‘People make Glasgow’

Young Adult Volunteers reflect on their year of service in Scotland

by Tracy LaMar, Kris Scharstein and Helen Richardson | Mission Crossroads

Kris Scharstein and Ghirmay met through Bridging the Gap and worked together at High Rise Bakers. (Photo by Roz Adams)

GLASGOW, Scotland — In January, we met with a representative from Faith in Community Scotland (FiCS), an organization giving refugees and asylum seekers a platform to speak about their challenges and the treatment they’ve received from the United Kingdom’s Home Office. As newcomers representing the Young Adult Volunteer program in Scotland, we were excited to learn more about migration in Glasgow and the UK. The representative began our meeting with this sobering truth: All of the invited migrants refused the invitation because of their vulnerable status. In the parishes where we accompany the Church of Scotland, we are privileged to work with organizations attempting to bridge race, class and citizenship status.

We’ve heard firsthand stories of local Scottish people alerting migrant families in advance of surprise deportation raids, which may mean facing death in home countries for some asylum seekers. FiCS supports refugees and asylum seekers by lifting their voices, seeking to challenge the narrative that being “foreign” or living in government provided housing is somehow less than or wrong. Organizations like FiCS show people that making connections and relationships with all people is the way to break barriers of race and class and bring the kin-dom of God on Earth.

One of the first places the Glasgow City Council housed asylum seekers and refugees was in the Gorbals. A local charity, Bridging the Gap, opened a weekly drop-in to create a space of welcome, where new asylum seekers and refugees felt heard and valued. Initially only for asylum seekers and refugees, BTG eventually opened its doors to the entire community. This space has been vital to challenging the view of asylum seekers and refugees as “other” or as competition for jobs and housing in the community. Stories and experiences shared between long-term residents and newcomers create relationships and friendships that deepen understanding, reminding folks we all have something sacred to offer if we’re open to receiving it. From conversations at the drop-in, Kris Scharstein learned about the challenges of navigating the asylum process: the paperwork involved, accessing health-care services, and the worry surrounding whether people will be “allowed to remain” in Glasgow. A mother once told her that even the positive moments carry heaviness and sadness. For example, finally gaining refugee status means having the right to work, but refugees rarely work in their trained profession because of language and certification barriers.

Kris Scharstein and Helen Richardson attended their first Coptic Orthodox Easter at the invitation of Essaye (right) and Kaberti (not pictured), who are friends met through Bridging the Gap. (Photo courtesy of Helen Richardson)

In that January meeting, we learned a group of refugee and asylee women claimed the Glasgow tourist slogan, “People make Glasgow,” as their own. And it’s certainly been true for us. This year, our priority area communities, and specifically migrants in our communities, have taught us radical hospitality, resilience and how to keep hope. Despite the messages our identities send as white North Americans and the many challenges faced by migrants, we have been welcomed to our first Coptic Orthodox Easter, received dinner invitations, been gifted with friendship and trusted to listen to personal migration stories. For us, “People Make Glasgow” illustrates how these experiences and friendships will continue to transform and convict us and Glaswegians, long after we leave.

 The Young Adult Volunteer program is an ecumenical, faith-based year of service (August to August) for young people ages 19-30 in sites across the U.S. and around the world. Five international YAV sites and nine sites within the U.S. are available for 2020–21. Application season begins Nov. 1: pcusa.org/yav/apply.

 The YAV program is supported through gifts to the Pentecost Offering.

This article is from the Fall 2019 issue of “Mission Crossroads” magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission and also available online at pcusa.org/MissionCrossroads.

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