Called College: Living Up to its Design
College freshman Jolie Fitch is finding that the newly launched AG school is living up to its purpose — and then some.Editor’s note: When the initial article about Called College launching ran in AG News in January, I mentioned to school leadership that to me it wasn’t so important how many people read the story, my prayer was that the right people read the story. Jolie Fitch and her father, Sam, were an answer to that prayer.
When Jolie Fitch graduated from high school as a homeschooler in May 2023, she was facing a difficult decision. She was already leaning towards attending “a really good college” in the region, but for some reason, she didn’t have a peace about going.
“I knew God wanted me to go into missions and that I needed to attend a school dedicated to missions,” Jolie says, “but I couldn’t seem to find the right one. And then my dad sent me an email link to an AG News post.”
Jolie says that her father, Sam Fitch, had seen the article about Called College, a new Bible college being launched by the Illinois District Council. He had already sent the article to their pastor, William Blair (New Creation Assembly of God in Jamestown, New York), who responded by saying that the college looked like a good school for her to attend and train as a missionary and that there were plenty of reasons to explore the possibility.
“After I read the article, I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to look up a little bit more about it,” Jolie says. “I looked at the degree fields, what the school was dedicated to, and it really looked interesting. I talked to my pastor and he encouraged me to put in my application and that if I got accepted, great, I had my spot; if the Lord ultimately led me elsewhere, that would be cool, too.”
Unwilling to blindly attend, Jolie and her mother, Jessica Fitch, decided to make the 11-hour drive to attend the college's Spring Preview to see what Called College was all about.
THE FIRST STEP
Illinois District Superintendent Phil Schneider and the Called College team have worked diligently over the past year developing the plan to launch Called College, which is located on the grounds of the Illinois district offices and Lake Williamson Christian [Retreat] Center, just south of Carlinville. Their expectations were that it would initially serve young adults from the district until word spread around the AG fellowship about the affordable quality experience and education the college provided.
“I remember when Jolie first applied,” Rich Pruitt, director of Called College, says. “I started asking, ‘Does anybody know who this is? How did she find out about us?’ And then I learned she was coming to the Spring 2023 Preview.”
Jolie admits that on the drive out, she was already having second thoughts. It was so far from home. What would it be like? She wouldn’t know anyone there. Could this really be the school God wanted her to attend?
After arriving and settling into their room, Jolie and her mother were stunned by their reception.
“We went over to attend the fellowship and game night,” Jolie recalls, “and as soon as I introduced myself to Dr. Pruitt, he knew exactly who I was, where I was from, and he was so excited that I was from New York. He introduced me to Dr. Linda Linzey, the academic director for the college, whom I’d already met on Zoom, and she was truly excited to meet me in person. They introduced me to some of the women already there who invited me to play a game with them. I felt welcomed and a really good sense of community.”
“I asked Jolie’s mom to join in,” Pruitt says, “but she declined, saying she liked what she was seeing. So, she smiled and retired to their room for the evening.”
There are many reasons to attend college, but choosing the right college and knowing the Lord’s will can be one of the most difficult decisions for students who desire to follow the call of God. Is it God or is it the location? Is it God or is it my friends? Is it God or is it just me?
Even though Jolie says that many things about Called College had impressed her, she still wasn’t sure if it was the school for her.
“The last day of Spring Preview, the last chapel service, I was on the fence,” she admits. “I just prayed, ‘God, I don’t know what to do. Coming here, it’s so far from home. I don’t want to make a mistake in choosing the wrong school.’ All of a sudden, I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to go here, it was not optional. It was the same feeling and conviction I had when God called me into ministry. I knew this was where I had to go because it lined up directly with my calling into ministry!”
When Jolie told her mother about her decision, she was immediately on board with it. Her father, however, wasn’t so sure about sending his daughter so far away to an unknown college campus.
“Jolie’s mom and dad came to orientation on the second Saturday of June,” Pruitt recalls and adds with a friendly laugh, “He needed some convincing. But after being here and seeing what we were all about, he had peace about it. Being here, on campus, and seeing firsthand what God is doing at Called College was a critical factor for Jolie and her family.”
Even when a person knows and follows God’s will, as the Bible frequently showcases, there are still challenges. And for a freshman student who can’t just do a quick “day trip” home, Jolie’s challenges included the obvious.
“I still have a peace that this was the right decision,” Jolie says, “but I’m definitely homesick — no denying that. But every day and every week the students get closer, and we all get closer to the faculty. I really like that because I wanted a school that had the tight community feel to it.”
And when Jolie found herself struggling in a class, she turned to her professor.
“I was having trouble in one of my classes, so I went to Dr. Linzey,” she says. “She sat down and basically tutored me, helping me to work through the challenges.”
“It’s not just about classes; it’s about community,” Schneider says. “We are a cadre, we are a family, we are a community responding to the call of God to go out and do ministry.”
Schneider notes that a unique aspect of Called College is that he was able to invite all 36 students to his home the previous weekend, with Pruitt hosting the students at his home the next week.
“We are creating mentoring relationships and opportunities,” Schneider explains. “And we have already begun sending student teams out on ministry opportunities to churches in the district.”
Unsurprisingly, Jolie has found that the teachers really care about the quality of education students are receiving. However, she’s also learned that attending a college populated by students who are all serious about God’s calling on their lives has led to some unexpected benefits.
“This is a place where everybody loves God and everybody wants to get closer to God,” she says. “It’s evident in the way teachers teach, the way students interact with each other, and the way we want to talk about God. No one is afraid to express their desire to get closer to God, and I love that!”
She’s also found students are ready, even eager, to pray for each other. Not only that, but in the chapel services, students are welcomed to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. She’s even found God using her to give a word of encouragement, which is a huge step of faith for her.
“Being here, I’ve gained more courage and confidence in trying to step out,” Jolie says. “And so, in one of our student-led worship nights in one of our garages, I did! Even our [scheduled] chapel services are just great all around. I have enjoyed every chapel.”
And now, with students beginning to go out on weekends to minister in churches, the opportunities for building key relationships, being mentored, and growing in spiritual maturity increase exponentially.
Of course, on the more “materialistic” side, it would be the rare campus that could rival housing at Called College, which has much more in common with condominium living than the typical college dorm room.
“Typical campus housing is cramped, crowded, but housing here is really spacious,” Jolie says. “Full kitchen, washer, dryer — it’s really nice — I count myself blessed to be living there.”
And as Pruitt notes, since students have their own full kitchen, a semester at Called College costs under $7,000, which opens the door for students to graduate with little to no student loan debt.
Both Schneider and Pruitt say that the college has met and even exceeded expectations. They themselves are challenged and encouraged by the interactions with students who have a divine calling upon their lives. They believe they may even hit their target of 40 students for the first year as additional students have expressed interested in attending the spring semester.
For Jolie, Called College was the right decision, but it’s not for everyone. As she notes, there’s a reason for the name.
“It’s for those who feel called into full-time vocational ministry,” Jolie says. “And if someone is called [to ministry] they need to at least consider this school because it takes the education of ministers and missionaries seriously. Here at Called College you can be who God called you to be without being afraid of what others may think.”
“We focus on students’ ministry calling,” Pruitt says. “They will learn, they will grow, and they will go out and put it into practice. Will students know everything about ministry when they leave here? I don’t believe any school can provide that, but they will be ready to say yes to the call of God, whatever that may be.”
Called College is hosting its Fall Preview 2023 on October 5 and 6.