Former intern to the editor of the Messiah College Office of Publications, Elizabeth Yepez (bottom, third from left) and a mix of Temple and Messiah students gathered regularly to pray together.
Learning to pray on Broad Street
Last August, I traded in my Messiah ID card for two scuffed keys to a townhouse in North Philly, my parking permit forms for a handful of SEPTA tokens, and my Messiah handbook for a Temple web account. As a journalism minor, I was required to spend a semester at Messiah's Philadelphia Campus. Upset to be leaving my friends and scared of what, in my mind, the city represented, I waited until ten o’clock the night before I left to silently throw my clothes in a suitcase and unearth all the pieces of my desktop computer.
Fortunately, as the fall unfolded, I was eventually distracted from my anxiety. Perhaps it was the grace of God, or just the natural momentum of a semester (or perhaps they are the same?), but eventually, I stopped making routine late night phone calls to my friends back at school. Instead, I started getting up early several days a week because I heard about a group of Temple students who would pray for their campus every morning. Interested, I walked down to the student center at quarter to seven, sat with four students I didn’t recognize, listened to them pray, and left early.
Each successive time I sat down with these people I hardly knew, I wondered at the strangeness of my prayers for this equally foreign campus. The Temple students, however, knew their home well. They knew where the cheap movie theatres were, and the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants. They knew their neighborhoods, and they knew each other. Slowly, I learned about this community, too. There was Nicole, only 20
years old and graduating with a degree in pre-med. Kenny, who also went by “Kennedy,” “Ken,” or “Birdman,” who had a penchant for taking on unreasonable dares. Katie, who signed her latest e-mail to me, “We are knitted at the heart.” I watched them pray like they spoke, and accepted their frequent invitations to dinner.
Students studying at Messiah College's Philadelphia Campus paint a mural in the city.
Despite all this, my fears about the city still did not “disappear.” Rather, they were shown in a new light. The condition of the neighborhood in which I lived made me tremulously take account of my own life and inclination towards comfort. The people I met in class, at church, and at campus-wide fellowship times were different than me in many ways. In class, students were vocal about their wide-ranging opinions. At church, several of the members had histories of homelessness and drug addiction. During campus crusade, people danced without inhibition. Philadelphia took on a face—faces—and showed me her pain and her joy through my friends.
It’s difficult to write about an experience I can hardly make sense of myself. Instead, I find myself speaking of the before and after, and let the in-between echo as it will. In Philly, I met people who made their lives, studied, and worshipped in a place I thought was only good for day trips and annual outreach. Living there, I learned that community isn’t just Messiah-speak, and that unity is real. I saw that God is peace, and that I am a small proof of that.
In August, I traded my student identification for a set of strange, scuffed keys. Looking back at my shining early mornings and unexpected friendships, I know it was a fair—even life-changing—trade.
—Elizabeth Yepez '07