E.M. Broen became president of the Lutheran Brethren Bible School in 1903. Broen would later become a driving force in the creation of the high school department in 1916. Through the start of the Bible school it is clear to see the mission heart that would later be a driving force in Hillcrest Academy.
In Broen's early years with the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, good friend, Pastor K.B. Birkeland, was influential as the two took on the primary teaching of the Bible school department at the turn of the century. It was often that Broen was asked if he, “would consider a call . . . to go to India.” Birkeland could see a mission itch in Broen's spirit.
Broen liked the Lutheran Brethren because he saw it as a “mission synod.” In 1902 the synod sent their first missionaries to China, who would pioneer a vital, indigenous church in the Hupeh and Honan provinces. Areas unreached by Christian missionaries before their endeavor.
From his first days walking the halls at the school's Wahpeton campus, Broen communicated his mission heart. In his first class in 1903 a young woman named Marie Harstad sat impressionable and eager to learn more of the Lord. Her Bible School education would change her life, and propel her to change many others after graduation.
Marie placed trust in Jesus at an early age. Thinking back to her pig-tails and skipping, Harstad noted that her faith matured in a special writing where she declared, "when God saved me . . . . He also called me to China.” Her missionary heart was deliberately hidden as Harstad matured.
While prayers for China continued, a new song came from Harstad's mouth as she sought further training in a faith that compelled her to mission work. She started praying that a Bible School would be established near her home. As the Church of the Lutheran Brethren answered the call of synod leaders to start what would later merge into Hillcrest Academy, Harstad's prayers were answered, preparing a young woman for overseas mission to an unreached people group.
Harstad's early days as a Bible school student were filled with butterflies as she found herself in a surreal experience. Her answer to prayer through the Lutheran Brethren Bible School was deeper than her prepubescent prayers near her farmhouse window every night. Harstad sat in Broen's class. The missionary was preparing the mission-minded.
As the class exited their introductory material, Harstad wrote of her instructors' incredible passion for things of the Lord. She wrote in one entry explaining, “one of Broen’s outstanding subjects was missions and mission history. His whole heart was in that subject and lots of times God’s presence was felt so strongly that the tears rolled down our cheeks." Marie epitomized the experience by simply stating, “At times I thought I was more in Heaven than on earth.”
Harstad's experience in Broen's class kindled a flame for missions that she worked to keep hidden in her early years. She writes, “Broen spoke often of the mission field, and wished he could go there.” She commented in her journal that, “the whole class seemed to catch the mission spirit.”
Following graduation, the impression Broen had on his pupils translated into life-changing action. In a time before China Inland Mission's call in the 1920s for 200 missionaries to pack their belongins in coffins to serve the Lord in China, Marie traveled to China in 1906 in a proverbial trailblazing event. The Lutheran Brethren sent six students to China before the world was called to action. The six students were members of the first three classes of the Bible School, what would later grow into Hillcrest Academy.
The mission heart of Hillcrest predates a worldwide mission emphasis. This heart serves as primary roots that establish Hillcrest as a place for students to not only affirm the faith, but to equip students to exercise their faith in eternally significant actions.