Contented in North Dakota

Contented in North Dakota

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ELLENDALE, North Dakota — The Miami high school principal gave Jordy Nuñez an ultimatum after the 10th grader threw another student through a window: join the football team or be expelled.

The burly 6-foot, 2-inch Nuñez never had played football before, but he deemed that option better than dismissal from school. He already had enough trauma in his young life: growing up in a home where relatives practiced a religion that blended animistic and pseudo-Catholic beliefs; living on his own at 13 after his parents separated; subsequently peddling marijuana as a means of survival; befriending drug gangsters; impregnating a girlfriend who aborted their baby.

Nuñez joined the team as an offensive lineman and turned out to be a natural talent. So much so that he scored a full tuition ride to play football at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.

In an alphabetically aligned geography class, Nuñez sat next to Elizabeth Nerness, a willowy Minnesota native. Elizabeth befriended Jordy, but initially didn’t foresee romance developing.

“We immediately connected as friends, but he wasn’t a Christian, so I knew nothing would come of the relationship,” Elizabeth says. She repeatedly invited him to a Monday night young adult service at Solid Rock Assembly in Worthington. Finally, he relented.

At the service, Elizabeth prayed for Jordy, who responded to the altar call and accepted Jesus as his Savior.

“I went home and flushed my drugs,” Jordy says.

The transition meant cutting off relationships with some friends and being discipled by strong Christians.

“I saw the potential of who he could be with God in his life,” Elizabeth says.

Although he planned to transfer to the University of Minnesota, which offered a scholarship to play football, Jordy instead opted to go to Trinity Bible College — which offers no athletic scholarships. He wanted to nurture his newfound faith and to find a purpose in life.

“I felt such peace on campus,” Nuñez says of the remote school in Ellendale, North Dakota. “People all had joy on their faces. I wanted that.”

He transferred in 2009, unaware that the football team recently had endured multiple winless seasons, including a record-setting 105-0 shellacking by Rockford College.

During his three years at Trinity, the Lions went 5-5 one year, equaling the team’s best mark ever, and Nunez achieved All American honors. Elizabeth’s father, initially reluctant to bless the marital aspiration of the youngest of his three daughters, finally consented after hearing Jordy preach. The couple wed in 2012.

Jordy graduated in 2012 with a degree in intercultural studies and initially found work at Trinity overseeing men’s dorms. That coincided with the arrival of Paul Alexander as the school’s new president. Elizabeth graduated the following year with an elementary education degree.

Alexander approached the pair about developing a program where prospective students could go on short-term mission trips — to South Africa, Israel, Native American reservations, and inner-city neighborhoods.

Jordy served as director of PackYourBags at Trinity. The program is geared for high school graduates — especially those unsure of their future plans — willing to dedicate a year to missions.

“Students need to figure out early on what God is calling them to do,” Jordy says. “We don’t want seniors in college to become a children’s pastor if they don’t really like kids.”

“PackYourBags needed an entrepreneurial couple to get it started and Jordy and Elizabeth were a perfect fit,” Alexander says. “Jordy and Elizabeth bring to us a strong mix of gifts and abilities. They are spiritually strong and have shown a consistent level of faith.”

Contrasting to when he enrolled at Trinity, Nuñez — whose parental heritage is from the Dominican Republic and U.S. Virgin Islands — no longer is an ethnic outlier. Although Ellendale’s population is still 94 percent white, only 210 of the college’s 268 students are Anglo. That helps on mission trips, he believes, especially with a student body drawn primarily from the overwhelmingly white, rural, upper Midwest.

“Wherever students go on trips will be in a cross-cultural context,” Nuñez says. “It won’t be like Ellendale. God’s family is very diverse.”

Today, Jordy and Elizabeth are among several married couples serving together on Trinity’s staff or faculty. Elizabeth is director of marketing. Jordy is vice president of college relations at the school, in charge of recruiting and enrollment.

“I try to identify students who can succeed here, not just because of grades, but because of those with a call of God,” Jordy says.

Alexander says Jordy’s displayed maturity and insight with his creative leadership of the PackYourBags program.

“It was a natural progression for him to move into student affairs and then into college relations,” Alexander says.

Jordy and Elizabeth have a 1-year-old daughter, Emilia, who stays in an affordable day-care center opened on campus this year because of the growing number of employees with young children.

“My trajectory could have been much different,” says the jubilant, bushy-bearded Nuñez, who just turned 31. “Only God’s intervening grace and mercy kept me out of prison.”

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