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Once ‘the American’ in Scotland community, Wilson is now one of them even while home on leavecomment (0)

May 8, 2014

Once ‘the American’ in Scotland community, Wilson is now one of them even while home on leave

If you listen to Gena Wilson imitate the Scottish brogue, you’ll think she was born in Glasgow. After 17 years, the woman from Beaufort, S.C., can speak in a Scottish accent that even the locals mistake as their own. She used to stick out as “the American” who for some inexplicable reason chose to live in one of the city’s poorest areas.

Now she’s just known to them as Gena — a friend, a mentor, a follower of Jesus.

She’s led assemblies at the local high school, but most teenagers there have gotten to know her over a basketball or volleyball game, hamburgers at a café or Bible study in her apartment.

Loving others

When Graeme was suspended from school, Wilson counseled him. When Carol was beaten up by her boyfriend and needed a safe place to go in the middle of the night, she went to Wilson’s flat. When Jessica’s mother was threatening to throw herself out of the window, she called Wilson. 

For Wilson, a Southern Baptist representative to Scotland, loving these young people is as easy — and as hard — as loving sons and daughters. 

Wilson breathes the message of Jesus into these relationships, but it isn’t always easy. She has seen some people turn to Christ and continue to follow Him. Others, like Graeme, have turned away from their faith and chosen to believe in their own abilities.

“It saddens me that they would choose to think that they can manufacture a life for themselves that’s greater than what God can manufacture for them,” Wilson said. 

Many years ago, Wilson and a ministry teammate spray-painted the gospel message in pictures in an old greenhouse — a popular teen hangout. Today the area is littered with used condoms and drug paraphernalia. Time and other graffiti have eclipsed the drawings, but Wilson can still see where a youth who used to attend her Bible studies painted on top: “Nobody cares, Gena.”

Success is hard to measure in Glasgow. Addiction, violence and self-sufficiency war against her message of hope, deliverance and surrender. 

Graeme was one of the kids Wilson met on her neighborhood’s block of flats 11 years ago.

Alastair Cochrane, a science teacher at the school where Wilson has served as chaplain for nearly 10 years, said Graeme was one of the kids who was always in trouble, always getting into fights and skipping school. But then Graeme met Wilson.

Graeme said of Wilson, “She was interested in people. She didn’t fight, she didn’t go out and get drunk, she didn’t laze about all day.

“There was also how she lived her faith,” he continued, “trying to care for other people, trying to tell them about her faith and how that influenced her.”

When Graeme started participating in school clubs with Wilson and then Bible studies in her flat, he made the decision to become a Christian.

The kid who was headed down the path of drugs, violence and dropping out of school graduated from the University of Glasgow, a service that Wilson attended sitting beside Graeme’s mother.

‘Continuing the journey’

But success was a double-edged sword for Graeme. He moved away to pursue further studies. He saw others doing good things without relying on God and his faith waivered.

Graeme talks regularly with Wilson over the phone and through social media. Wilson said, “I don’t view him as a project. ... I get the privilege of continuing to journey with him, believing that what God has started in him, He’s going to bring to completion.”

Wilson has to remind herself that God’s plans are not her own. That message became evident on a scheduled trip to the United States in 2011. 

She went to the doctor to have back pain checked out. The news in the days ahead wasn’t what she expected to hear: It’s a tumor wrapped around your spine. It’s cancerous. You’ll need surgery. You’ll need chemotherapy.

And so her struggle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma began — a challenge that lasted 17 months and had her wondering if she would see her beloved Scotland again.

Through social media, Wilson kept the messages going back to Scotland and around the world — God can be trusted even in the midst of cancer.

After nearly a year back in Glasgow, the cancer returned in the form of a brain tumor. She returned to South Carolina for treatment and in August 2013, her doctors told her she was cancer-free. Wilson is hopeful that she will make a full recovery and be back in Glasgow in 2014.

T.J. and Dena Odom of Alabama and Massachusetts joined Wilson’s ministry team in Scotland in fall 2012. Wilson and the Odoms are among the nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist representatives internationally who are supported through Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Cooperative Program. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Names have been changed for security reasons. (IMB)

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