The first time I wandered over to the Rainbow Community Garden across the street from the church, I heard someone yelling, “Get out of there! That’s private property.” It was Pablo, our ever-present, ever-watchful neighbor of the church. I did my best to give him a friendly wave and smile, and then introduced myself as the new Rainbow pastor. He got this unbelieving, embarrassed look on his face, put his head down, and uttered something along the lines of, “No way. I don’t believe it.” Ever since that day, every time I see Pablo he reminds me of this first encounter. And yes, he gets a kick out of telling this story every time.
This past Saturday, three years later, I once again wandered over to the Rainbow Garden. I waved to Pablo who was mowing his lawn across the street. Before long, he wandered over to see what trouble I was up to. I told him I wanted to build a Freedom School cairn. The Freedom School staff had given the church a cornerstone with a plaque on it celebrating 10 successful years of hosting this 6-week summer enrichment program. “That’s nice,” Pablo said. And before I knew it, he began helping me carry and stack rocks, one by one. We talked about this and that, including his family and religious upbringing. He asked how our former Community Services Coordinator Rachel was doing, and he pointed to Aaron Barnhart and Diane Eickhoff who were digging up sweet potatoes and said, “They are some hard workers!” And then, as we held and placed each rock, designed and gifted to us by the over 100 Freedom School scholars and staff, Pablo said, “That school…Freedom school… is pretty neat. It makes a difference.”
I set out to build a cairn, a gathering of stones often used to mark trails, sacred or remarkable places, and in the process something was stirred in me. I found myself feeling profoundly grateful for this opportunity to work alongside people who are seeking to make a positive difference. What started out as a straightforward Saturday morning project, turned into an act of prayer as I gave thanks for the opportunities God gives us in each time and place to make a positive difference. And I said a prayer of thanksgiving for Pablo, whose almost daily smile, wave, and jokes makes this a more interesting place.
For the rest of the day I found myself humming the tune Pete Seeger helped popularize:
Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none