It had humble beginnings.
A 10-room farmhouse in Arkansas that burned before classes could begin, an old train car that served as a dorm, an abandoned hotel that provided learning and dining space.
But on June 12, 1942, the Ozark Bible College finally took root in Bentonville, Ark. Today, now based in Joplin and called Ozark Christian College, the institution is celebrating 70 years of preparing ministers, missionaries, evangelistic singers, church secretaries, educational directors, elders, deacons and volunteers.
A lot happened in the years between, said President Matt Proctor. But the mission has never changed.
“The how of what we do would intrigue them,” Proctor said of the college’s founders. “But to be honest, the what and why of our mission are largely unchanged. I think that would encourage them, that we remained focused on helping people prepare for Christian ministry.”
The college’s move from Bentonville to Joplin was in 1944, when it opened in a large brick home in the 500 block of North Wall Avenue. The enrollment was 22 students.
In 1963, the college moved to 95 acres on North Main Street a half-mile to the east, and grew to 15 buildings, and between 650 and 750 students each year.
Very few of those students are left on campus this summer, as classes close down and many fan out across the U.S., and around the world for missions and internships.
“We challenge our students to go out with a Bible in one hand, and a basin and towel in the other,” said Proctor, a 1993 graduate. “During the summer they scatter to serve.”
So instead of festivities with them to celebrate the anniversary milestone, faculty and staff will quietly offer up prayers for those featured in the college’s Summer Prayer Guide.
Among them, Daniel Mueller is in the Mathare Slum of Kenya, Africa, where he is preaching, assisting at a medical clinic, and doing humanitarian work.
Stephen Langly is headed to Grand Goave, Haiti, building a home there.
Micah Funderburgh leaves today for Central Asia to help with a non-governmental organization that trains people in agriculture so they can get the best use out of their land and provide for their families.
And many of the college’s 14,000 alumni are serving others in 49 states and 100 countries, as well.
Jenni Snyder, a 2002 graduate, is working with Rapha House, a ministry in Cambodia dedicated to rescuing girls caught in human trafficking and the sex trade.
Bgoni Muchengetwa, a 2007 graduate, plans to return to his native Zimbabwe, Africa, to “plant churches” and help the country’s millions living in poverty through sustainable development.
Some, like Randy Gariss, senior minister at College Heights Christian Church, remained in Joplin. Last May, he was master of ceremonies at the memorial service attended by President Barack Obama.
When it comes to local service, Proctor said it was never more evident than in the aftermath of last year’s tornado. The college opened dorms to house some 3,500 volunteers, provided space in the gym for Red Cross operations, offered the Missions Building to the YMCA Children of the Storm program, and opened the chapel for congregations that had lost their churches.
Like the campus, the curriculum has changed through the decades to address changing needs of the communities that ministers serve, Proctor said.
“We don’t just marry, bury and preach on Sunday anymore,” he said. “Ministers help get people through some of the most difficult crises of their lives.”
The budget has also changed, and now is $10.4 million annually, of which 80 percent comes from student tuition and 20 percent from donations by some 4,000 individuals and 400 churches. Today’s students also have the option of learning online, an area the college plans to ramp up in coming years along with additional emphasis on diversity.
Nathan Morris, a 2011 Joplin High School graduate now attending OCC, wants to become a youth minister, and said he is appreciates “the in-depth teachings of the Bible” the college offers coupled with “the preparation it gives us to go out and make disciples.”
“I think those folks on North Wall would say they’re glad to see that,” said Proctor. “The methods may change, but the principles never do.”
Historical records show Joplin was chosen as the new location for OCC because it was easily reached by car, bus, train or plane, and had job opportunities for students. Many churches here provided opportunities for student ministries. Its name changed on July 1, 1985, when it consolidated with Midwest Christian College of Oklahoma City, Okla.