Building Bridges for Better Futures

Bekah Shaffer Profile
Article by Bekah Shaffer
Former WillowBridge Community Advocate

"I want to run freely ahead toward my full potential in Christ, not fearing the circumstances swirling all around me."

In 1983, as Martha Layne Collins blazed a campaign trail through the state of Kentucky, she had to cross a low water bridge, built by Mr. Raymond Swauger back in the early 1940s. While impressed at the 40+ year longevity of the humble bridge, Martha was dumbfounded to find this as the only means of crossing the river for the small community of Vancleve. She was so appalled at their lack of opportunity when flood waters raged high, that she promised them if she was elected, she would build them a proper bridge. She would bring them a bridge they could confidently drive over, in seasons of drought and seasons of flooding.

And when she was elected the first female governor of Kentucky, she did not forget her promise.

She built the bridge. She gave Vancleve a new life. She gave its people a way to get to town for supplies, medical help, or even just dinner when they don’t feel like cooking. She gave them a chance.

I’m grateful beyond words for the Raymond Swaugers who have made WillowBridge what it is today. It’s a beautiful building that is fully furnished for our tenants – who often come in with just clothing and a few personal items. Their kitchens are stocked with supplies. Their linen closets have towels. Their washers and dryers don’t require coins.

The Grabill community rallies around the tenants. Our local food bank manager heaps their bags a little fuller than their lists request. The church across the street from us drops off leftover food, stacks up gifts under our Christmas tree, and produces the majority of volunteers who transport our tenants to work, classes, and appointments.

Local job partners have given our tenants a chance for – in some cases – their first ever full-time jobs. They are patient in teaching them the ropes of being good, reliable, loyal employees.

In just over two years into existence, it’s a blessing to have been so deeply embraced by the people around us who have given time, talents, and treasure to equip us to serve.

But this is just the beginning. In some ways, our bridge is still low in the water, and encountering obstacles still happens and prevents us from being as effective as we can be. We are still moving cautiously.

There are Martha Layne Collinses out there who see the work being done and say, “This is good and admirable. This is impressive for how quickly it was brought into being. But let’s keep pursuing something stronger and long-lasting.” There are people who can come alongside and help to build a strong, permanent, lasting bridge that will allow the tenants to sprint freely toward an independent life.

Just like Vancleve, Kentucky, life floods – whether gradual or flash – are still going to come along. The WillowBridge tenants are still going to face the fury of circumstances beyond their control.

I know I sure don’t want to be scampering across a low water bridge during a flood – no matter how well-constructed – hoping to make it across before I’m swept away. I want a bridge that is strong and high above the water far below. I want to run freely ahead toward my full potential in Christ, not fearing the circumstances swirling all around me.

Will you help WillowBridge? Will you not just see the need, but make a commitment? Whether by offering your time and talents or by sharing your financial resources, will you help to build this bridge? We will continue to do what we can. But just imagine how much more of an impact we can have on the tenants’ lives (and their someday families’ lives) with a strong, high, and lasting bridge to carry them across to a better, healthier future.

Now to HIM who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to HIS power that is at work within us, to HIM be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout ALL GENERATIONS, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Bekah formerly served as a WillowBridge Community Advocate with her husband, Ryan.