Many of our guests face almost impossibly complicated barriers and systems that seem set up to fail them. At the City Centre Project, we do our best to explain the requirements for accessing healthcare, applying for work, and navigating the various systems of our country.
I recently heard of a young Mum and six-year-old child, newly arrived in the UK. They found themselves in Glasgow with no connections, no one to help them, and no way to work out what to do next. They ended up sleeping inside a city centre fast food restaurant, and then on the street outside. Eventually, a passer-by offered to help and directed them to a refugee charity. Even with the support and expertise of staff there, who ticked every box and jumped through every hoop, they were denied help from every angle. Every department, each voice on the end of the phone, refused to help, unless this traumatised woman and her child travelled to the English city (the only place in the UK) where she could be interviewed in person and begin the official process to seek asylum.
It’s hard for me to imagine hearing this story and not immediately feeling compassion. I find it difficult to think of the number of people – in positions of authority – who did hear it and could have put themselves in her shoes and bent the rules just a little. Instead, she was met with “no” after “no” after “no”. These responses came from people, but as a result of systems created by our local, national, and global governments, which tied their hands.
This is why I take heart in the words Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. If we, as individuals, and also collectively as colleagues at Glasgow City Mission and as the family of God, say that our way is Jesus, then compassion is our immediate and rightful response. We can and do ‘bend the rules’ in order to lovingly and safely minister to our guests.
I see this particularly in the way that some of my colleagues really champion their guests. When they hear a “no” from a GP practice, a social work department, a housing officer, they phone someone else. They try again and again. Our Ministry Outreach Co-ordinator, Linda McCabe, is one of those colleagues.
A young woman, we’ll call her Rachel, began coming to the Mission not long before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. When we served hot takeaway lunches, Rachel came most days but didn’t speak much to our staff. Part of this was a language barrier but we knew there was more to this and that she was extremely vulnerable. Over the coming year, Linda began to try to get to know Rachel. Linda says, “her biggest barrier was trust”. Rachel had a difficult and traumatic childhood and has suffered a lifetime of abuse. Tiny smiles of recognition gradually built to quick chats until, eventually, Rachel allowed Linda to really help her.
There were several big obstacles ahead for Rachel: in her physical and mental health, her housing situation, and her right to live in Scotland. Linda sat with her through Zoom calls with her solicitor, encouraging her to be honest with those trying to help her. The most challenging time was when Rachel had to meet with social workers. In some ways, a big part of Rachel’s’ future was in the hands of strangers, who only had her case file as their snapshot of her life. Linda and a healthcare worker partnered together to advocate for Rachel, to speak on her behalf, and to fight for what they believed was the best possible outcome.
Linda recounted today that Rachel is now about to move into her own flat, with a full community care package. Our own Housing Support Officers will help her furnish it and ensure she settles in well. How many times did Linda and our team pray for, and even with Rachel? How many times did we acknowledge that the only way for Rachel to thrive is under God’s care? Please join us in praying for our guests, that they would find their Way, live their Truth, and enjoy new Life.