Our Catalyst Team started off by pulling into Budapest just a couple hours before the beginning of the “Roma to the Nations” consultation, which was organized by Great Commission Center, International. We grabbed one of the few remaining seats in the noisy, crowded dining room… and found ourselves sitting next to a very affable George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation, one of the keynote speakers.
George was very enthusiastic about the gathering: “This is a great conference,” he gushed. “The only problem is that it should have taken place 50 years ago. But we just did not understand the complex challenge of the Roma people. This is a human rights issue!”
But it is also a “Gospel issue”: “Our passion has always been that every person should have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, at least once.” The Lausanne movement (one of the original figures of which, Thomas Wang, was one of the driving forces behind convening this consultation) called us to the realization that “social action must come together with evangelism.”
The facts are straightforward, if not well-publicized: There are 10-12 million Roma in Europe (the fact that we don’t know, within several million, how many there actually are, tells us something right away), most of whom are living in unconscionable squalor, stigmatized by centuries of quasi-official discrimination, in the heart of one of the most progressive and prosperous civilizations in history. They are the biggest people group in the world without a homeland. Hence, the “human rights” issue. Of the 88 distinct languages spoken among these 12 million people, the Bible is printed in two(!) of them. A handful of other languages have portions of the Bible available to them. That’s the evangelistic angle.
That in itself – coupled with the awareness that the church, those known by Jesus’ name, have often been complicit, even actively engaged, in perpetuating the conditions under which the Roma have suffered – is ample reason for Christians to be engaged. And not just because the Roma only exist as objects of compassion. They are beautiful people. Passionate, emotional, committed, sensitive people. I have fallen in love with them… not out of pity, but out of fascination.
The demand of justice to address the marginalization of millions of people from a perspective that is grounded in the hope and power of the Gospel message excites me greatly – I live for this… But it’s not just about us and what we can do. We are ever more aware that our work is about others – mobilizing, inspiring and resourcing others. Certainly there are others, whom God is similarly moving! For them, and for myself, I knew I needed to learn more… I did, and I am happy to share it with you. What we learned broke our hearts. But I do not begin this series as a “heartbreak story.”
Because what is even more exciting is that God is active among the Roma. And the ways – unexpected, powerful, miraculous – in which God is active are even more irresistibly attractive than the great need of the Roma’s marginalized status. We’ll be sharing about that as well as we go forward.