The Roma experience

Romania.  When I envisioned this country before I knew anything about it, I couldn’t help but put a romantic spin on my imagery.  It is the home of the legendary Transylvania, so a vision of dark and mysterious forests.  It was part of the former Soviet Union and lived behind the iron curtain, masked in secrecy of a domineering government, so a people closed off and un-trusting.  But here is what I discovered.

It is a country blanketed in corn and sunflower fields, gentle rolling mountains, and bright azure skies.  A place where horse and buggy is just as common as cars or tractors; sharing the road seamlessly though with what feels like dangerously close maneuvers.  The people are friendly and greet you with a smile and a “ciao!”

romania 2013-sunflowers

We had the privileged of working with the Romas, also known as the gypsies.  They are separated from the rest of the town, tucked away where others don’t have to see them.  Their homes are small structures, made of cement if they are lucky, others sim

I was simply privileged to experience a snapshot of their devotion.ply mud huts.  But the entry ways are surrounded by brightly colored flowers and they stand there with pride for their homes.  As you walk through the compound, the children run out to greet you with no shame and longing for a warm and loving hug.  They aren’t always clothed in pants, but always with a smile.  They want to be loved.  They want your attention and to know that you care.  They need Jesus and there are amazing people who are sharing that love on a daily basis.

We helped with 2 camps (one in a very poor community if Ghida and the other larger group in a town called Nusfalu).  On our busiest day, the first camp had around 40-50 children, the larger second camp had upwards of 150 children.  They aged from 1-16 (or so).  Our days consisted of songs, crafts, games, and a bible lesson accompanied with a memory verse for each day.

My heart’s passion is to work with teenagers, and in a community where by 15 the girls are often married and pregnant, I was unsure to what extent I would be able to actually achieve this.  But I serve a God who is the one who has placed that special love for teenagers in my heart and knew that I was wanting confirmation that this was in fact the ministry that he wants me to serve him in.

The first day,  I ended up sitting next to a teenage girl.  She was holding a toddler on her lap (who I later learned was her nephew).  Part way through the songs, she grabbed my hand and held on.  If I let go to do the movements for the songs, immediately after, she would take my hand again.  For the next few days, as soon as she saw me, she came and gave me a hug, put her arm around me or held my hand.

Esmeralda and her nephew Paulo

Esmeralda and her nephew Paulo

I was so humbled by this attachment.  I learned that her name was Esmeralda and she was 15 years old.  Every day she would be holding one of her nephews and I knew that if I return next year the high likelihood is that she will be married and have a baby of her own.  My heart ached to explain the love of Jesus to her and to know that she understood.

The last day I had an opportunity to talk to her, though there wasn’t someone that could translate.  But God had laid it on my heart to do what I could, so I trusted him.  I asked her if she knew that God loved her (using motions to convey my words).  Because that single statement could change everything.  If she knew that God loved her, then the story of salvation could touch her heart and her life and those amazing missionaries that serve that community full time could continue to disciple her and that relationship with Jesus.  She said “da” (yes).  My heart was comforted and she gave me a big hug, telling me that she loved me (in Romanian).  I said it back and meant it.  In a matter of 4 days, I loved this girl and wanted nothing more than for her to be able to serve Jesus in amazing ways.

As a mom of 2 girls, my heart broke for the gypsy children.  Not because I’m able to better provide for my children or because I think that our American culture is better suited for raising children.  But because my girls will grow up with every opportunity available to them.  They will be able to grow up in an environment that nurtures knowledge and provides opportunities for them to achieve any and every dream that passes through their heads.  The gypsy girls will become married and pregnant essentially once they reach puberty.  The boys are lucky if they finish 8th grade, though they will likely not have an 8th grade education because the teachers do not teach them.

My girls are being raised with the same Bible stories as these children.  They are being told of the same God that loves them.  My kids just have more stuff.  They can wear a new clean outfit everyday.  They will eat 3 full meals every day.  They will be cleaned in a warm bath with bubbles and colored water because it’s fun that way.  My girls have more toys than they can play with.  But God loves them the same.  If the gypsy children can learn and believe that God loves them and can live a life devoted to that truth, then they will be the heirs of heaven.  The verse that came to mind all week was that “the first will be last and the last will be first.”  These kids have nothing to their name that is their own, but they can still know and experience the amazing love of Jesus.  When they get to heaven, there will be a special place for them that honors them.  They are the last in society.  The most socially disadvantaged minority group in Romania.  But God loves them.

That’s why we went to Romania.  To share that truth.  To have our own eyes opened to the privileges that we have been garnered and the responsibility that comes with them.  As a team of 17 Americans, ages ranging from teens to 50’s, we were humbled by the love of these children and honored to serve them, even if only for a week.

Romania Team from Vista Church, 2013

Romania Team from Vista Church, 2013

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3 thoughts on “The Roma experience

  1. When I was in a classroom in Timisoara, Romania in the late 90’s, the topic of the Gypsies came up. A high school girl said, in all seriousness, “They should all be exterminated.” I couldn’t believe my ears, and knew for the first time how terribly these people are treated.

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