Prairie Today: Mixture of Excitement & Challenge

It's been just over a year since Mark Maxwell stepped up to the plate as the ninth president of Prairie Bible Institute. "I think a lot of people expected me to come in with sweeping changes and a compelling new direction," he says. "In reality, the last year has been more about returning to our roots and regaining confidence with our local community and constituency. I've also had to debunk some rumours, like the one about my office taking up the entire second floor!"
After a significant decline in student enrollment from 2004-2009, last year saw the numbers flatten out. Maxwell, a trained financial analyst and Blue Jays baseball fan believes, "The ball has to come to a stop before you can hit it out of the park."
The home run indicators for Prairie are the positive buzz among constituents and returning students, as well as very encouraging student numbers signaling that an enrolment rebound is very likely. Since May 2010, Prairie has consistently seen the highest monthly application activity in the last eight years. The school has also had a significant increase in campus visitors and surpassed 100 confirmation deposits from new students in early May, a milestone not typically reached until mid-June.
Mark, the grandson of the school's co-founder L.E. Maxwell, believes that this wave of positive momentum is not just limited to student enrollment. "My grandpa used to ask, 'Where would we be without our friends?' Our friends are standing alongside PBI financially, through prayer and by volunteering in variety of capacities and it is humbling to see."
So, what's the difference this year? Mark understands that it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with God who has plans for the school. "We have made a strong commitment to teach the great truths of the Bible–the whole of it, to challenge students to know Christ and make Him known, to use this campus well and be transparent in the process. These four commitments stand out as anchoring points over the last year and I believe they have been well received."
There is another side, however. "Having faced negative momentum and financial losses for several years now," says President Maxwell, "we really are digging the school out of a hole and the challenges seem insurmountable at times. Profits from last year's sale of land east of 6th Avenue are still unrealized. And we started the current year carrying a $1 million loss from 2009-2010. Also, the reality is that the summer months are typically low-income months and this summer in particular we are facing challenges related to cash-flow. Many of our own staff are taking voluntary pay reductions, some are asking about fundraising and others are giving sacrificially. Whether staff, students, board or community members, our friends have been stepping up and it has been incredible to watch. When asked about the immediate future, Mark replies that "we are right where God wants us, completely dependent on Him".
Prairie has presented a realistic and fiscally responsible budget for the upcoming year and one of the Institute's main tasks will be to recapitalize the school. A close look at the physical campus makes it very evident that infrastructure such as sidewalks, steam tunnels and parking lots are deteriorating and in need of a lot of work. A residence renovation project is currently underway and other projects are anticipated in the coming years, including a gymnasium heating system and flooring upgrades. These things need to be addressed before larger initiatives such as an auditorium can be considered.
It is also crucial to increase Prairie's endowment fund to $10,000,000, since the interest earnings from that fund contribute to student scholarship programs and help carry the school through the lean summer months.
So how can people help? Mark answers quickly: "First, pray. As believers in Jesus Christ we wrestle against an enemy that doesn't want God's truth going out. That is our battleground. Second, consider what you have in your hands–what you have been blessed with, whether it is money or abilities-and decide if you'd like to partner with us. We'd love to have you on our team."
Prairie Bible Institute has been around long enough to have seen times where dorms couldn't be put up fast enough. It has also weathered many storms where the school was reminded that we are all dependent on God. When asked how he feels the school will come through, Mark smiles and gives a thoughtful answer. "Many years from now I think we'll all look back at the summer of 2011 as a challenging season, but one that God used to shape PBI for the next chapters of the school's history. He didn't bring us this far to leave us now."