Celebrating Bethel’s 70th Year: the 1980s
- Majors offered: Elementary Education, Physical Education, Recreation, Psychology, Social Science, Art, Visual Communication, Church Music, Music, Music Education, Nursing, Communication, English, Liberal Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering (5 year Notre Dame program), Mathematics, Accounting, Business Administration, Business Education, Christian Ministries, Master of Ministries
- Clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities available: Men’s Soccer, Volleyball, Women’s Basketball, Men’s Basketball, Baseball, Softball
- Theatre Production—My Fair Lady (March 1987)
- Architectural developments: Dining Commons (started 1977, finished 1978), Eastwood Hall (1980), Bowen Library (1984), Second Helm Built (1985)
The 1980s were a trying time for Bethel College – perhaps the most difficult time in the college’s history – with consistently low enrollment numbers. But according to alumnus Courtney Richards ’87, the development of mentoring programs was key to turning the college around.
“Personal, hands-on mentoring has been the most transformative thing from 1987 to now,” he says.
He credits some of this transformation to Dennis Engbrecht, Ph.D., former executive vice president and current professor of history, who was hired as vice president for student development in 1986. Engbrecht helped shape Bethel’s mentoring program – a program that still thrives today, which Richards believes was and continues to be fundamental to Bethel’s rejuvenation.
Richards came to Bethel from Jamaican Theological Seminary in 1986 to pursue a degree in psychology (something his previous school did not offer). He wanted to be a psychologist and learned of Bethel through the Missionary Church, which has long had a relationship with Jamaican Theological Seminary.
At age 29, Richards wasn’t quite your typical student. Despite this, he jumped into student life with both feet, eager to be a part of anything and everything. He lived on campus as a resident assistant in Oakwood Hall, held a job in the cafeteria, and took on a 20-hour course load to complete his psychology degree in just one year. Through the cultural adjustment and new roles, Richards
to foster meaningful relationships with many people on campus.
“I adjusted to [Bethel] and learned to accept and love people as friends,” he says. “I tried to reach out to everybody.”
Beyond the classroom, he made efforts to connect with Pilot athletic coaches. Intrigued with baseball being the “big” sport of the time, as opposed to cricket in Jamaica, Richards made friends with baseball coach Dick Patterson and women’s softball coach Liz Hossler. He deepened those relationships when he later worked on staff with student development.
After graduation, Richards attended Wheaton College for graduate school and returned to campus in 1990 to work for Engbrecht, who had become a close friend. Richards served at Bethel until 1996 as director of student life, psychology professor and associate dean. During this time, he witnessed tremendous growth in numbers and commitment to Christ, through one of Bethel’s most prominent revivals.
“[I saw the] phenomenal growth that took place under Norman Bridges – and the spiritual transformation … huge investments in infrastructure, revival, basketball championships,” Richards says.
As a staff member, he served as a mentor to students including current professors Theo Williams ’99, and Robby Prenkert ’94, Ph.D., and Vice President for Student Development Shawn Holtgren ’95, Ph.D. In fact, Williams and Prenkert now serve on the board of Richards’ ministry.
Since 1996, Richards has taken Bethel’s mentoring model and dedicated his life to making an impact for God’s Kingdom globally. He currently serves as International Director of Renewed Ministries, where he focuses on building and discipling young leaders to advance God’s kingdom around the world.
He uses the integration and training associated with two key disciplines: “Psychology and theology are intermixed in the most dynamic way. It’s all about relationships.”
Through the years, Richards has come back to campus as keynote speaker for several of Bethel’s Deeper Life Series and was honored as alumnus of the year in 2014.
“Coming to Bethel really transformed my life in a way I never thought it would … I didn’t know it would take me around the world,” he says.
He has a message for this year’s graduating seniors:
“Invest your life in something larger than yourself. The best life is lived for others and to the glory of God … Keep your focus on God; keep your focus on mentoring. … Don’t just teach peoples’ minds, but change peoples’ lives. Model to them how to live. That’s the legacy.”