Missionaries to Harvard

James and Nicole stop the first person of the day in front of the Museum of Natural History.

James and Nicole stop the first person of the day in front of the Museum of Natural History.

“Hi,” James says to a young woman wearing a black jacket and walking quickly. “Me and my friends were just walking around campus praying...”

Even though she’s almost past him, James starts to ask how he can pray for her today.

She turns to give him a look of disgust and picks up her pace.

James shrugs. “We get rejected a lot.”

James is wearing a windbreaker and carrying a giant umbrella because it just stopped raining. A college pastor, he has also worked as a civil engineer since graduating from college in 2008.

Walking back through Old Yard, James gets a friendlier response. He approaches a student who’s clutching some papers and jogging in the direction of the Science Center. “How are you today?” James asks.

“I’m doing great, but I’m in a huge hurry,” the student says, smiling but barely breaking stride.

James turns to me and asks, “Are a lot of people in hurries?”

I tell him the student was probably on his way to turn in a problem set, but he’s right. Many people are walking too fast or too purposefully for him to catch their attention. Finally, they manage to stop someone. Behind Widener, James spots a young man wearing a cast. “Hey bro,” he calls out. The student stops, and James gives his pitch. Smiling, he agrees to let James and Nicole pray for his injury, but not while he’s there because he has to run off to a meeting.

“We believe in your power and ask you to heal, in Jesus’ name,” James prays as he leads us back into Tercentenary Theatre.

James and Nicole, who do “prayer walks” at Harvard on Friday mornings, asked that neither their real names nor the name of their church be used because they are concerned about potential ramifications for their relationship with the University. Their church, which runs “faith groups” at several local colleges, recently established one catering to Harvard students. In addition to the prayer walks, they hold fellowship meetings at Nicole’s apartment near campus. Nicole, who majored in athletic-training, is spending this year after graduation taking classes in preparation for going overseas as a missionary.

I first heard of James and Nicole’s group in August when a tall young man wearing a dress shirt and slacks stopped and offered to help me carry some gear back to the Outing Club. As we walked down Plympton Street, he told me he was on campus doing a prayer walk.

Until then, I had thought the only group doing prayer walks on campus was the Justice House of Prayer Boston. Since June I had been attending meetings for thesis research at their house in Central Square, established as a chapter of the national JHOP after Lou Engle held one of his The Call to Conscience rallies in Boston. Engle—an evangelical pastor considered a prophet, recently in the news for being the former roommate of Kansas Governor-elect Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), allegedly supporting Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, and likening Sarah Palin to the biblical Queen Esther during her vice presidential bid—founded JHOP after 40 days of prayer and fasting in Boston in March 2006. Engle and others in the prophetic movement identify New England, and Boston specifically, as a site ripe for religious revival, in the tradition of the First and Second Great Awakenings.

Last October Engle spoke at an event hosted by JHOP in the Student Organization Center at Hilles. In the spring, the International House of Prayer—a Kansas City ministry where Engle also sits on the board of directors and with which JHOP works closely—sent about 300 student missionaries from its IHOP University to campus as part of a broader New England outreach. For a few days, these students from IHOP—which was named as a defendant in a September 2010 lawsuit by the International House of Pancakes for trademark dilution and infringement—approached Harvard students, praying for healing and salvation.