Salvation in the Slums: A Family Legacy

Lochee launch

This post was written by Andy Mathieson, 20schemes church planter in Lochee, Dundee (NOTE: In the early 19th century, Robert Murray McCheyne pastored in Dundee.)

My great-grandfather was born in 1905 in a tenement block in Townhead, Glasgow. He was born into extreme poverty with an alcoholic father, a chaotic home life and a mother who pawned anything and everything of value she could get her hands on. My gran and my mum tell tales of how as a small boy my great-grandfather had to go upstairs in the morning to get a slice of bread and margarine from a kindly neighbour to fill his stomach before heading to school. Glasgow’s slums in the early 1900’s are the stuff of legend. I find it hard to imagine the level of poverty he and his family endured. Consider this: in the year 1900, 16 people in the Gorbals died of the Plague. Yeah that plague – the one that killed 30% of Europe in the 1300s. Google ‘Glasgow slums’ and have a look at the pictures. The housing schemes of Scotland that we serve in today were built to replace these areas.

‘…in the year 1900, 16 people in the Gorbals (slums of Glasgow) died of the Plague. Yeah that plague – the one that killed 30% of Europe in the 1300s.’ #history #poverty CLICK TO TWEETOne Sunday night in 1921 a Townhead corner boy called Bobby Gillies met Jesus in Glasgow’s famous Tent Hall. At the weekends a group from the Tent Hall brought a ball, boots and sandwiches and went out to see the lads hanging about on the streets of Townhead. The deal was a simple one: if the corner boys wanted a game of footie on the Saturday they had to come to the Tent Hall’s Sunday evening gospel meeting. Now Bobby liked football (in fact he said he’d have sold his soul for football), and he really liked it when the guys who brought the boots and the ball gave him a much-needed piece and jam (Glaswegian for sandwich). So on that Sunday evening Bobby was sat in the Tent Hall about to hear a message that would turn his world upside down and shape the next 60 years of his life.

The message was this. ‘Bobby, I have some bad news for you. You are a sinner by nature and by choice and you are living your life in active rebellion against the good, holy and righteous God who made and sustains you. Because of your sin and rebellion God is rightly angry with you, and because God is good and holy, he will judge you for your rebellion, and the sentence for rebellion against God is the eternal torment of hell. Bobby boy, you are in big trouble. God demands perfection and you aren’t perfect. God is just and must punish sin, and so you, a sinner, are going to face judgement – and you can’t ever pay the price required to atone for your sins.

But Bobby, the story doesn’t end there. This good, holy and righteous God is also merciful, gracious and loving, and in his mercy, grace and love he sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world to save sinners like you. Jesus came and lived the perfect life you haven’t lived, the life that God requires. Then one Friday morning he went to an old rugged cross and he took upon himself the sins of his people and the punishment they deserved. Jesus took God’s wrath and died in your place. He was laid in a tomb, and on the Sunday morning Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over Satan, sin, death and the grave. Jesus returned to his Father in Heaven and today he rules over all things. One day he is coming back to fully establish his eternal Kingdom and judge the living and the dead. Bobby, the good news is this: Jesus lived for you, Jesus died for you, and Jesus is alive today. He is the King of the Universe and he demands that you repent and believe the Gospel for the forgiveness of your sins and new life in him.’

That evening, as they sang ‘Just as I Am’, Bobby Gillies walked to the front of the Tent Hall, professing faith in Jesus. The news that Bobby heard that night captivated him and defined his entire life, and by God’s good grace it defined that of his family as well. Saved by grace alone in the carnage of a Glasgow slum, Bobby was to become a godly husband, father, granddad, elder and a zealous evangelist. My mum and I both share the same birthday as Great Granda, and it was he who named us. She is Ruth because he loved that great Old Testament picture of redemption, and I am Andrew, who was his favourite apostle because, nearly every time you read about him, he’s bringing somebody to meet Jesus. Bobby Gillies died when I was barely three months old. My mother’s last memory of her granddad is him being loaded into an ambulance to be taken to the hospice where he would pass. His concern wasn’t for himself or even for farewells. Bobby was telling the paramedic about Jesus. He said, ‘Son, I’m about to die, but I’m not worried because I know where I’m going. Do you know where you are going when you die? Do you know the Lord?’

You may be asking, what is the point of this touching family testimony? The point is this. Scotland’s poorest communities in many ways are in far better shape than they were in the days when Bobby Gillies was born. The standard of living and health in these areas, though still leaving a great deal to be desired, is a million times better than it was in Scotland’s slums in the early 20th century. However, in the most critical way Scotland’s poorest communities are in even worse shape! The vast majority of the old school Gospel Halls that served the poorest, such the one Bobby came to faith in, are closed and long gone. The decline of the church in Scotland is most prevalent in its housing schemes. There are other blogs on this site that you can read to see the facts, figures and statistics that prove the truthfulness of that statement.

The decline of the church in Scotland is most prevalent in its housing schemes. #scotland #gospel CLICK TO TWEETThe point is this: I am a believer today because Bobby told my gran the Gospel, then my gran told my mum the Gospel, then my mum told me the Gospel, and 9 years ago I, like Bobby, Gran, and Mum before me, repented and believed the Gospel. The story of my family was changed by the fact that there were people on the streets of Townhead in 1921 who loved the Lord and loved the lost. They knew that the corner boys of Glasgow’s slums were hungry and were living tough lives, but they also knew that their need of a Saviour was greater than their need of a sandwich. The same is true for the people living in Possil, Ferguslie, Easterhouse, Pilton, Niddrie, Gracemount, Barlanark and Lochee in 2018.Their greatest need is to come to know Jesus as their Saviour.

We need people who recognise that real evangelism isn’t merely social care and social concern but is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. CLICK TO TWEETFor that to happen will require people who love the Lord and love the lost to be in the schemes of Scotland, preaching the same Gospel that saved Bobby Gillies. We need people who will give up their time, comfort and lives to bring the Gospel to the schemes – people who recognise the greatest need, not just the physical ones. We need people who recognise that real evangelism isn’t merely social care and social concern but is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; people who, like Spurgeon, know they are just beggars telling other beggars where to get bread. And we don’t just mean a piece and jam, we mean the one who said, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ John 6:35

Posted by Andrew Mathieson

Andrew is the lead Pastor of LBC and a 20schemes Church Planter, passionate to see Lochee and beyond reached with life saving good news of Jesus Christ. Andrew is husband to Lauren and dad to Talia.


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