Alaska Bible Institute began its 49th year of training and equipping Christians for life and ministry this month.
What words would describe nearly half a century of hard work and faith?
Pastor Ray Arno leans back at his desk. “Brief,” he pauses, thinking, then adds, “rewarding.”
Arno continues to speak, his voice thoughtful. “If I had it to do over … I would do it again.”
Now 80 years old, Arno is the founder and general director of Alaska Village Missions, the parent organization of Alaska Bible Institute.
He arrived in Homer in December of 1960 with his wife, Petrea, and two small children after driving the Alaska Highway from Wisconsin in a Volkswagen bus.
Their purpose: to minister to the people of Alaska.
Arno had been asked to pastor Christian Community Church in Homer, where he would spend a total of 37 years. He also served as a pastor in the village of King Cove in the 1960s and still ministers in the village of Port Graham.
Within his first years in Alaska, Arno began to see the need for a Bible school. In fact, two people donated money toward the school before he made the decision to start it.
A 4.5-acre lot on a trail (now Mission Road) on East Hill was the beginning of the ABI campus. Lumber for the first building came from a cannery that had sunk below high tide on the Homer Spit in the 1964 earthquake. Arno bid $25 — and got the lumber. Gradually, through volunteer labor and donations, more buildings were added and the campus expanded to its current 14.5 acres.
“So, that’s where it began,” says current ABI president, Eric Rozeboom, who first came to ABI as a single student in 2003. Now, he and his wife, Kat, have three children and are full-time members of the staff.
Rozeboom holds a master’s degree in theological studies from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and in addition to his role as president, teaches classes at ABI.
“I see ABI as a light in Homer,” said Rozeboom. “That ought to be a natural outgrowth of a biblical studies program.”
Over the years students have attended from China, Canada, Germany and around the United States. The school offers a two-year diploma in biblical studies (in which students study all 66 books of the Bible) with an optional third-year diploma in ministry, which includes classes in leadership, counseling and teaching.
Although the school is not accredited, Rozeboom said that other schools can choose to accept credit hours from transferring students.
Following their studies, graduates have gone on to minister in places such as the Philippines, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan — and, of course, Homer. Both pastors at Church on the Rock in Homer are ABI alumni, and Rozeboom notes that a number of others serve as pastors and teachers in the Homer area.
At ABI, Rozeboom says that students are encouraged to let their faith impact all aspects of their life. The school is not just structured around book knowledge, but life as well.
“One thing that sets us apart is how intentionally relational we are on the campus,” said Rozeboom.
Full-time students have class Monday-Friday from 8:15 a.m.-noon, and, in addition to class time, are required to volunteer 40 hours in the community. Some teach Sunday school, some volunteer at the food pantry, some ring bells at Christmas time.
“The feedback that I’ve been getting has been very positive … and I hope that we can continue to be a blessing in the community,” said Rozeboom.
This fall, 27 full-time and several part-time students are attending ABI, which has a capacity for up to 50 students. A number of the staff, including a cook, maintenance person, office administrator and dorm parents, also live on the campus. Although many staff members are former students, some have moved from around the country following other schooling to volunteer at ABI.
ABI staff and faculty members serve as missionaries, raising money through sponsorships or working additional jobs to pay their way. Because of the missionary staff, students can attend at a very low cost.
“I’d love to see more people in Homer coming up and studying with us,” said Rozeboom, adding that if someone is interested in a class they are welcome to come check it out. Auditing a class also is an option — which basically gets someone out of writing any long papers.
Alaska Village Missions – and ABI – are currently at a transitional point, as Arno is preparing to step down from his role as director.
So, while the school continues to update and make positive changes, Rozeboom said they want to honor where it has come from and stay true to that mission.
Part of honoring that past comes in print form. Jerry Wood, a teacher at ABI, is compiling a book recording the history of ABI and Alaska Village Missions. He plans to finish it next year.
Wood, who has been at the school for 14 years, said that he has seen the school’s structure transition from a “mom and pop” model to a more professional model.
“Ray and Trea, for a number of years, were even called mom and pop by some of the students,” he said.
For his part, Arno seems content with ABI’s past and future.
“I feel it’s become a very good investment in my life,” he said. “And without question, God has led it to its inception and success. He has led. He has provided.”
The man who came to Alaska 54 years ago, desiring to serve others says with a hint of wonder, “Seemed like we just started yesterday. … Time flies.”
Toni Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
Alaska Bible Institute
“Training and equipping Christians for life and ministry.”
Location: 1295 Mission Road
Phone ABI Office: 235-8648
Web site: Alaskabible.org
Current school year: Sept. 29, 2014 – March 27, 2015
Classes held: 8:15 a.m. – noon, Monday-Friday.
Diploma in Biblical Studies: 80 trimester credit hours.
Diploma in Christian Ministry: 38 trimester credit hours. There are 22 courses available each semester. Each course is worth 2-3 trimester credit hours.
Room and board: $4,000 for a single person living in the dorm.
Activities: Weight room, auto shop, wood shop, library, dining hall, rec hall, pool table, foosball and ping-pong. There also is an ABI men’s basketball team in the city league.
Size: 14.5 Acres, 16 family-housing units, 16 dorm rooms, 27 full-time students, 14 faculty, 9 support staff
Fiftieth-Year Celebration: Nov. 5-7, 2015 at the ABI campus.