Last week, Jelle and I attended a conference about Christianity among the Roma. We met a mixed group of people from all kinds of backgrounds: Pentecostal and Baptist, Roman Catholic and Reformed, people from Slovakia, Bulgaria, and even from the UK. Most were pastors, some teachers and sociologists, but all working with Roma people.
Some of the presentations were about the situation of Roma in a particular country or the work with Roma in one denomination. Other presentations were more general, about understanding Roma culture and doing missions well.
Here is what Radko, a Roma leader from Bulgaria, told us:
- Roma culture is a culture of community. The group is important. Learning takes place mostly through experience. This is not just learning positive things; the negative experiences are also part of the culture.
- What kind of problems happen often? The children drop out of school very early. We see a lack of self-esteem. There is rejection of society and a loss of desire for change by the Roma self due to the experience of rejection. Because of this, Roma are a very easy target for trafficking or criminality, abuse or addiction.
- What can we do? How do we build beliefs? Roma learn by experience rather than at school or otherwise, so how can we use that?
“ Those who have seen the light, need to lead others to the source” (a quote shared by David, one of the presenters.)
How do we build beliefs, values, principles, and behavior? It’s not by dragging everyone around but by walking along. So, help people to take the next step. “Teach people to walk themselves instead of carrying them in your arms.“
Another presentation that really spoke to me was from Shane. His topic was Moses as a model for Romany church leaders. Here are a few thoughts from his lecture.
Moses served a nation who just came out of slavery. At first, the people were lost and free and without order and rules. Moses was the man who created a hierarchy and spread the knowledge and judgment. Moses made himself unimportant, though he had enough to be proud about: he had met God in Person. But, he wrote God’s words down and came up with the ten commandments, straight from God. And, by doing so, he made them available for the generations after him. He lived with his God, and when he was finished with his work, God buried him—the highest honor. And, the people of Israel moved into the promised land without him and survived. This is a model for leadership: the leader makes sure that there is no dependence on himself.
Here is the trailer of a documentary in which some of the speakers share their stories.
We went home with a lot to think about. I am glad that it was here in Osijek. And very glad for the new connections we were able to make.