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Proof accompanies her owner to Alabama as he shares about his work in NYCís South Bronxcomment (0)

January 23, 2014

By Julie Payne

Proof accompanies her owner to Alabama as he shares about his work in NYCís South Bronx

Her weary expression and overall appearance revealed telltale signs the woman was experiencing a hard time in life. 

But her countenance changed as soon as she spotted Proof, a yellow Labrador retriever.

Before Proof’s owner, Andrew Mann, could even utter a response, the woman had already asked Mann if she could pet Proof and was sitting on the ground with the dog. The cares of the world seemingly disappeared as Proof lovingly climbed into her lap and began licking her hands. 

“Proof is not a ‘cuddly’ dog whatsoever,” Mann noted of his dog’s personality, but “they sat on the floor (together) for five … minutes.” 

When the woman got up to leave, she turned back to Mann and — looking at Proof with tears in her eyes — said, “That dog is proof God exists.”

“That was week one of (me) having Proof,” Mann noted. “We have called Proof a ‘missionary dog.’ I do believe that … if God can work through Proof then God can work through us for sure.”

Mann, who served in several capacities with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) beginning as a summer missionary, is the executive director and pastor of Graffiti 2 Church and Community Ministries located in the South Bronx of New York City.

Originally from Missouri, Mann attended New York University as a freshman. That year he became involved with the ministry of Graffiti Church located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a Bible-based church that strives “with committed hands and practical hearts” to serve its community, providing a safe haven for children, youth and adults. It was during that timeframe Mann felt a growing call to urban missions work and urban ministry.

Despite transferring to Wheaton College in Illinois, Mann still returned every summer to Graffiti as a summer missionary. During his last stint as a summer missionary, he was invited to meet with Graffiti’s pastor/director, Taylor Field, who began to share with Mann his larger vision for New York City to begin other likeminded ministries and churches in various neighborhoods. “[Field] floored me and surprised me when he asked me if I would begin the next Graffiti up in the South Bronx,” Mann said.

Mann began to pray about this unique ministry opportunity and ultimately visited the Mott Haven neighborhood he and Field had discussed, a neighborhood with about 90,000 residents — 30,000 of those under the age of 18. 

“It was a hot summer day — fire hydrants were popped open, kids were out in the street playing — and I just had a strong sense of the needs of the families there as I … prayed,” Mann recalled of his initial visit. 

In August 2005, Mann moved to the South Bronx to begin ministry work there, and today Graffiti 2 offers both a thriving ministry and a church. 

Afterschool programs are one of Graffiti 2’s primary ministries, which include a first through fifth grade program as well as a sixth through 12th grade program called G.S.A.L.T. (Graffiti Serving and Leading Teenagers) that offers job-training components. 

Proof, Mann’s lab and a canine assistance animal trained as a professional therapy dog, has been a popular fixture at Graffiti 2 for nearly eight years. Mann got Proof in 2006, and after they were trained together “she got on a plane and flew back with me to New York where she’s been living — and you might say ministering — ever since,” Mann said.

Dogs like Proof can be used as a reading incentive, as an anger de-escalation tool to calm kids down or to help with social interaction, Mann said, noting that Proof provides some of these roles within the Graffiti 2 programs. 

“Over the years I’ve come to realize a very unique thing at Graffiti 2 is a very strong sense of family,” Mann said. “Proof is kind of like the family dog. She adds to that environment and adds to that sense of ‘hominess’ for our church and for our ministry.”

When invitations are extended for Mann to share about the ministry of Graffiti 2, Proof often will accompany her owner.

Mann, one of NAMB’s Week of Prayer Missionaries to be featured in 2014, visited Alabama with Proof in early January. Their stops included the national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) January board meeting (see story, page 4), and Shades Crest Baptist Church, Bluff Park.

David George, president of WMU Foundation, said Mann’s intense love for the people of the Bronx is evident. “It is his home and he has a lifelong call to minister there and be Christ’s love to the people he meets and works with there,” George said.

“Also, we loved getting to know Proof and ... how she assists in the ministry of Graffiti 2,” he noted of those visiting with Mann and Proof while they were in Alabama. “She truly is a missionary dog.”

Through the years, Mann has been able to use Proof as a tool to share the gospel, noting that the nature of his relationship with Proof can model the nature of God’s relationship with His children.

“First of all Proof … didn’t love me first, I loved her first,” Mann explained. “I had to go seek her out. She would’ve never known I existed if I hadn’t come and gotten her. 

“There are times that she’s disciplined … she eats food up off the floor not knowing it will make her sick and I have to clean up for her afterward,” he said. “And … how much is that true for us in our sin, that we do things we may not have a clue (will) … hurt us, and then God will discipline us for that but it’s also in the process of restoring us,” he noted.

And just like the woman who had stopped in her tracks to sit down with Proof that day, sometimes Proof’s mere presence has opened up unexpected doors for ministry.

Mann recalled a time when he and Proof were walking down his block in New York City and on the corner was a particular man he had seen many times before. The man stopped him and began asking him questions about Proof. It turned out this man was experiencing problems in life and really just wanted an excuse to talk to Mann.

“There I stood ... with this … guy in tears, talking to me as a pastor,” Mann said. “If he hadn’t had a reason to stop and talk to me, I don’t think he ever would have.”

For more information about Mann and Proof and the ministry work of Graffiti 2, visit www.graffiti2ministries.org and www.anniearmstrong.com/andrewmann. 

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