a gift for remodeling and designing buildings (inherited from her father). This has been very useful in ministry, directing the construction of many buildings in SENDAS.
Engage: What advice would you give to those exploring the possibility of a calling to missions or who plan to embark on their first missionary assignment?
Rubén and Mónica:
- Don’t travel unless you’re absolutely certain that God has called you to full-time ministry.
- The missionary calling must involve both spouses and their children. The whole family must be in one accord.
- Acquire all possible theological education and ministerial experience in your country, your church, your district and region.
- Study a foreign language (English, Spanish and another one)
- Learn to live a simple life, with an income similar to what missionaries receive, at least for one year. Save your surplus as a contingency fund.
- Learn to have a healthy, home-based, low-cost diet. Make a habit of exercising independently from the availability of a gym.
- Learn to accept people from other cultures and try to become friends with foreigners. Try to live like them for a while, learn how they feel, how they think, how they relate to one other. If possible, get some voluntary service experience in a different culture with your family, in order to evaluate your level of adaptation.
- Read and learn how to deal with the culture shock.
- Above all, learn to place the control of your life, your family and your future in God’s hands.
Engage: Any other comments?
Rubén and Mónica: We are descendants of the first Nazarenes in Argentina and are the fruit of the missionary work of the 1920's and 1930's. Our grandson, Diego, is a fifth-generation Nazarene. We come from a family of pastors and missionaries.
We are the fruit of decentralized theological education. We have studied together until reaching the Doctorate in Ministry through Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) and are now candidates to a PhD in Ecclesiology. We are very grateful to God and to our leaders in the Church of the Nazarene for giving us this opportunity to minister outside of our country. God amazes us every day and takes us to minister to people farther away.