August 22nd, 2013 by Zac
“Gypsies will never change!” “They will only take advantage of you”. “They can’t learn like everyone else”.”They will just spend any money you give them on alcohol”.
These are the common phrases you hear when you bring up the topic of helping Gypsies.
From all the discriminated people that I have ever encountered (African Americans, American Indians, Jews, Mexicans), I believe Gypsies are the most widely hated in the world. For centuries they have lived in Central and Eastern Europe. As many as 500,000 were exterminated in the Holocaust. It is estimated that now 6 of the 10 million European Roma, live in Central and Eastern Europe.
So, how does one church help in this centuries old situation? How does one small group of God followers make a difference? This is the question I’ve been asking for some time. And although we don’t have a comprehensive answer, we have taken some action – partly because we concluded that answers are not the most important need. God has given us a strong mandate to help the poor, oppressed, victims of injustice and foreigner. His mandate does not demand a final solution to these issues, but simply to help.
Likewise, God makes it clear, that to help in these situations, is to understand Him. In helping, we come to understand something of his heart and character that we would otherwise not know. (Jeremiah 22:16).
So, this month (August), we launched our first effort in the Roma community here in our city – a five day camp for kids.
On the first day, we were all so nervous, we could barely focus on our task. We were surrounded by 20 or more excited Roma children, who were more than eager to learn, play, participate and respond. Of course at times, they were unruly, they stole some things, they were not honest or obedient and they were aggressive. But these behaviors were not things that we didn’t already expect. Nor were they behaviors that we hadn’t experienced with our own children or in our own behavior toward God.
Each day, our twelve member team prepared a full schedule of activities. We included singing, games, Bible stories, snacks, crafts and Bible memory. It was a joy to bring God’s powerful word from the story of Queen Esther to this run down village. Every story detail was met with screaming answers or comments. For sure, it was a challenge for our teachers like our Emili, who taught here her first Bible story.
When we gave them all a chance to pray and receive Christ and the forgiveness of their sins, almost all of them responded. Each leaders patiently took time with a group of two or three children to share with them the good news of Jesus and pray with them.
Did we we change the desperate situation with the Roma in our city? Did we solve this centuries old problem? For sure no! So, what did we accomplish? It’s hard to say concretely. But this I am sure of. We shared the Word of Truth and the love of God to those children and parents who joined us each day. And we know that we obeyed God’s command to help people like these. And through our efforts, God made us more like him.
We will continue a weekly day club starting again in September in this same village. Our hope and prayer is that God will have mercy on us and on at least one young child who will break the pattern and choose to follow God with all their heart. And that they would become a light of truth for years to come in this broken community.