Between Two Worlds

She found herself in the strange space between two worlds—a space where she was fumbling forward, pioneering a new expression of the many identities that were dynamically intersecting: Roma, woman, unmarried, educated, Christian.

All of these identity titles can be viewed as stagnant labels, conjuring up certain  associations, assumptions, and judgements.

But in her  willingness to be in the space between two worlds—leaving the expectations of her Roma world and yet always seen FIRST in Eastern Europe as a Roma—she forges a new pathway that is deeply challenging and profoundly prophetic.

Growing up in a poor Roma village in Southern Romania, she had the desire for something different. Her father and mother, their own stories beginning in dire poverty yet possessing  creative and resilient spirits, perhaps lit this  spark. When she wanted to go to a good high school which would require her to leave the village and live in-residence, her wise grandfather pulled her aside one day.

“Only you can choose,” he said.  “If you leave this world now, it will be forever.  Our world will not be able to fit you back into its place.”

She went, but the new world was filled with heartbreak, cruel realities, and discrimination.  No one wanted to be near her, to touch her, because she was a Gypsy.  She did not tell her parents of her torment, because she did not want to worry them or cause them pain.

She persevered, graduated from high school, went on to college.  She received internships and opportunities, but when she came back home she found her grandfather had been right.

No one knew what to make of her anymore. People felt sorry for her because she was unmarried and had no children.  And she found it harder to find things to talk about with her community.  She grew depressed, listless, wondering what direction her life should take.

On a whim, she applied for a Master’s program in a different country and was accepted.  She struggles to keep up because she is operating in her third language.  She has many questions about her future, her path, and what it all means.  She is no longer the person she once was, but she is not quite sure who she is or who she should be.

I doubt her path will ever be easy, and yet the very act of her life—refusing to be defined and categorized either by her own people or the society-at-large—embodies a poignant witness that speaks to our own journeys as the People of God.

We are also in that somewhat ambiguous space between two worlds, but this ‘third space’ does not take us out of our present existence.  In fact, it deepens our awareness of our present lives so that we see every piece of good art with the longing for perfect beauty, we allow the sound of stirring music to lead our souls forward, we feel the pain of injustice with deep anger and resolution. It is in this disorienting ‘third space’ where we sense the creative voice of God forging our path through the brambles and bushes.

Her courage and resiliency inspire a critique of complacency.  We may think we are secure in our neatly formed worlds of understanding—but are we really?

Aslan is on the move

There wasn’t enough coffee.

There were not enough breaks.

There were not enough coffee breaks.  We were in Eastern Europe, for Pete’s sake.

The program was too packed and too dense. The hotel was over-charging for expenses.  More speakers cancelled.  Some registered people didn’t show up.  Some unregistered people showed up.

It seemed as if this conference of a hundred and fifty people from 12 different countries, 6 languages, Roma and non-Roma alike—would truly be the catastrophic event I had so feared it would become.

And, as I finally realized with resigned defeat, my hands unclenching and my head bowed, I really had no control over the outcome. This could be my mission swan song, I thought.

But by day 3, things were beginning to happen. Connections were being made, ministry networks were being expanded, joint visions were being formulated. I could sense that something much bigger was going on than just a simple conference.

We were confronted with the reality of the dire situation of many Roma communities in Eastern Europe, heartbreaking stories of prejudice and discrimination that many of my Roma brothers and sisters have faced, the difficulties of church planting, discipleship, and social transformation.

But we also got a sense, almost an intangible sense,  of what God is doing and preparing to do in Eastern Europe. And it is my conviction that it is not just what he is doing in Roma communities, but how he wants to use the Roma church for his mission in the whole of Europe.

God is awakening the Body of Christ to see each other past language, past nationality, past ethnicity, and past one’s own local ministry context.  We each have an instrument to play, but we all belong to His orchestra. As He conducts the symphony, we can only play our part and listen to the music that He is writing for the whole  Body of Christ.

As we were reminded by one of the Roma pastors from Romania who pointed us toward Gideon:  God sees us differently and uses us in bigger ways than we could imagine, but it is not at all about us.

I was surprised when people adamantly called for another Consultation to happen in two years, and elected a committee of six from six different countries, three Roma and three non-Roma, to plan it.

It seems as if this was not just a conference, but the beginning of something—perhaps a grass-roots movement, although it is too early to say definitively.   The winds have changed, perhaps a new season is here.

But when I collapsed in euphoria, thankfulness,  and exhaustion back in Osijek, my co-workers and I found our own small Roma church exploding again.  Fights, police, hard consequences—a healthy dose of reality to bring me back from the mountain peak.  God showed us a view of where we are going, but we are still in the middle of the valley.

Still, I can sense something is happening.  As I spoke to a friend in Bosnia working in a different context, she sees what is still unseen as well.   Aslan is on the move,  she told me.

And if Aslan is truly on the move, despite all the disappointments, challenges, and hair-tearing-out-moments, it is truly an exciting time to be playing an instrument in God’s orchestra in Eastern Europe.

A new Kalderash friend in her beautiful traditional dress.

A new Kalderash friend in her beautiful traditional dress.