In a ministry such as the Passaic Neighborhood Center for Women, we do not speak in terms of large victories. There is no "grand assessment tool" that spits out percentages that we employ to prove our abundant success. Most of our "data" is anecdotal and is usually collected informally, unexpectedly and in small amounts. So, the only way to "gather evidence" that will attest to the success of this ministry is to be present to and to remember these small, grace-filled moments.
This morning, we had just such an informal and unexpected moment of grace. One of our women came to the Center as usual at 9 am to work with the Rosetta Stone program for an hour. At 10 am, she attended her English class. At 11 am, she was ready to depart. What made today different, though, was that she had her young sons, ages 7 and 9, with her. (Because the Passaic schools offer a summer enrichment program, the boys had been in school most of the summer. However, that program ended August 12, so today she brought the boys with her to the Center.) None of that is really extraordinary.
However, what happened as they departed made our day!
As they were walking out the door, the seven-year-old son said (rather excitedly) to his mother, "Can we go to the garden?"
In a ministry such as ours, those six words are golden! Why? Because by saying those words, the young boy was unwittingly saying to us, "You are fulfilling your mission."
When a seven-year-old boy -- after two hours of being at a center for women on a summer morning -- expresses the desire to stay longer in order to garden, he does not realize how many religious communities, organizations and other people collaborated to make the garden a reality. He is not consciously aware that his family is being strengthened by his mother's participation in the programs here. He is not commenting on the empowerment of women that has taken place as a result of the building, planting and sustaining of our garden in the midst of this urban area.
He simply knows that he enjoys being in this space that seems to be so important to his mother and the other women. He knows that each time he visits the garden, it has grown to be something different from the last time because he has witnessed this process all summer long, especially as the tomatoes turned from green to red. He knows that a visit to the garden means that he will probably take something home that his mother will use to make lunch or dinner.
These six words spoken by this young child provided us with grace-filled evidence that continues to tell us that this ministry is necessary and appreciated. Our task is to stay tuned in -- in this case, to open the door for a woman and her children as they left the Center -- so that we never miss the opportunity to "gather the evidence" provided by these small moments of grace.