Rethinking the Harvard Game
Rethinking the Harvard Game: Reflections on Six Months of Mission Work
In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus tells his disciples:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you look after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.1
The point Jesus is making is clear — serving those in need is serving God. This lifestyle of servitude can challenge what we view as success in the competitive environment we are in. For instance, Acts comments that “It is more blessed to give than to receive”2, and in Mark, Jesus tells us a radical concept, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”3
For 6 months away from Harvard I served as a semester missionary at a home for women experiencing crisis pregnancies. Most of these young women were victims of poverty, addiction, exploitation, and sexual assault. I lived with the girls full-time, fulfilling a multitude of roles — few of them glamorous by Harvard’s standards. Sometimes I served as a “house mom”; I made sure the girls respected curfew, completed their chores, etc. Other days I was in the classroom as a GED tutor, helping the women stay on top of their schoolwork. Other days I worked at one of our ministry’s many thrift stores; we had job internships at the stores for the women so that they could gain retail experience and build a resume. In addition to Bible courses, we provided counseling and parenting classes, proper prenatal care, adoption referrals, and had life-skills training in which the girls learned how to cook, manage a budget, and sew. My time at this home was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
As a result of my time as a missionary, not only has my relationship with God become stronger, but I also am seriously considering aspects of the mission field as a career, or at least as a post-graduate endeavor. While it was not a glitzy job on Wall Street or a position working with powerful people in DC, it was amazing to see the resilience of these girls, the strengths they possessed, and how they overcame their hardships. It was extremely eye-opening as I bonded with these women and came to love them as sisters; I realized that although I had grown up in the same town as many of them, we had been living in two radically different worlds. I had never been in an abusive relationship. I never had to deal with pimps or drug dealers soliciting me on a daily basis. I did not have a family who exploited me for financial gain, or one that has or ever would abandon me. I did not know what it was like to sleep on a sidewalk, spend time in jail, or have my body sold for cash. But what I did know was that these women were even so quite like me, albeit with noticeably rounded stomachs. They had dreams. They had goals. They had feelings. They were created in God’s image. Christ died for them, too. They laughed. They cried. Many struggled with self-image, like I do. Many just wanted to be loved and accepted, like we all do. I loved and rejoiced at watching God work in these women’s lives—it was amazing to see these girls transform once they were in a new environment in which they were respected, loved, and uplifted. We saw girls with failing grades begin to make A’s. We saw quiet, shy girls become bold and outgoing. We watched women conquer substance abuse. Every time one of the women gave her life to Christ, the entire house rejoiced.
For me, a maternity home was the perfect location for my introduction to the mission field. A woman’s pregnancy is such a beautiful and meaningful time, full of promise. In it I saw potential for broken and dispirited women, when given a little love and encouragement, to experience a spiritual rebirth while at the same time realizing the miracle of bringing a child into the world. When Christians show God’s love, dark and hopeless situations can transform into beautiful miracles and experiences.
In Matthew, Jesus tells us that “whatever [we] do for the least of these … [we] do for [Him].”4 Jesus loves and cares for the poor, weak, and downtrodden to such an extent that when we serve those in need we are equally serving God. It is a high calling to serve those in need. Even with Jesus’ strong words, a common objection Christians sometimes make to reorient themselves away from serving the needy is that people mainly need is to hear the gospel and have faith in Jesus. That is not false. Some of Jesus’ final words to his followers were Matthew chapter 28, “…Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”5 Unfortunately, many times Christians forget that the world learns about the nature of God by observing how the church acts. The Bible thoroughly uses a metaphor that the church is the body of Christ and that the church reflects the image of God on this earth. To know who God is, the world does need to hear the gospel and the message of the Bible, but at least as much, the world also needs to see Christians love like God loves. If our God loves those in need, then we must show the world that our God loves those in need. Jesus could have chosen to appear supernaturally to those in need in order to reveal to the His love, but instead He sends his people, his church, his followers to love them and take care of the less fortunate, radiating Christ’s love through his people’s lives and actions. As ones who follow Jesus, Christians are blessed with this important responsibility to shine God’s love, especially in dark places. During my time at the maternity home, many of the women I was helping came from broken families, struggled with poverty, and knew little or nothing about how to develop healthy relationships. Imagine what our inner city communities would look like if every Christian gave time, energy, and resources to ministering to those in need.
Christians can always witness to our inner social networks of friends, family, classmates and coworkers concerning our faith and God’s love for us. We can and we should and we must. We can also serve others and bless those in need, no matter what our occupation or profession. Nevertheless, in the midst of recruiting and figuring out what to do for a career, I feel and fear that many Harvard students lose sight of what “true success” actually is. Christians can be called into prestigious, high-paying careers, but one should never pursue a job just because of the salary or the “brand name” of the company, or because, as Harvard graduates, we feel a need to comply to society’s “expectations” of us. In fact, when Christians view things through a biblical lens, a more prestigious, better-paying, and expected occupation than McKinsey, the White House or Google is serving the Lord of Lords and King of Kings food when he is hungry, water when he is thirsty, clothing him when he needs clothes, inviting him when he is a stranger, caring for him when he is sick and visiting him in prison. I encourage and challenge Christians, especially those attending prestigious universities, seriously and prayerfully to consider pursuing missions-based careers and experiences. I also encourage Christians who are not called to ministry to pursue regular, structured time for serving the less fortunate. Serving can take a variety of forms, such as volunteering at homeless shelters, tutoring inmates, or visiting the sick or elderly to provide warm companionship. Jesus calls us to serve and love our neighbors, and we should do so gladly and thankfully. Our actions may be the only glimpse of God some people will ever see.
Julie Coates ’15, is a Government concentrator living in Quincy House.
1 Matthew 25:34-40, NIV.
2 Acts 20:35, NIV.
3 Mark 9:35, NIV.
4 Matt 25:40, NIV.
5 Matt 28:16-20, NIV.
education, family, feminism, Harvard University, joy, love, poverty, work