School Startup Stretches Faith

We can expect a bumpy ride when we give our lives to God to follow his leading to the mission field. Spiritual battles are real. When Jessica Moulding (pictured above) applied to serve at a TeachBeyond ESL camp, she had no idea of the plans God had for her. Rather than a short-term trip, she ended up in a full-time position, one that has stretched her and made her even more reliant on God.

“When I applied for the ESL camp, Mike Koerber said he was looking for someone with my background to serve full time,” Jessica explained. “He said a principal was needed for a new school in the Dominican Republic. I had the academic background for the job, but I had no experience. I was surprised when Mike asked when I could start the job. I said I needed a year to raise support and prepare to move to the DR.”

During that time, Jessica approached Ellen Kujawski, who was looking for work in a Spanish-speaking school, and asked if she would come to the DR to teach Kindergarten.

Ellen Kujawski

Ellen Kujawski

Ellen was about to graduate with a degree in elementary education and teaching English as a foreign language, and had some Spanish-speaking ability. Ellen agreed to join Jessica at the school, which was starting with Kindergarten and planned to add a grade a year. Ellen felt confirmation from God for her decision when she was able to raise all of her support in less than two months.

It seemed like an ideal assignment for the two women – one that used their academic training as well as fulfilled their desire to serve the Lord overseas. The task before them, starting a Christian school with a Kindergarten class then expanding by one grade a year, was a model that saw success all the time in many countries and cultures.

Visa Problem Was First Challenge
Challenging circumstances for the ministry in the city of San Francisco soon appeared. A visa problem delayed their arrival in the DR until August 19, 2014, and school was supposed to start on August 17. They changed the starting date to September 1 so they could prepare for classes. They learned that the church sponsoring the school had not recruited any students. There also was no operating budget and no permission from the DR Ministry of Education to operate a school. At the same time they were setting up the school, Jessica and Ellen were finding an apartment, and buying furniture and appliances.

“We opened on September 1 with three students; an MK, the grandchild of a church member and a child from the community.” Jessica recalled. “We were told we would start the school with preschool and kindergarten, but these three students were 2 and 3 years old. We spent our first few weeks of school changing diapers and babysitting.”

More students came as the year went on. Ellen was teaching pre-K, Kindergarten, and first grade, while Jessica taught preschool ages 2-4, and served as administrator. At the end of the school year in 2015 there were 17 students enrolled.

The two educators encountered more challenges during the year, including the departure of the pastor who had the vision for starting the school, and a congregational split. Rather than giving up and heading home, however, they prayed and trusted God for solutions.

Observing Nearby School Helped
As the next school year rapidly approached they learned about Doulos Discovery School in a nearby city and visited to learn how a private school operates in the DR. They were in need of direction as they were still without additional teachers, and needed so much clarification about running a school in the DR.  “We fell in love with their vision and mission, and asked if we could partner with them and have one of their staff work with us,” Jessica said. “But they didn’t have anyone they could send to us.” Instead, Doulos invited the pair to spend a year on its staff to learn how a school operates.

After much prayer and getting advice from TeachBeyond leadership, they closed their school in San Francisco and moved to Jarabacoa. “It was heartbreaking because we had families we had grown to love and they wanted their children in the school. But we said we needed to put the school on a solid foundation,” Jessica said. She worked on curriculum development and Ellen taught Kindergarten.

“It was a tremendous blessing and a growth experience,” Jessica said. “We were working through all that had happened in San Francisco. We knew we were supposed to be at Doulos for that year. We had a community of expatriates and worked with like-minded people. Still, we knew that God was calling us back to San Francisco. Doulos offered us our dream jobs, but we had to return to San Francisco. Our time at Doulos taught us how to run a school. We were able to write a mission and vision for our school. We developed a curriculum and made plans that had not been made before.”

They also received assistance from TeachBeyond during their recovery year. “I don’t believe they would have sent us to the DR if they had known the situation with the pastor and church, and the fact that the school wasn’t set up to begin classes,” Jessica said.

New Name for New School
One thing they decided was that the school needed a new name to show the community that this was a new school. “We made a list of names and one of then, one we favored, was Arbor Christian Academy. That was the name the board chose,” Jessica said. “We like the reference to a tree with roots and branches. We tell the students they are bearing fruit by growing in biblical knowledge and integrity as well as in academics.”

In order to make connections in the community, they started a program to teach English in the community called Descubre Inglés (Discover English). They have students from to 65 years old. Jessica said the program is popular because they not only teach from a book, but also add games and activities to make it fun to learn English.

Enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year is building slowly, with 14 students signed up as of June 5, but Jessica is confident. “We’ve learned that in this culture there is a lot of discussion before decisions are made. We’re praying for 45 students to be enrolled by the time we open in the fall,” she said.

Reflecting on their initial year in San Francisco, the two educators are ready to move forward with God’s plan.

“We saw failure – a church suffering and a school closed,” Jessica said. “I’ve never experienced such failure. But God put us here. Human failure is written into God’s plan, and from it, we’ve seen God do some amazing things.”

“Parents believe in us and want their children in our school,” she continued. “They saw something in our methods and in us that they want. We integrate biblical values into our curriculum, and that is so different from the education they have had prior to this.”

“It’s been painful and difficult, but it’s going to work. The experience has given me a deep passion in my heart for the people and the community. We’re not here for a three-year term; we are here until God releases us.”