Homeless at Harvard: Part One

The answer to whether or not my time among the homeless this summer was a part of the imitation of Christ is perhaps equally complex.  I am a follower of Christ.  Therefore, I believe that the way I live and the things I do should imitate Christ.  I did not begin with the thought this summer I am going to imitate Christ by living with the homeless.  However, I hope that the people I was with saw Christ in me.  My faith was evident this summer to those with whom I lived.  The homeless community knew I was a Christian.  They understood I had Christian morals.  One woman even gave me the nickname "Christian John," and some others called me "Divinity John."  They learned my stance on sexual purity.  They did not hear foul language from me and knew that I do not engage in the vices of the street.  In some ways, they may have thought of my presence with them as a Christian presence.  At the end of the summer, though, I began to consider how I could have better been the presence of Christ to my homeless friends.  How could I have ministered to them more clearly?  How could I have made more of a difference in their spiritual worlds?  What would I have said or done differently if I thought of myself more as a minister or chaplain or Christian friend, rather than simply a person who was living among the homeless?

To summarize, my time with the homeless was borne out of my faith, but indirectly.  It was motivated by my desire to have experiences that I can share with others to help them understand the homeless and build relationships with them.

It's striking that someone should come to the relative comfort and privilege of Harvard -- and then choose to live in discomfort and want.  Did you feel that Harvard was not teaching you what you wanted to learn, or was not helping you find what you sought?

Probably quite the contrary.  I have found people here to be very socially conscious.  I have enjoyed volunteering with the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter.  I appreciate being involved in programs that inform me about important matters of social justice.  I appreciate having colleagues who are already doing great things around the world through NGO work and internships.  I appreciate how the course I took with my advisor, Matt Boulton, guided students to think about the poor, those with AIDS, and others in unfortunate circumstances.  Harvard has helped me become more socially conscious.  For example, as I think about my future studies, I am considering social policy as my area of focus.  The influences I have had here have been enriching and important.

Read Part Two of the interview with John Frame on the Evangelical Portal here.

Timothy Dalrymple is the manager of the Evangelical Portal at Patheos. Educated at Stanford, Oxford, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Harvard, he writes on religion, politics, culture, and faith.

10/9/2009 4:00:00 AM
  • Faith on Campus
  • Society
  • Christianity
  • Evangelicalism
  • Timothy Dalrymple
    About Timothy Dalrymple
    Timothy Dalrymple is the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Polymath Innovations, a strategic storytelling agency that advances the good with visionary organizations and brands. He leads a unique team of communicators from around North America and across the creative spectrum, serving mission-driven businesses and nonprofits who need a partner to amplify their voice and good works. Once a world-class gymnast whose career ended with a broken neck, Tim channeled his passions for faith and storytelling into his role as VP of Business Development for Patheos, helping to launch and grow the network into the world's largest religion website. He holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Tim blogs at Philosophical Fragments.