My arrival in Osijek, Croatia on Saturday coincided with a visiting music group from a Roma church located in Serbia. The Roma people, otherwise known as Gypsies, have long been the despised people of Europe, characterized as thieves and beggars, uneducated and impoverished. Indeed, you often see Roma begging outside of tourist destinations or trailing a small child as they make their way through a tram car, speaking softly and pleadingly with words I do not understand.
When I was here almost three years ago, I had heard the astonishing rumor that the largest evangelical church in Serbia was Roma. Yesterday, I asked M., the pastor’s son, about the size of his church. After conferring with his father and the other musicians, they all agreed that it numbered about 500 hundred, including children. In this area of the world, that is a mega church.
Another stereotype regarding the Roma is their musical ability, which in this case was accurate. They led worship on Sunday morning at the small church located here at the seminary, and their music was both evocative and jubilant. M. has a particular gifting on the violin, and his haunting melodies soared above the other music, beckoning tantalizingly toward an unseen place.
“God is doing amazing things among the Roma people,” he told me after the service, his face bright and eyes gleaming. “God is healing a lot of cancer and doing many miracles. I have seen it myself.”
Indeed, M. was not speaking abstractly. His own family’s conversion twenty-five years ago was directly related to a miraculous healing. At the time, his father was professor of music as a result of his father’s determination to educate his sons. He was also a part of the Fellowship of Communism* and had a strong hatred toward Christians. When M. was four, his older brother, T., came down with throat cancer. After numerous treatments, his health declined and nothing proved effective. When the doctor informed them that T. had three weeks to live, his mother grew close to losing her mind and his father contemplated suicide.
One day, some Christians came to their door and asked to pray for their son. Desperate and beaten down, they agreed. Shortly after, M. and his mother began attending church, and the father soon joined them. T. began to get better, and six months later when they visited a doctor in Belgrade, he was declared free from cancer.
The father, now the pastor at the church, dedicates himself to reaching out to not only his own Roma community, but also communities in Croatia and Serbia.
“Roma are a despised people, but God has not forgotten the Roma people,” the pastor shared as a group of people laid their hands on the music group and prayed for them. “Now Jesus searches for the Roma.” His voice choked up and he could barely finish. “Please keep praying for us. Pray for the Roma people so that they would come to know God.”
Stay tuned for more of this story as I plan to visit this church and other Roma communities to see for myself what Jesus is doing among peoples that capture his heart, for he knows what it is to be despised and rejected.
*At that time, Serbia was part of Communist Yugoslavia.