The Dominican Republic is more than just the ultimate honeymoon destination you see on commercials. Jason and Pam Hilgeman know the real DR, where villages have homes made of tin and children wear nothing but shirts—if that.

And in places like the DR, where the government works against the education of local people,  it’s hard to change any of that. But Jason and Pam’s dream was to at least try. So, in 2010, the Hilgemans moved from Indiana to the Dominican Republic to lay the groundwork for a school they would call Freedom International Ministries.

Meet Brayan

Before Brayan walked into his classroom for the first time, he hadn’t known anything but the sugarcane fields. That’s what life in his village—and in many DR villages—meant. But, in school at Freedom International Ministries, Brayan had newfound purpose.

That is, until his energy and joy turned into disobedience and trips to the principal’s office. His teachers were confused: Why the sudden change in this once enthusiastic little boy?

After two trips to the office in one day, Jason took Brayan home, hoping to talk with Brayan’s mom. But, instead of his mother, an aunt appeared around the corner. Brayan’s mom, in order to provide for her boys, traveled more than an hour for work in Santo Domingo. She could only come home on the weekends.

“At that moment, he turned and faced the doorframe and just started crying,” Jason explained. “I got down on his level and said, ‘Brayan, we love you, and we’re sorry this is happening for you. We want you to have a good relationship with your mom. We know we can’t fill that, but we want to be in your life. We’ll be there.'”

Jason looked Brayan in the eyes and asked if he wanted to stay home. But Jason’s promise was enough. Brayan went back to school that day.

Freedom International Ministries

For Jason, Brayan represented the vision of Freedom International Ministries. Jason wants to see students like Brayan impacted personally throughout their time spent at school. Jason’s desire—and FIM’s—is for each of the nearly 200 students at FIM to be reached personally.

After approximately 18,000 hours in the FIM community, Jason hopes students will have the knowledge and confidence to aid their respective villages. Currently, families in sugarcane villages struggle for survival. Without nearby medical care, many preventable deaths occur. Motivation and opportunity are lacking; all they know is harvesting sugarcane.

But Jason knows these students can change that.

“They begin to value one another and build real, meaningful friendships,” said Jason. “And hopefully through relationships like that, we can take it to another whole level.”

The heart of FIM is not just teaching academics, but mentoring students to their full potential.

In addition to Jason and Pam, seven other families and three single women stand for justice in the DR. Through building relationships—with parents as well as the students—these families are making a powerful, positive impact in the Dominican Republic.

Parents who work from dawn ’til dusk harvesting sugarcane know these missionaries care for their children when they cannot. Little ones no longer run around villages without purpose. Teenagers are learning how to set examples for the younger kids by working hard in school and achieving goals.

The people continue to face hardship, like the government’s refusal to help education and even public school teachers, threatening to turn families into Immigration. And Jason and Pam and their associates feel those effects, too. Just finding people who will commit to teach remains their biggest obstacle.

But what drives them forward despite these challenges, Jason says, is remembering their true purpose.

“When hardship comes, we just realize what it is we’re actually doing here,” Jason says. “It’s not just that we’re building a school and working in the lives of kids…what we’re doing is trying to bring attention to God and His work in the lives of people, even if they don’t know Him yet.”

One Brayan at a Time

Brayan’s trips to the office have become much less frequent since his mom quit her job.

“Brayan is part of a loving environment that is stable,” Jason said. “He has the benefit of teachers who care not just about him, but about his family.”

Jason says Brayan has a sponsor who provides for his education, writes him letters, prays for him and can even visit him.

“He is receiving a good education based on biblical truth that we hope will lead him into relationship with God and with people, and that will equip him to live out his unique design.”

Brayan’s horizons are broadening from a sugarcane village to literally anywhere. All because a few missionaries refuse to allow government, poverty, or lack of opportunity to stand in the way of impacting young lives.

The Hilgemans and the team at Freedom International Ministries are changing lives—one Brayan at a time.