‘You will always be gadjo': Reflections on Identity

“You will always be gadjo*,” the Roma pastor said to us, smiling, meant partly in jest and partly in seriousness.

I felt something rise up in me…a resistance…a protest…and a feeling of rejection.

“Well, yes, ” I thought, “Yes…and…no.”

Of course I will always be an outsider to Roma culture; in fact, sometimes I consider myself a double outsider because I am constantly interacting with two cultures—Croatian and Roma.  I will never be Croatian, I will never be Roma. I will always be an American.


I have a theological problem with what the pastor said, because I knew that he was not just necessarily meaning on the ethnic-cultural level; the implications, when you know the history between Roma and non-Roma in Eastern Europe, go much deeper than this.

Because although I am an outsider, and will always be so, I am also very much an insider in terms of our most essential identities  being children of God.  And given the multitude of problems that exist between various cultures and ethnicities worldwide, it is here we need to focus—because it is here our prophetic voice can perhaps be heard with the most dissonant clang.

But perhaps this is easy for me to claim, given that I am coming from the West..from America, which bears all the unfortunate associations of self-imposing power and wealth.

“Yes, yes, we are children of God FIRST,” I can claim.

But what does it look like from  the other position, when you are not consciously or unconsciously nestled in structures of power?

And is my simple utterance of this more of a naive Americanism more than anything else?

Lately I am hard at work on a piece of writing in which I argue that reconciliation and unity between Roma and gadjo is the heart of God’s mission in Eastern Europe.

There is a reason that Paul uses the word ‘enmity’ when he is talking about the walls between humans, although of course he is specifically talking about Jews and Gentiles.  We humans tend to view the ‘other’ with suspicion, hostility, and  judgement, particularly when there is a centuries-old foundation that forms the archetype for such attitudes.

But it was in his flesh and  through the cross that he put to death the enmity, establishing peace between groups.

Transformed relationships are the flowering of the gospel; unity is how others will understand God’s love.

How then can we continue to view the ‘other’—even while respecting and enjoying their particular cultures—first and foremost through the  lens of nation and ethnicity?

I am open to any thoughts or challenges on this…

*Gadjo is word for being non-Roma

How a pig changed everything

'I am selling fat pigs'

‘I am selling fat pigs’

“I was the first Roma Pentecostal believer in this region, ” the old pastor said, his  enthusiasm and energy at odds with his age and the obvious handicaps left by a stroke.  “I will tell you a story of how the revival started among the Roma people in Transcarpathia!”

“It was 1955, and a Roma man came to a certain village here in Ukraine with some buckets to search for food for his family.  He came upon an Adventist Church and asked the people for some milk for his children.

‘We will give you some milk, but first just come in to our service,’ they said.  Afterwards, they gave him food and milk and he began to come every Saturday to the service, eventually becoming a believer.

But he did not tell anyone about it in his Roma village, because he did not want to share the food and milk he was getting every Saturday.

Eventually, he could not keep quiet any longer and he told his sister about it.  She listened about God and began to share with the rest of the village.

But it was a very difficult message for our Roma people because Adventists don’t eat pork meat and cannot work on Saturday.  And, our Roma people really love pork meat.  But a few converted anyway.

My sister’s husband’s family were converted, but they would eat pork meat in secret. Eventually, they went to Kazakhstan to make bricks and earn some money.  When they came back, they met a gadjo (non-Roma) man with a pig.

‘I will sell you this pig,’ the man said to him.  ‘Ask some of your Gypsy people; maybe they will want to buy the pig.’

The Roma man looked all around him to make sure no Adventists were watching.

‘No, I will buy this pig!’ he exclaimed.  So he bought the pig, but one Adventist saw him and followed him secretly to see what he would do with it.  He watched while the family  slaughtered it and began to cook it over the fire.

So this man went back to the church and told everyone that the Roma family was eating pork meat.

When the Roma man came the next Saturday, the people kicked him out of the church.  ‘Until Jesus comes for the second time,’ they exclaimed, ‘we will not allow any more Gypsies in our church!’

The next Saturday, the Roma believers, having no idea what had happened, showed up for the service—but the deacons were waiting at the gate. ‘Go home, you cannot come in anymore,’ they said.

The Roma went back to their village and asked themselves, ‘What will we do now?’

But there was one gadjo deacon who did not like what had happened and wanted to go to the Roma village.  So he came to the village and began to preach to them, starting a little house group with the small group of believers.

And he too, was kicked out of the Adventist Church.

At this time, now around 1975 or 1978, there were some Pentecostals in another part of Ukraine who wanted to come to Transcarpathia because they heard there were many Roma there.

They came and found this small house group and began to preach to the villages.  God began to work and the Holy Spirit began to move, and a great awakening started at that time. And everyone became Pentecostals—now there are hardly any Adventists.

And that is how the Roma became Pentecostals instead of Adventists and how the revival started in Transcarpathia.”IMG_0501_2

***Afterword: This pastor estimates that today in the Transcarpthian region in Ukraine, among the Roma there are an estimated 12 Pentecostal churches, 12 Charismatic, and 2 Baptist.

***Although this oral history account differs from the brief historical study done in Transcarpathia by Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov on the Roma Baptists and Pentecostals, this only points to the need to collect more oral history to understand the various factors contributing to the spread of Christianity among the Roma in Transcarpathia.