John Bechtel, our recent secondary chapel speaker, grew up in Hong Kong as the son of missionary parents. He learned to speak Cantonese equally as well as he could speak English, and he grew to have a deep love for China and her people. During World War II, John’s father spent four years in a concentration camp before he was ultimately released following the trade of four Chinese officers. During his father’s time of imprisonment, John and his mother came to live in the United Stated, then boomeranged back to China once his dad was freed. John returned to the states for college and graduated from Houghton in 1962. It was about this time that God saw fit to link John Bechtel to Lakeland Christian School. Dr. Walter Sligh, an LCS board member for many years, took his family (including their young son, Mike) to the Camp of the Woods in upstate New York during the summer of 1962. John and his fiancé, Donna, were waiting tables at the camp. They had just finished college and were to be married at the end of the summer. John and Donna were among the camp staff who served the Sligh family their meals. Before the week was over, Dr. Walter Sligh invited the couple to move to Lakeland and become teachers at LCS. That is exactly what they did. Four months into that first school year, John was asked to take over as principal when the current principal became ill.
Over the next two school years, John Bechtel had a significant influence on a junior high student named Mike Sligh. Mike and John often worked together mowing the lawn around the small campus. The Bechtels lived in a small home on Forest Park Street, and when the house was eventually demolished, it was replaced with a baseball area that was named “Bechtel Field”.
Those two years proved to be a time of great spiritual growth for both John and Donna. Dr. Walter Sligh invested many hours teaching John how to share his faith and gave John many opportunities to practice. John and Donna’s lives took on new meaning. They soon followed God’s call to serve Him back in Hong Kong through camp ministry, church planting, and Christian schooling.
For the past couple of years, the Bechtels have returned to Lakeland Christian to speak in chapel. John is a wonderful storyteller. His life has been full of adventure, and miraculous events have characterized his ministry. John continues to speak all over the world, but his heart is still with the Chinese people because many of them have never heard of Jesus.
During my recent visit with John, I asked him about the many changes that he has observed at LCS over the years. He referenced the verse in Zechariah 4:10 that speaks of “not despising the days of small beginnings.” He was excited to see how God took the sacrifices of those founding board members and other faithful friends and multiplied those efforts over the years so that today’s students can enjoy the fruit of those labors. I was reminded that there is still much to do. I also have a responsibility to support this ministry so that future generations will benefit from “education in the light of God’s Word.”
John Douglass recently retired after serving at Lakeland Christian School for 40 years. He has taken on the role of archivist for the school. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.