“Excuse me, are you Donny D?” asked the man outside the shop in Sauchiehall Street on a stormy December day.

            “Yes, I am,” said the man selling The Big Issue, handing him a copy. “To one person anyway.  Are you connected with Dizzy Blonde?”

            “Yes, I’m her husband, my name’s Ronnie, and she’s sorry she couldn’t come into town this week as she’s got flu, so she asked me to give you this.” and he handed over a Christmas card with some money inside it.  Donny D pocketed the note with a grateful nod and then examined the card and its written message.  They looked at each other with a smile and Donny commented, “You know, plenty of people buy this paper but she’s one of very few who actually looks at me and talks to me. That’s how we got to know each other and gave each other these daft names. The joke stuck but I really look forward to the wee chats we have. She remembers things I’ve told her and it makes me feel a real person, not just something to walk past.  I’m very sorry she’s not well. Tell her I’m fixed up with somewhere to stay for the next few weeks – she always asks about that – and Happy Christmas to you both.” He and Ronnie shook hands.

            That’s a true story (I got it from Dizzy Blonde herself!) and I thought of it recently, as I studied the Bible reading notes that Glasgow City Mission staff take turns at writing every week. The passage was from Acts, when Peter and John encountered a crippled man outside the temple. He regularly begged from the worshippers and began to ask them for money, but Peter and John looked at him and Peter told him to look at them. He did, and then Peter healed him in Jesus’ name. A wonderful miracle, but the notes concentrated on the looking.  To the Glasgow City Mission writer, that was what mattered.  Do we always look at the beggars we pass in the street, he asked, even if we give them some money, or do we just walk on, thinking of something else?  Does our welcome of guests at the Drop-in really extend to proper eye contact?  For all at the Mission know very well how important that eye contact is. What the guests most often need, more than counselling on addiction or health or homelessness, is self respect, and that involves being treated with respect by other people. So a smile that makes them lift their eyes and smile back and a conversation that shows genuine interest in what matters to them are very important.  Even after years of volunteering, I find that difficult to do but the Mission staff do it instinctively and wholeheartedly and often with wonderful results. It’s very humbling.

As a footnote, the Bible notes commented that the cripple was begging outside the temple as that was where people were likely to be most generous – and went on to ask if there were beggars outside our churches and what we do if there are.  That’s a different question, of course, but my response is the same.  Ouch!

Katie Thomson

Glasgow City Mission volunteer