Our Stories – Dignity
Susan Speraw, PhD, RN (Board Chair)
Nothing motivates and inspires the work of Bridge—its staff, volunteers, donors, community partners and board of directors—so much as our belief in the inherent value of each human life. We believe that all persons, regardless of their country of origin, race, gender, or
religious belief, possess worth, purpose, and the potential to make the world a better place. The great books of religious tradition remind us that dignity is imparted to each being at the first moment of its existence. In the Torah, the book of Genesis describes how God formed humankind in His own image as part of his masterpiece creation (Genesis 1: 25-27), and the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah reminds us that human value is willed and blessed by God: “Before you were born, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Christ Himself reassures his followers that in the eyes of the Father, they have value far above creation and will be provided for (Matthew 6: 25-26). The Qur’an explains that humans, as children of Adam, possess wisdom above all other creatures and have preference in the eyes of the Creator (Q.17:70). The Nirvana Sutra, a text of the teachings of Buddha, describes human life as a treasure above all else, characterized by dignity: the power to make courageous choices to advance toward wisdom, growth, and perfection. Dignity is ours in life and in death; it is part of the essence of being human.
Though every person possesses dignity, there are life circumstances—war and conflict, persecution, discrimination, oppression, terror and abuse—that have the power to threaten existence and rob men, women, children, and youth of their capacity to live in peace and achieve their lives’ purposes. Refugees aided by Bridge have braved unimaginable trauma and violent assaults on dignity, yet they have faced life’s challenges with enormous courage. Their decisions to flee their homelands have been made to preserve their lives and dignity, and the journey has been long and perilous. By living out our organizational mission, Bridge assists refugees as they resettle in our neighborhoods, find safety, achieve self-sufficiency, become part of the fabric of community life, and reach their potential for growth. Because of our passionate respect for the dignity of every life, we at Bridge are committed to walking with refugees on their resettlement journey. Each one of us is dedicated to welcoming the stranger in our midst, providing services that sustain life and support the full measure of their dignity.
New Beginnings – Colleen Shannon
How rare it is that we are called to accompany someone on such a major life journey. Helping “our” Congolese family adjust to a new life in Knoxville has been just such a blessing to members of First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville. Tutoring and reading, driving to English classes, trips to doctors, providing cooking lessons and dental treatments, as well as fun trips to the zoo, swimming, shopping, and the fire station are just a few of the ways we have been engaged.
This has been a journey for us as well, learning the ins and outs of systems that support – and sometimes fail – new arrivals to this country. We are humbled by the courage shown by refugees venturing into this unknown as well as by the unexpected kindness of strangers who meet them.
Along with the challenges come laughter, embraces and, yes, tears from all of us. When I look into the eyes of my Congolese sister, I feel we connect at a level that transcends the differences in our language and culture. Beyond words, our spirits speak to one another, and a hug from a grateful child means more than a thousand words of thanks.