On Jill Koop Liechty’s desk sit stacks of carefully-cut-out inspirational quotes and Bible verses.“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” –John 1:5
More quotes, photos of her family and keepsakes from her time spent abroad cover the walls of her office in Newcomer Center.
“I try to have a theme,” she said. “I think about what quotes or Bible verses would work together.”
The bulletin board outside of her office is just as full as the one inside, but this time there are posters of campus events, various announcements and the same cut-out quotes that sit covering her desk.
Those quotes are also tacked up in the bathrooms of Newcomer, both women’s and men’s. In the mornings, she finds that the building is quiet, so she knocks on the bathroom doors to make sure no one is in there, and then props the door open as she hangs the quotes up.
Koop Liechty does all of this in the hopes that it will brighten someone’s day or that people will find comfort as they reflect upon and think about the quotes and verses.
It’s also another way for her to be creative in her job that otherwise might become tedious.
Before coming to work at Goshen College, Koop Liechty, her husband, Dan, and their three children had lived in India for three years. The couple worked as counselors in the foothills of the Himalayas at Woodstock School with Dan as a high school guidance counselor and Jill as a personal counselor for all students.
“Living there was a shock at first,” she said. “You can’t get much different in terms of culture, development, [and] religion.”
Woodstock is a Christian school, but most of India is Hindu, and people working at the school identified with several religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam, and others were atheist or agnostic.
“Woodstock is this amazing place where you get people from all over the world,” Koop Liechty said. “It’s like a little salad bowl.”
The Koop Liechtys’ time at Woodstock was spent living in community with people from all types of backgrounds. They worked with people, ate meals with them, socialized with their families and worshipped with them.
“It’s a place where you really get to know people,” she said, “and you get to know them fast. You come away knowing their hearts.”
The time in India put faith into perspective for her. Being immersed in a culture where Christianity was in the minority allowed Koop Liechty to see the best parts of her faith.
“I grew a new appreciation for the Christian faith, but Mennonite faith in particular,” she said.
Hinduism is very hierarchical and focused on reincarnation. People can’t change their life on Earth, but if they live well enough, they might be rewarded in the next life.
“I saw so many people who were trapped in a life of despair and hopelessness,” Koop Liechty said. “There’s something about Christianity that when we live here, we lose sight of and appreciation for how it puts everyone on an even playing ground.”
That realization helped Koop Liechty form an even stronger connection to her Mennonite faith.
It wasn’t until after spending three years in India that Koop Liechty saw the hope that Christianity provided her and others, and the way it was open to anyone and the empowering sense it had.
“When you’re immersed here [the U.S.],” she said, “you see all the bad things. There, I saw a lot of the good things. India was really good for my faith-walk.”
When the Koop Liechtys left India, they moved to Midland, Michigan, for two years, and then ended up back at Goshen College, bringing parts of India with them. Dan works in the development office as the director of alumni and career networks, and Jill serves as the administrative assistant for the business, communication and English departments in Newcomer Center.
These days, faith remains a big part of who Jill Koop Liechty is.
“I was just reading this morning in Matthew,” she said. “John the Baptist–the poor guy–he ended up with his head on a plate, and he was Jesus’ first cousin! Doing the right thing doesn’t mean it’s going to be the easiest thing to do.”
Koop Liechty has a master’s in counseling, but she’s spent her professional life in several different roles. Before Woodstock, the Koop Liechtys were living in Lansing, Michigan, and Jill provided individual and family counseling for at-risk teens for a few years, and then stayed home with the three kids.
Koop Liechty tries to keep her job interesting by coming up with new ideas so things don’t get boring or monotonous.
“The reason I enjoy it so much is [because] it’s full of variety,” she said. “I interact with really good people. I like taking care of people and creating a hospitable environment.”
Those stacks of quotes are sitting on Koop Liechty’s desk, ready to be picked up whenever students or faculty stop in Newcomer 01. They will soon be replaced by the theme of Lent, but Koop Liechty and her desk will continue to be a light of hopefulness.