Ex-Columbus couple continue serving at school in Dominican Republic

SEYMOUR — Jacob and Mia McCall married in July 2016 and moved to Columbus.

While living and working there, the couple began serving in the youth ministry at Terrace Lake Church.

In 2018, a small team from the youth group took a trip to the Dominican Republic to help a Christian school for underprivileged Dominican and Haitian children. They were co-leaders on the trip and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to serve.

The next year, they returned to the Caribbean country as leaders for the annual service trip.

During that visit, they felt called to return to Freedom Christian School as missionaries. On Jan. 3, 2020, the McCalls moved to the Dominican Republic to do just that.

They recently returned to Mia’s hometown of Seymour for a presentation during a Seymour Rotary Club meeting. That gave them an opportunity to share their work with Freedom International Ministries and thank the club for its support.

“We are rooted there,” Jacob, 28, an Indianapolis native, said. “We had said two years to definitely. Since being there for two and a half years, it has become far more indefinitely, so we’ve got a lot to learn and room to grow there, so we feel like God has still got us right he needs us to be. We feel rooted at Freedom.”

Freedom International Ministries’ goal is to see people glorify the Lord in all areas of life, and it believes long-term discipleship is the way lives are changed, according to itisforfreedom.com.

One of its programs is the bilingual Christian school near the town of Ramón Santana. More than 100 sugarcane villages are found in the surrounding area, and the school serves families of Ramón Santana and the nearby bateyes.

In the 2019-20 school year, 410 students were enrolled in eight grade levels. Each year since, the goal has been to add another grade. The final goal is to grow the school to 1,800 students, from preschool to high school.

“Right now, we have about 460 students, and we’re growing that number every year,” Jacob said. “There’s some racial tension that happens there, and the education they receive in those plantations is not very good. The Dominican itself doesn’t have very good education. They actually rank second-lowest in the rated education systems in the world.”

Mia, 28, said the students live within an 8-mile radius of the school.

“School buses bus in students every day,” she said. “Though it’s only an 8-mile radius, the longest bus route is about 45 minutes just because the roads are terrible and you have to crawl at 15 mph all the way there and back.”

Mia said her role at the school is the principal’s personal assistant. She has a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative duties, including data entry, printing, sorting and distributing supplies and announcements, and she even applies her college major of nursing in emergency situations.

“I’m kind of like everybody’s substitute,” she said. “If someone goes on furlough — librarian, accountant, secretary, school nurse — my foot is kind of in every door. I’m just kind of the jack of all trades.”

Jacob said he served as a sixth grade English teacher until recently switching to English intern supervisor. In that role, he is in charge of interns who work with English as a second language program.

The teaching staff consists of mostly Dominican and Haitian people along with a few Americans.

“All of the teachers that we’ve hired who are Dominicans didn’t really have a solid growing-up with their educational foundation, and so when they try to teach, they don’t necessarily know what they are trying to teach,” Jacob said.

“We guide them academically, but we also guide them spiritually because we know that when a child is fully grown, they will be like their teacher, so if we can train them both academically and to be more like Christ, then their students will be like Christ and also mature in whatever profession they go into,” he said. “Whatever they decide to do, they will do it to the glory of God, so we really take time to invest into our teachers.”

Camp is another ministry that happens through Freedom, specifically targeting students at the school. The goal for camp is the same as in the classroom: Long-term discipleship.

They want to create opportunities for students to get outside of their normal routine and be part of an environment that lends itself to thinking deeply about life and daily decisions.

“All of our kids who are attending Freedom are able to go because of sponsors,” Jacob said. “Out of our 460 students, there are only 14 currently who did not have a sponsor, and those are from the newest class, so they just didn’t have the full exposure to teams.”

Vacation Bible school is another Freedom program. In the summer, the Bible is taught in weekly increments, rotating through the various villages.

“This is where we do like a typical American VBS,” Mia said. “We sing songs and we have a craft and get to really involve all of the students in the villages who want to come, and so then we get to reach out to not only students who attend Freedom but then their friends where they live, as well, their neighbors. It’s a really fun time and a highlight of the summer for us.”

Teams from the United States go to the Dominican Republic to help with VBS and other programs in the summer. That has included a youth group from Terrace Lake Church and students from the McCalls’ alma mater, Anderson University.

“It’s just awesome to have visitors that we are familiar with, but it’s awesome to have visitors from all over the states and get to know new people, to have people come in and invest in the DR,” Jacob said.

In the fall of 2021, Anderson University presented the McCalls with the Distinguished Young Alumni Award.

Each year, the university recognizes alumni and friends who have exemplified the call to live a life of faith and service. The awards are aimed at recognizing the accomplishments of alumni and friends and their service to humanity and society.

Jacob graduated from Anderson in 2016 with an education degree, and Mia graduated in 2017 with a nursing degree.

While at Anderson to receive their award, they met with officials from their respective departments. That resulted in an education professor and students involved in the Tri-S program visiting the Dominican Republic in May.

“We just actually met with that professor again during our furlough, so we’re really hoping to continue that partnership,” Mia said. “We would love to be able to get semesterlong or yearlong interns through that and also just a Tri-S trip every year because it seemed really beneficial for both Freedom and for the students for them to get to work on creating lesson plans.”

Jacob and Mia both had been on mission trips before they went to the Dominican Republic after college, but the one with Freedom made the most impact.

“When we took our second trip, I just felt it heavy on my heart that Freedom was the place to be, and Mia felt the same call,” Jacob said. “We hadn’t talked to each other until the last day of the trip, and so it was undeniable that we had to go. It wasn’t necessarily Anderson or Terrace Lake or Freedom specifically that was pushing for us to do that or that we were searching for. It was just God.”

All of the pieces fell into place, Mia said.

“Freedom found us,” she said. “We weren’t looking for Freedom.”