Recently, Susan and I were treated to an absolutely incredible lunch. We visited a Persian restaurant in Kinning Park and enjoyed stuffed vine leaves, buttery garlic flatbread, fragrant lamb kebabs, saffron rice, and kashke bademjan – a delicious aubergine yogurt dip. This was our invitation:
“I want to invite you and Susan for lunch. I actually wanted to do that for a long time, but never had the chance because of Covid. You have given me so much support and I think I really should do that.”
This young man joined Urban in October 2019, having recently arrived in Glasgow as an asylum seeker. His journey from Iran was perilous and traumatic. A friend invited him along, describing Urban as a place to meet new people – both locals and other Iranians – as well as somewhere to improve his English and try some new activities. He quickly became a regular visitor, enjoying lessons in piano and guitar, and helping translate the Gathering into Farsi. Susan worked closely with him, offering support in applying for college, particularly after he was granted Leave to Remain. She was a sounding board as he considered degrees in Electrical Engineering and Dentistry. During the various lockdowns of the last 18 months, I spoke with him regularly on the phone, and swapped house plant care tips on FaceTime. We have come to know and love him as a younger brother.
On hearing a little about my job, or sometimes even just where I work, people often offer commiserations. It must be hard-going, tough work. There’s often an assumption that it’s a slog, drudgery, wearing to see people fall or fail again and again. There is truth here – sometimes our work is hard. There are painful relapses, shocking or (perhaps worse) expected deaths. There are days that feel endless, barriers that seem insurmountable.
Thankfully, on those days or in those moments, we don’t have to rely on ourselves. The City Centre Project Team meet to read a psalm and pray together every morning, and I was struck by one we read this week, Psalm 18. I’d encourage you to read the entire psalm, but these verses in particular struck a chord:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer… my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise… From his temple he heard my voice… he drew me out of deep waters… He brought me out into a spacious place.” (v 1 – 19)
Our God is our strength and there is deep joy in seeing the way the Father answers prayers and in how the Spirit moves. Indeed, often, our guests are brought out into spacious places.
Recently, Helen described the wonderful realisation that a family she had supported for 2 years were ready to leave her care and continue their lives on their own. They are settled in a home that suits their needs, and have a community and friends – a spacious place.
A young man Adam supports has discovered a passion for music. We rejoice to see the grin that lights his face when he shares his demos from the Urban music studio. He has been part of a live-streamed DJ set and has recorded a song. The studio? A spacious place.
The whole team downed tools and met together with our Guest Trainees as we had a party to celebrate one of them. This man came to us homeless after a relationship breakdown. He found acceptance and welcome and was soon put to work in the kitchen! He became a part of our family, and those were his closing words to the assembled group as we shared stories and prayed for him before he left to start a full time job. He is in good accommodation, has built bridges with his ex-partner, and regularly sees his child. He’s a keen photographer, and some of his own prints adorn the walls of his flat, his spacious place.
Three guest visited the workshop at Pure Mettle Jewellery this week. They each got the chance to sand, file, polish, solder, saw, and hammer their pieces of solid silver into beautiful D-shaped rings. The highlight for most guests was the blowtorch – melting the silver down to make it malleable, and then attaching the second bar across the top of the ring. Such a hands-on, creative activity gave our guests a real sense of pride and accomplishment. One guest was hilariously outraged that I wasn’t getting to make a ring for myself and invited me to participate in every stage of the process with him. I was particularly struck by the trust shown when he held the tiny piece of metal down for me as I sawed at it with a blade as thin as a hair. There was no room for error and there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. The sense of trust, of belonging, family, and camaraderie is the result of years of investment from the whole staff team, he has blossomed and now thrives in his spacious place.
Our team have supported a young Iranian couple over the past 18 months and they are delighted to have recently been granted Leave to Remain, and to have moved into a permanent tenancy. After that delicious Persian feast I described earlier, I messaged one of them to ask if she had a good recipe for kashke bademjan, the amazing aubergine dip. Unsurprisingly, rather than a recipe, I was instead offered an invitation: come to our home and I will make it for you. How wonderful to sit at the table, to be cooked for! We give thanks to God for these spacious places, for this Dear Green Place where we are so often blessed, encouraged, and nourished by the people we serve.