I was recently asked to speak to a group of Chinese pastors and church people in California about ministry among the Roma in Europe. Here is an excerpted version of what I shared:
I serve with ReachGlobal, whose vision is multiplying healthy and transformative churches among all peoples. We are not a “Roma” mission. We are about sowing the seed of the Gospel, building and strengthening the Church, the bride of Christ, and expanding her impact in global mission. We are not about building our own “denomination.” As the leader of our mission likes to say, “We are about the Bride, not our “brand.”” We are here as mission influence leaders who have spent decades working with the church in Europe. So we are heavily invested. But we are not asking you to follow us. We are asking you to open your eyes to the reality of the Roma, to open your ears to their cries for justice and dignity that can only come from their finding their true place in Christ. We are asking you to open your hearts to sense God’s pain over the way this people group has been abused for centuries. And to open your imagination to how God might desire to use you, your church, your networks, to join Him in what He is doing.
We didn’t set out seeking the Roma. To our sorrow and shame, we pursued evangelism, discipleship and church planting for years as if the Roma didn’t exist. But as we follow Jesus into the world, our eyes are opening. We see 10-12 million Roma in Europe – today’s “Samaritans” and “lepers,” unclean not because of what they have done, but because of their heritage, because of who they are. They are the lowest of the low. Out of 88 Roma dialects in 22 countries in Europe and western Eurasia, two of them have the whole Bible. But, then, few Roma can read, because they have been closed off from benefits of society like education for centuries. Despite all the talk of human rights in Europe, and all the millions of dollars spent by the EU to combat racism, most schools in most towns will not allow Gypsies to go to school. And then, they are labeled as “ignorant” and “backward” because they cannot read. There are entire towns where NO ONE will hire a Gypsy for ANY kind of work. And then they are labelled as “lazy” because they do not have jobs. We see the heartbreaking reality of the degradation, injustice, stigma and marginalization that defines many Roma communities, and (as non-Roma Christians) feel a strong conviction of our own complicity and indifference.
But God is glorified not in human strength, but in human weakness. And among these communities where misery and suffering are part of everyday life, we are seeing God’s power to save and save completely revealed. We also hearing and seeing stories of breakthroughs in evangelism, discipling, church planting and community transformation, of revival, renewal and reconciliation.
God is powerfully at work. He is calling his church to join Him in standing up for the weak and vulnerable, to demand justice for the outsider among us, and to bind the physical, psychological and spiritual wounds. And He is calling the global church to observe how, in the midst of all of this, He is building his church.
There are walls of exclusion that keep millions of Roma who need the Word of God from receiving its saving message. And there are walls of exclusion that keep the multitudes of Roma who have come to Christ from participating in the life and mission of the Church. The doors of far too many European churches are closed, and closed tightly, keeping Gypsy believers out. St. Paul tells us that we are not to say to any part of the Body, “We have no need of you.” But we have been doing precisely that for far too long.
But God is on the move awakening His people to join Him as he bares His mighty right arm to bring salvation to the nations. He is doing that for which we have been praying and laboring for a generation in Europe… only not where we expected it to happen. A hope has been kindled that, with the restoration of the unity of the Body, this power could be to the blessing not only to the Roma, but to Europe as a whole.
The things for which we are praying: renewal and revival in Europe, rapid spread of the Gospel, spontaneous missionary activity are happening in many places which are well attested both by objective numbers and, spiritually, by a powerful outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit… among the Roma in Europe.
The highest concentration of Roma in Europe is in the country of Romania, where we traveled with Pastor Wang and observed firsthand the reality of the agony of the spiritual chains that have bound the Roma for centuries, as well as the amazing transformation that God is working when people, families, and at times whole villages turn to Jesus. We are building our capacity there, and in cities across Europe, to engage the issue of Roma exclusion – exclusion from the ability to hear or read the word of salvation, exclusion from the life of society, from the future that God desires for them, exclusion from the Body of Christ that DOES have need of them.
These great needs present great opportunities. It will demand an unprecedented response by God’s people. But we are already seeing signs of an unprecedented work of God in Europe that tells us that we cannot turn away from these needs, these opportunities.
However, we come not as experts, but as learners. We must come not as heroes or rescuers, but as servants. We are learning the importance of building from real relationships with real people in real need. We are learning the importance of building strength and hope from within these communities and churches, not bringing our strength in from outside.
The problems of the Roma will not go away overnight. The system of spiritual bondage which has taken centuries to build and will likely take generations to dissolve.
And it will take all of us in the Global body of Christ each doing our part and honoring one another as we do so to serve as God’s messengers of salvation. We who serve in Europe, in the cities where Roma live and die at the margins of society, are praying that you will respond to God’s call.
There is a great field in Europe. The soil is dark and rich, fertilized over years by suffering. But for years, for as long as anyone can remember, people have thrown their garbage, their refuse, their filth onto this field. It has happened for so long, that this field is seen as good for nothing but a garbage dump. Suddenly a flower appears. It is bright and yellow, reflecting the light of the sun. It is beautiful. But the people who live around the field do not appreciate the flower of the dandelion. They think it is a weed. Because it does not look like the roses and orchids that they enjoy, they continue to dump their garbage on the field.
However, there has been so much garbage dumped on the field that it has become unhealthy. The people around the area begin to get sick. Some even die. But suddenly a discovery is made… within the interior of this weed is a powerful medicine that can heal this sickness. Suddenly, the field is not a place for dumping waste. It is not a place of worthless weeds. It is a place where healing and restoration for the entire village is to be found. If life is beautiful, it is the most beautiful place in the village.
The village is Europe. The field is the margins, where the Roma live and die. The weeds springing up is the new life in Christ that is being expressed as Roma turn to Christ. And the healing is God’s plan for the nations.
We are standing at the edge of that field. We love these flowers. And we love the life they can bring, even to those who have despised them as worthless. And we pray that you will come and join us as we seek to clean up the mess, nurture new life, and work for the healing of the nations.