"What are we really wanting to accomplish if we join together in a refugee sponsorship partnership?" said Grace Mennonite Church Pastor David Brubacher and St. Catharines Islamic Society mosque leader Ezeldin Ebadalla at a meeting in Fall of 2015. They, along with representative members from each community, had been brought together by MCC just days after Alain Kurdi's widely-publicized drowning. In early September 2015 as Syrian families sought safety and a hopeful future by leaving in droves for Europe on boats not meant for open seas, Canadians were waking up to a tragic situation that also emboldened creative, compassionate response. "Could your church people see yourselves working with the Muslim community?" MCC asked?
"By working together we will not only help some people find a safe home here in Canada," said someone. "We will set a model for cooperative community-serving efforts in spite of our differences."
When Schulz approached Grace members about the idea of partnering with the local mosque to sponsor a refugee family, immediately there was strong support and offers of funding. Within weeks, a meeting of Muslims, Mennonites, and Quakers had been arranged. The energy and vision of the group was deep and clear. Within a few meetings, the name "Bridge of Hope" (BOH) emerged in response to that question about the goal of partnering.
"By working together we will not only help some people find a safe home here in Canada," said someone. "We will set a model for cooperative community-serving efforts in spite of our differences." Before the end of 2015, almost $40,000 had been raised, and a refugee family had been identified for sponsorship with a commitment made to MCC that multiple sponsorships was the plan.
Now, at the end of 2016, the first family of four is settled happily and gratefully into their apartment in St. Catharines. The parents take turns attending English classes. Their older child loves her life as a grade one student. The Settlement Team of BOH is made up mostly of mosque members with Arabic language skills. A tutoring team (to supplement English language classes) has been created from the Mennonite community.
Throughout 2016, the Bridge of Hope group kept expanding - in numbers and in vision. In November, the Niagara Falls mosque joined, making a significant financial contribution. A United Church and another Mennonite Church are in discussions at present about joining. Fund-raising is well above $50,000 and climbing. Two more Syrian families have been applied for through MCC, and BOH awaits their arrival.
Since the beginning stages, Bridge members have identified that a "seamless garment" approach should be considered. That is, if BOH helps people enter Canada, it should also help those who struggle within the nation. An Indigenous Relations Team was created mid-2016 to look at education and engagement initiatives. This led to an evening called "Weaving a Story of Indigenous Hope" with Six Nations presenters Karl Dockstader and Kelly Davis held at Grace Mennonite Church on November 1. Full-house attendance included participation by members of Anglican, Jewish, Lutheran, Mennonite, Muslim, Quaker, and United groups as well as community agency personnel. Further consultations and events are being planned.
A "seamless garment" approach should be considered. That is, if Bridge of Hope helps people enter Canada, it should also help those who struggle within the nation.
Further to its local-to-global vision, Bridge of Hope will establish another Team in 2017 to explore ways to partner around Niagara area social concerns such as homelessness and housing for low-income situations. Registration as a non-profit is being considered.
MCC and Bridge of Hope members are excited about these partnerships and looking forward to what the future brings.