The movie, Hidden Figures, is based on the true stories of three highly intelligent, motivated, resourceful black women who were employed by NASA in the early 1960’s. It was a time of mounting tensions between blacks and whites in the United States, and an international tension between the US and the Soviet Union as they competed for supremacy in space exploration. The role the three women played in launching the American space program to the forefront is captivating because of the obstacles that they and their co-workers had to overcome in order for the whole group to achieve the success it eventually enjoyed. These women and their work were largely unseen, but highly important to the outcomes. Their own determination was largely unseen: to continually improve their skills, show responsibility, take initiative, and work sacrificially during their off hours contributed to their own advancement. It’s definitely a movie worth watching…plus it has math (*favourite quote: “It could be old math…math is always dependable.”)

(On February 24, 2020, Katherine Johnson passed away at the age of 101.)

These unseen elements were all connected. Their unseen personal development contributed to their unseen work, which eventually made a whole group of unseen people become very much noticeable and necessary contributors to the common goals of organizational momentum and achievement. 

In ancient times, God reminds a man by the name of Jeremiah about the importance of making small, consistent personal development commitments. The benefits might be most noticeable in the future, however, the reminder is that a disciplined effort will provide strength and stability in his present circumstances that were filled with tremendous social and international tensions:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8

In his book, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, author Fred Bahnson likewise uses the same analogous illustration regarding the importance of intentional, regular unseen investments of our time in a calling that is greater than our present circumstances: 

Each prayer was a small stone one built into a cathedral of time…Such moments, if faced over a lifetime, were small investments against despair, so that when you lost your crops or your topsoil or a loved one, for we all lose something important to us eventually, then you would have enough beauty stored up to keep you buoyed.  You would have built a house sturdy with hope, and from there you could emerge and begin the necessary work of repair.  God has made everything beautiful for its time, even the act of rebuilding from calamity.  But it takes training through prayer to see it.  (p.227)

Prayer, solitude, listening to God and conversation with the God who carefully has created us is not a last resort, rather they are an unseen daily means of both strength and endurance. What is more, is that it enables us to see those who would otherwise be unseen, for their created value. And when we see people for their unique value and then allow them to function as part of the greater whole, then we all benefit. It’s not just a lesson that Al Harrison of NASA learned in the early 1960s, it’s a lesson that many of our churches still need to learn. 

Bahnson recounts a conversation that he had with someone who might typically be ignored by the current cultural values and practices of many churches:

Jesus is calling his lost children home, man, people on the streets.  But the church doesn’t see it.  People like me, we have thick skin.  We heal fast. That gives us a certain strength the church needs.  The church needs to empower us, but the church is basically afraid of people like me. The church needs to say we need you to people like me.  We’ve been missing something and it’s you.  We don’t want to fix you, we just need you.  That’s what everybody has been waiting for all their frickin’ lives, man. For someone to say we need you. (p.156)

The incredible contributions of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn, were significant milestones for women and for people of color. The impact of their lives and legacies are still felt today.  They were the unseen, but by their perseverance and commitment through times of societal and international tension, we all see the world from a wider and higher perspective.