Robert C. McQuilkin was the first president of Columbia International University from 1923-1952. In 1918, McQuilkin and his wife Marguerite were days away from an assignment as missionaries when the ship that was to carry them to Africa burned and sunk the day before the ship’s departure. That left McQuilkin questioning God’s next move for him and opened up the opportunity for McQuilkin to later accept the position to lead a new work in Columbia, S.C. called the Southern Bible Institute. It would soon be renamed Columbia Bible College, and by 1994, Columbia International University.
McQuilkin’s first career was in building construction while earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. His first ministry opportunity came 1912 as he went to work as associate editor for the influential “Sunday School Times.” It was during this time that McQuilkin established the Oxford Conference in Pennsylvania where he proclaimed the “Victorious Christian Life” message, which would become a core value of CIU.
In conjunction with Columbia Bible College, McQuilkin founded the Ben Lippen Conference Center, a place where the Victorious Christian Life was proclaimed and where young people were encouraged to consider the mission field.
McQuilkin’s thoughts live on in a number of books including, The Lord is My Shepherd, The Message of Romans, Be of Good Cheer, and Lord, Teach Us to Pray.
While president of CIU, McQuilkin kept a busy speaking schedule, including a Business Men’s Class in downtown Columbia beginning in 1926, which continued throughout his life. He was instrumental in organizing of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship in the 1930s. It would later unite with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and perpetuate the missions thrust through the Urbana Conferences.
Health problems sidelined McQuilkin in 1951. But he continued to preach as he was able at conferences and at CIU until his death in 1952.