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Winter Edition
Volume 99, Number 3

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John Bechtold, professor of psychology

John Bechtold, professor of psychology, volunteers at nearby Grantham Memorial Park by shoveling graves. This family tradition encourages him to minister to the community and also fuels his study of burial practices of other cultures.

Beyond the Classroom

Whether caring for grave sites, teaching fifth-graders to identify wildlife, or training teens to share their faith with their peers, Messiah College faculty members pursue varied and extensive personal interests outside their work at the College—interests that spark intellectual curiosity, fan spiritual zeal, and ultimately enrich the lives of Messiah students.

by Rebecca Jekel

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Sometimes over his lunch break or between classes and meetings, Messiah College faculty member John Bechtold changes his clothes and drives to nearby Grantham Memorial Park to shovel dirt into a newly dug grave. “It’s a labor-intensive job somebody has to do,” says the professor of psychology, who volunteers with his family at the cemetery throughout the year—mowing, painting, landscaping, caring for grave sites, and,on an on-call basis, preparing and then filling graves after burials.

Bechtold and his family took on this work about ten years ago to continue a tradition of his wife Katy’s family, who provided care for grave sites in their Kansas hometown. Bechtold also wanted to serve his local community in some way and, with Grantham Memorial Park visible from the Bechtolds’ picture window, helping to care for the cemetery grounds made perfect sense.

Yet Bechtold has found that his work in the cemetery has fulfilled more than family tradition, community need, and his desire to serve. It’s ignited in him an interest in the burial practices of other cultures, which he studies during the cross-cultural trips he takes with Messiah students as part of a core language requirement. “I encourage my students to focus on one element of a culture and to research it and ask people about it. Studying burial practices has become my own project,” he explains.

Modeling Christian character

Bechtold is just one of many Messiah professors who regularly volunteer time and undertake service opportunities when not working for the College. These pursuits not only directly benefit those they serve but also fan their own intellectual and spiritual interests which, in turn, enrich the lives of their students.

“Our faculty members exhibit the Christian character and lifestyles we want our students to emulate,” observes Messiah College Provost Randall Basinger. “A lot of learning takes place through modeling,” he says. Basinger adds that consistent “service for service’s sake” demonstrates Messiah’s holistic mission to educate students “toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith” so that, upon graduation, they’re fully prepared “for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation.”

Messiah educators often recount examples of the bounty—expected or not—that grows from their lifestyle choices. The experiences of Bechtold and the five other Messiah professors profiled in these pages, for example, show repeatedly that one person’s vision or simple action, spurred by a faithful desire to meet the needs of others, often grows to branch in many directions and opens doors for others to do the same.

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