NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Remodeled in summer and opened this fall, the new home for Bethel College campus ministries, Agape Center in the Richert House, has already demonstrated that the spirit of God moves and acts in myriad ways.
The house recently provided the setting for a Sunday night get-together for two campus ministry groups, from Bethel and Hesston College.
“We finally pulled off something that we’d been planning for months,” said Bethel Campus Pastor Dale Schrag, “a dinner meeting with our student chaplains and the Hesston ministry assistants in Agape Center. Lois Brubacher [from Bethel College Mennonite Church] provided a delicious meal. There were nine Hesston students in addition to Campus Pastor Todd Lehman.
“The encounter was all anyone could have hoped for,” Schrag continued. “Our student chaplains were spectacular hosts and the Hesston students returned the favor. There was a great deal of laughter and generally good feelings throughout the evening. [The group] indicated that they would love to do this again sometime.”
“I thought it was wonderful,” Lehman said. “The evening started with informal conversation, and we actually had to stop that to move into the next part of the evening, which was a great sign to me that we were able to connect over the experiences we’ve had [in campus ministry] and to learn from each other’s experiences.
“I heard very positive comments from our students,” he continued. “They came away feeling very supported, just out of the experience of meeting with other [students] going through the same things [on their campus].”
Agape Center has been the place where Schrag, campus ministries student assistant Sharayah Williams, senior from Kalona, Iowa, and the four Bethel student chaplains – Naomi Graber, sophomore from Elkhart, Ind., Maya Kehr, senior from Goshen, Ind., Daniel Klaassen, junior from Whitewater, and Will Peterson, senior from Bonner Springs – have their weekly meetings.
In addition, Kehr leads a women’s spirituality group there one evening a week, and Klaassen spends several evening hours there with an open door to anyone who wants to stop by and play Dutch Blitz or talk about whatever's on their mind. Bethel Vice President of Student Life Chad Childs and his wife Jody lead a weekly late-evening Bible study that draws an average of 21 students. Ruth Harder and Nathan Koontz, associate pastors at Bethel College Mennonite Church and Faith Mennonite Church, respectively, have started an early-morning prayer time on Fridays.
At the formal dedication for Agape Center in the Richert House, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Nov. 8, Schrag expressed thanks to a number of people, starting with an acknowledgment of David H. and Edith von Steen Richert, the first occupants of the house in 1914.
“Uncle Davy” Richert took a pay cut of about 40 percent to come to Bethel College in 1906, leaving his position as superintendent of schools in Moundridge. According to Schrag, Richert never regretted his decision, and went on to teach math and astronomy at Bethel for almost 60 years. Edith Richert’s parents had the house built in 1914 as a wedding gift for their daughter, who with her husband raised two children there.
Schrag also thanked “the Bethel College administration, for agreeing to devote this space to campus ministries, and Bethel College Mennonite Church, for committing significant dollars and sweat equity to make it look as nice as it does today.”
Finally, Schrag gave “thanks to God, the ultimate source of every good and perfect gift, whose spirit, in some mysterious way, was responsible for the ideas, the vision and the energy that we celebrate in this dedication service.
“This has been an extraordinary year at Bethel College in terms of spiritual life on campus,” Schrag said. “It is my firm conviction that this house has played a role, providing spiritual life meeting space for some 50 people each week.”
Schrag pointed out that the sign beside the front door suggests, in Latin, that all who enter are to be received as Christ, which comes from the ancient Rule of St. Benedict. “May you feel so welcomed today, and each time you enter this sacred space,” Schrag concluded.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.