Our guest contributor this month is Alastair Duncan, Transition Minister at St George’s Tron in Glasgow. In this blog he talks about the importance of refugees in Scotland, using the Biblical example of Joseph, a foreigner in a strange land that remained true to God and shaped a nation.
St George’s Tron Church is partnering with SBS in our Bible Advocacy work.
At St George’s Tron in Glasgow, a series of 24 canvasses drawn from each chapter (‘scuse the pun) of the Gospel of Luke is steadily coming into being. Painted by Iain Campbell, our Artist-in-Residence, this is a project which the Scottish Bible Society is helping to fund.
Two of my favourite paintings are the contemporary depiction of Mary in the story of the Annunciation from chapter 1, and a painting called ‘Do Not Worry?’ based on Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12. The subjects of these paintings are both women – two women from different worlds linked by one thing – their love of Jesus Christ.
Both of these women are passionate Christians, both are vibrant, intelligent and funny. One has a degree in drama, the other in theology. Both have battled breast cancer. One is an Iranian refugee who had to flee Iran as a convert to Christianity and sought refuge here in the UK. The other is a native Scot, a former staff member with Tearfund with a passion for justice for the people of the world. To me they are mirror images of the connections and the differences which unite and enrich the Body of Christ, binding the local to the global in inseparable ways within the worldwide community of the people of God.
The story of Joseph is the story of an immigrant slave. Of course we don’t read it that way, because Joseph’s story starts in his homeland, with his dad and brothers. We are invited into a home where jealousy and brooding resentment fuel the drama that unfolds. And from our perspective, dear reader, this is a family of God’s people. ‘They’ are ‘Us’ and thus we are invited into Joseph’s world and his story.
Quickly the story relocates, through the scheming of a band of brothers, a shabby deal with foreign slave-traders and a dirty trick played on an ageing parent by means of a torn coat and some fake blood.
We cut to Egypt where Joseph arrives not as a son with a name, a coat and a unique talent with dreams, but as a slave, as merchandise, on sale in the market-place. Homeless, stateless, with no rights and no papers, his story ricochets through the highs and lows (but mostly the lows) of domestic servitude, false accusation and indefinite detention, with no recourse to justice.
Relying on the mercy of God, the memory of a forgetful cup-bearer and the timing and happenstance of events beyond his control, his eventual rise to fame and fortune lead all the way to Pharaoh’s palace. From there the fate of a nation falls into his hands and the story climaxes in this triumphant declaration of faith and forgiveness: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen.50:20)
The salvation of a nation came through an immigrant. He arrived with faith and a hidden gift which unlocked the mystery of a coming famine. A jail-bait saviour of a foreign people, the first settler in a new homeland that was part of God’s migration plan for His own people, and the vital link in the chain for God’s future Exodus and Promise.
Refugees are often portrayed as a Problem. But to God they are People. With names and families and stories and gifts. They sometimes come with faith to share and even to challenge and discomfit our easy living, and sometimes they come looking for Good News in a foreign land which at times may feel to them as bleak and inhospitable as the home they left behind.
Every Monday morning in St George’s Tron a little Bible Study group gathers around the ‘big table’ in our café area. Led by the two staff members from Glasgow City Mission, who work closely with refugees and asylum seekers, this is a group who have come to the UK as Christians or who have found Jesus since their arrival and are eager to explore and grow in their discipleship. Our hope and our prayer for them is that they, like Joseph, will play their part as ‘New Glaswegians’ and ‘New Scots’ in living for Jesus as strangers in a foreign land. In these days when the natives grow restless and the light of Christian faith sometimes appears dim, perhaps we will need them to show us the Way again.
Transition Minister, St George’s Tron Church of Scotland, Glasgow
Originally from Edinburgh, Alastair Duncan is Transition Minister at St George’s Tron Church of Scotland in Glasgow city centre. Over the course of the last five years, he has been seeking to re-plant a Christian church in a ‘weel-kent’ Glasgow building, to see the Kingdom dynamic of salvation, renewal and justice advance in the city and to re-affirm and re-imagine biblical ministry for the 21st century amongst the many and various ‘communities’ that ebb and flow in the current of modern city centre life. He is aided and supported in the task by his wife, best friend and ministry partner, Ruth, and by two of their three children, who also live in Glasgow. Their youngest is married and lives in Australia, but supports in prayer from a distance.
Before coming to Glasgow, Alastair served for 24 years as parish minister in the village of Garelochhead, which serves the naval communities at Faslane and Coulport where Britain’s nuclear deterrent lives.