WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–On the outside, Tom Duke was
the epitome of success.
He held a coveted position in the United States
Attorney’s Office in Miami. He was gaining notoriety with
each successfully prosecuted criminal case. Married with two
children, he had an elegant house and luxury car.
But as the tall distinguished-looking man sat on a pew
with his family in January 1991 at Sheridan Hills Baptist
Church in Hollywood, Fla., tears began flowing down his
“There I was 31 years old, sitting there weighted down
by the disaster that I saw my life becoming,” Duke said.
“All of the dreams that I had were shattering right before
me, even though outwardly I had achieved a great deal of
success in a short period of time. But it was all crumbling.
I knew the foundation was rotten.”
For several months, Tom’s wife, Suzanne, had been
encouraging him to go to church with her, even though the
couple had been separated for nearly a year while he was
involved in an adulterous affair.
“In those months I saw something in her, a radical
change in her character, in her substance that I could not
explain,” Duke said. “I mean, a strength that was
phenomenal. I was falling apart and panicked and overwrought
and she was calm and confident and clear-headed and so
loving and forgiving. I mean, not condemning me, not
fighting with me, none of the typical human reactions that
you would have expected from a woman in her situation.”
That was part of the reason, Duke said, he agreed to go
to church with her. “I would never consider going to a
Baptist church,” he reflected. “I had not been inside a
church building since I was 13 or 14 years old. It was
unthinkable being the enlightened, agnostic that I was, but
not withstanding all that I (went).”
Reared as a Roman Catholic, Duke found himself hearing
the gospel for the first time.
“I did not know the Bible had any relevance to me at
all. I had no idea, really, who Jesus Christ was, what he
had done for me, the promise of life that he offered. … I
heard the gospel presented, and I’m telling you, in that
moment I knew that Jesus Christ was the answer to all of the
questions that I had in my life. He was the end to all of
the searching that I had done.”
From the age of 13, following his father’s death, Duke
said he remembers searching for peace and a purpose in life.
“I thought being a lawyer would give me all that, so I
devoted all of my life to doing that and sacrificed a great
deal to try to realize the fulfillment of that dream in the
way that I envisioned.”
Still, Duke left the church that Sunday without making
a decision for Christ.
The next Sunday he went to church again with his
family. The invitation came and again Duke wept.
“I tried to make my way down there inconspicuously,” he
said. “The pastor came from across the auditorium and
grabbed me by the shoulder and looked at me and said, ‘Son,
what’s your decision?’ And for me that was the million-
dollar question. And for the first time, this glib lawyer
didn’t really know what to say. I was just overcome with
emotion. I received Jesus Christ that morning as my Savior
and Lord. Suzanne and I were baptized that same evening
Nearly two years later, Duke sensed the Lord tugging at
his heart strings yet again. With his family restored and
law career prospering, God called “It wasn’t go be a pastor.
It wasn’t go be a missionary. It was go to seminary.”
On July 22, 1994, Duke, his wife and two children
arrived at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake
Forest, N.C., with very little money, no job and no place to
live. “We were determined to trust the Lord in a radical
way, and I’ve never regretted that. In fact, if anything,
the Lord has taught me the more radically I trust him, the
better it goes.”
Duke said he came to Southeastern expecting to provide
for his family comfortably while working part time for a
local law firm. But God had other plans.
“I wasn’t even able to get a job doing paralegal work,”
he said. “I ended up taking jobs that I never would have
given serious considerations to (such as) loading UPS
trucks, cleaning bathrooms as a janitor. I praise God for
that; now I do, I didn’t at the time.”
Following the example of Elisha, who burned his plow
and sacrificed his oxen in surrendering to the Lord’s
calling on his life, Duke forfeited his license to practice
“God’s had a lot to do in my life, more demolition than
I would care to admit. But at the same time as he’s
demolished, it’s been for the purpose of rebuilding in me
the character of his Son.”
Duke, who graduated from Southeastern in December with
a master of divinity degree, said he was warned before
coming to seminary that the academic setting could rob him
of his spirituality and zeal for Christ.
“My experiences here couldn’t have been more different.
I believe and know I am closer to the Lord now than I was
when I came here. God has revealed so much to me through his
Word since I’ve been here.”
But as significant an impact as Southeastern has had on
his life, Duke credits his wife’s witness as having the
greatest effect on him. “God used her in a mighty way to
bring me to himself, and he still uses her in extraordinary
ways. … (God) gave Suzanne the grace to forgive. My
mother-in-law was saved through all this. They’ve forgiven
me. My marriage to Suzanne is better than I ever could have
imagined, as we have grown closer to one another, as we have
grown closer to Christ.”
Now, having graduated from Southeastern with honors,
Duke finds himself waiting on God’s direction for his life.
He readily admits he’s facing another test of his reliance
on God to provide. But Duke said it’s also a time to reflect
on God’s faithfulness in the past.
“It’s been a remarkable journey here, a remarkable
adventure here,” Duke said. “I understand a lot more about
faith, about his faithfulness and his sufficiency. I believe
I understand more about his sovereignty and his magnificence
and his glory than in any other time in my life.”
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–On the outside, Tom Duke was