Who has the right to name us?

“All these names are given to us by others,” said Miki, a Roma pastor from Serbia. In his presentation on Roma identity at the 2nd European Roma conference, he was listing different names people call the Roma.  “But who has the right to name us, to tell us who we are?”


Picture by the Good Story Team.(thegoodstory.co)

Claiming identity in Christ, which liberates from shame and self-rejection, also revitalizes Roma identity.  This was just one of the major themes emerging from the conference.

“I did not feel worthy to sit with the non-Roma,” one pastor said.

“Even though I ‘look’ Roma because of my skin, I was educated and so I did not fit the expectation others have of  who the Roma are.  So when they would ask me if I was Roma, I would say no, because I did not want to be rejected,” another pastor said.

Overcoming rejection and embracing identity in Christ is key to transformation.  But this concept is not just about ethnicity—later on, I applied Miki’s question to gender issues at the women’s panel.

“Who has the right to tell you who you are as a woman?” I asked, referencing Jesus’ call of ‘Daughter’ to the bleeding woman in the gospels .  We had been having a  lively discussion on


Picture by the Good Story Team.(thegoodstory.co)

women’s issues, the place of Roma women in ministry, and sharing personal stories and reflections.  To my surprise, the room had filled up with both men and women—though this might have been because (maybe providentially) there was no Romanian translator at another workshop.  Roma men talked about the place they gave their wives in ministry.  Roma women talked about their views of their role in ministry.  Non-Roma asked probing questions and listened.  As the time grew to a close, it was difficult to shut down the conversation, as each insisted on having a voice and opinion in the discussion.

This robust discussion was one of my highlights at the conference—connecting ministry, personal story, theology, and culture in a space where everyone wanted to share and contribute.

But Roma claiming identity in Christ is only part of the transformative process. Non-Roma must also understand that every human is God’s sacred image bearer. “We have no right to say who is worthy or worthless because no one chooses where and when to be born,” Miki points out. Without a mutual recognition of the ‘other’ as our brother and sister—across ethnic and gender barriers—the church cannot have a widespread prophetic voice to a society growing ever more divided by fear and suspicion.


Picture by the Good Story Team.(thegoodstory.co)

“Who told you who you are?  Who told you how much you are worth?” Miki asked the audience.

Nelu, another Roma pastor from Romania, pointed out that in the Romanian, Jesus’ exhortation to the hemorrhaging woman translates into the word ‘dare.’

Accepting our true identity also necessitates action, a courageous movement into life. Dare to step forward, to walk in peace, to be freed from suffering.

“Don’t be led by your problems,” Nelu challenged his workshop participants, “dare to be led by Jesus.”


Trust the Process

“It’s the first time I’ve been in a place with so many different cultures and countries,” a Roma man from a small village in Romania said to me. “To see and hear what is happening…and we are all serving the Roma!  It gets me excited to do more…to keep going!”

My favorite part of this conference thus far is to watch the connections happening before my eyes.  Talking to some people from Poland, a man from Belarus appeared with a woman who could speak Russian and English, in hopes to talk to us.

“Where are you from and what are you doing?” he asked in Russian.  They fumbled around with languages for a couple of minutes, trying to communicate.  Finally, the man from Belarus says in Romani, “Do you speak Romani?”

“Of course!” the man from Poland answered.  And they were off—connecting—finding out about each other, their ministries, and what things were like in the other’s area.

I realized an important point today listening in our regional meetings.  Connecting is necessary for building trust—and you can’t really partner together without having trust. In fact, many alleged partnerships are, quite frankly, illusions, because for one reason or another, people feel unable to be honest with each other.  Hearing people from my region name the problems and issues that keep us from trusting each other and working with each other was a powerful step on this journey.

It is also important to listen carefully to what constant rejection does to someone’s spirit.  I’ve listened to such stories before, but it never fails to wound me that Roma have felt it necessary to deny being Roma for fear of being rejected.  “At what point did you decide or feel healed enough to embrace your identity?” I ask.


Surprised by a Roma kindergarten doing a dance for us!.  “It was a process,” he answered, “I wanted to be different and I prayed about it, and God completely healed my sense of self-worth.”

That first night, I felt joy and wonder as representatives from 28 different countries stood up and waved to cheers of welcome.  Our first word of exhortation that night was about the blessing of unity—complemented the next morning by a reminder that growth in the Christian life is a movement of downward mobility.  Unity is impossible with everyone stretching for the first position.

So even through the first day jitters of complicated logistics being worked out, translation glitches, and people missing buses from hostels, I remind myself to trust the process. The process of the Holy Spirit breaking down barriers, revealing truth, building up love and service—all this is also happening at the conference.  And the journey continues…