On the evening of Oct. 1 Freshmen Dylan Brugman and Shay Tuttle stepped out of their friend’s car into downtown Abilene, prepared to spend the weekend homeless.
Brugman, a political science and international relations major from Denver, was assigned a project on global poverty in his Bible class, but instead of volunteering at the Salvation Army or a local soup kitchen, Brugman thought he’d get a little closer to the poverty line.
“We’re doing a project on Christianity in global poverty and our responsibilities as Christians to the global community,” Brugman said. “I’ve gone to soup kitchens before, but this time I really wantedÂ to see what it was like to be homeless.”
Shay Tuttle, a music major from Decatur, did not have to give up his weekend slumming around Abilene, but chose go along with Brugman out of friendship and to prepare himself for later Christian service.
“I want to work with impoverished people later on in life,” Tuttle said, “How can you preach to somebody if you don’t understand them at all?”
Dr. Victor McCracken, associate professor of Bible and honors studies, had assigned various projects to all the students in his Life and Teachings of Jesus class, with topics ranging from global poverty to the ethics of war and capital punishment.
“The project is part of a sequence of lessons that’s designed to focus the students to examine claims about Jesus’ life and how Christians should be disciples around the world,” McCracken said. “After the project is over I hope they can find some way to connect their faith to the world and be spurred on to further Christian service.”
Brugman and Tuttle left their comfortable heated dorm rooms, each with one shirt, one pair of jeans, one empty backpack, no money, no shoes and one cell phone in case of emergencies.
The homeless adventurers spent the night under two large bushes outside the Abilene Civic Center, wrapped up in American Classifieds and feet stuffed into their backpacks for insulation against the 51-degree temperatures.
Just 19 hours after arriving in downtown they each had large bags under their eyes, tired bodies and sore feet. Their toes were covered in dirt; black filth showed under their toenails, and yet both were excited about the experience.
“TOMS has opened my eyes to the fact that so many people are barefoot around the world,” Brugman said. “We wanted to throw the global economy scale into the project and see what it’s like to not wear shoes.”
“The hardest part has been the constant walking to get places,” Tuttle said. “I don’t know how far we’ve gone, but I don’t think I’ve ever walked this far in my life, especially barefoot.”
The boys only had one meal over the 36 hours they spent in downtown. Donations from passersby gave them just enough to share a lunch from Chicken Express.
“We found out a quarter goes a long way. When we eventually got $6, we felt like billionaires,” Brugman said. “If you see someone hungry, please help them out. If they just get enough for a McChicken, that may be the only meal they get for the day.”
While on the street, they talked to one man named Earnest who earns his living pushing a lawn mower around, knocking on doors to earn money.
“I can’t imagine living every day like that,” Tuttle said. “I’m looking forward to getting back, a hot shower, a comfortable bed and eating a whole, whole lot.”
The experiment changed the way the students looked at the world and those around them.
“It’s important for people to empathize,” Brugman said. “We’re not saying everybody should be homeless, but try to spend some time walking around in other people’s shoes.”
Or lack thereof.