Healing, Hospitality, and Coca-Cola: A story of another world

Everybody was talking about it in the haphazardly clumped and grimy Roma community—the woman who had lain in bed for four years and was now walking around in full health.  All options had been exhausted, both medical and witchcraft, and as she laid near death, a few followers of Jesus began coming  and praying for her.  Week by week she improved until she was completely restored.  For an impoverished community who glean their living sifting through trash and selling scrap metal,  suffer many physical ailments due to a lack of health care, remain largely illiterate and  have no plumbing or electricity, this was news worth talking about.

On Sunday night I accompanied a few people on their weekly trip to a Roma community:  Đ. and his wife B., their son S., and M.,  my translator.    Although a few different Roma households now believed in Jesus as a result of the family’s weekly sharing, they refused to all meet together in one house because of deep community conflicts.   Despite their blatant poverty, we were hospitably welcomed, most houses  offering us tall glasses of coca-cola.

At the first house, we were greeted by a toothless but smiling husband and wife.   I tried to not conspicuously gawk at the cave-like room, constructed of makeshift concrete blocks and cluttered with a couple battered pieces of furniture.  A few ancient black and white photographs, one of which appeared  to be the wife as a beautiful young girl, clung to the walls.   I sat down next to a table where a cloth-covered mysterious mound was home to countless flies.

As Đ. read from the Bible and shared, the couple remained hesitant and skeptical.   It was true they were amazed about the healed woman, and in fact were wondering if the same thing could happen to the toothless man who was having all sorts of leg pains.  But they were suspicious and confused about the differences between us and the Jehovah Witnesses who had been besieging the community for years and were not trusted by the Roma.

“They are very simple people and their view of life is very small, ” my translator said to me.

“I don’t blame them for being confused and mistrustful, ” I answered, furtively waving the flies away from my drink.

The third house we went to was more of a hovel—a tiny cement room held a  couch, a makeshift bed, and some  broken appliances.  Despite the darkness, the walls were  cheered by some oddly matched paintings and the broken stove was spruced up by a few drooping red silk roses.  The woman greeted us  with a robust hug and  the traditional three-kiss Serbian* greeting.   Despite her upbeat appearance, the sadness of her difficult life was etched into her face.   Although she now followed Jesus, she previously had been involved in witchcraft.  Now, she was deeply suspicious that her neighbors were putting curses on her. No amount of prayer or exhorting seemed to relieve her fears, but she seemed cheered as we left her for the next house.

Our fifth and final stop was the house of the healed woman herself, and although I was eager to meet her, my stomach was distended from all the coca-cola.  I was uncomfortably aware that my only restroom option was the family’s outhouse.  As yet another tall glass of coke was put in front of me by the beaming woman, I started giggling uncontrollably.   Perhaps it was the sugar and caffeine,  but it only got worse when the family started bringing out trays of chicken, bread,  pickles, and turkish coffee.  They tried to encourage me to take more and sit closer to the table, but I insisted that I was fine holding my plate.  Not two minutes later, as Đ. was reading from the Bible, I lost my grip on the chicken leg and it thunked against my chest and slid down to my lap.  I hurredly put it back on my plate and looked up just in time to catch S.’s amused eye.  Once again my giggles welled up and burst out of me.  It is situations like these that keep me humble, but thankfully Đ. was able to return to his sharing after my interruption.

This family, having witnessed firsthand their beloved mother and wife’s slow return to health eagerly leaned forward to hear Đ.’s exhortations.  I could see in their faces that they truly believed—at this point, their belief was completely based on experiential  knowledge of Jesus and the few Scriptures that Đ. had read and explained to them over the last few months.  However, they had disposed of all their venerated saint pictures**—a simple act of obedience in response to what they believed God was asking of them.

This blog entry cannot hold all of my impressions and thoughts from this six-hour outing.   I am intrigued by these people who live in a different world, separated by choice from the Croatian culture.  I will be going back.

*Although in Croatia, this particular Roma group is of Serbian background, thus also having religious inclinations toward the Serbian Orthodox Church. However, their religious practice would be a “folk Orthodox” mixed in with their own culture’s religious worldview.

**Click Serbian Orthodox Saint Pictures for a brief explanation regarding this point.


10 responses to “Healing, Hospitality, and Coca-Cola: A story of another world

  1. I suppose the Romas live separately from the Croatian culture because they do not regard it as theirs. They see themselves as a different people who, unfortunately are scattered all over Europe (kind of rootless).

    Serbian Orthodox Church’s Theology – individual’s cultural worldview is similar to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church where I heard that you’ll go to eternity because of your deeds here on earth.

    It seems it’s ‘ever-green’ there. Does it rain a lot? Whose castle was it? Glad you have a language translator. It was interesting to read!

  2. Hey Mel,
    Thanks for sharing stories of how you’re doing and how God is at work there. I could picture the Coca Cola-induced giggles so well! 🙂 I’ll be praying for continued grace as you settle into the culture.

    I had dinner with Russ & Sarah last night, & they said the new tenants had already moved out of our old place. Steve & Lisa’s insurance didn’t cover their 2 pitbulls (who apparently liked to bark ferociously at R & S from what was my bedroom window).

  3. mel, mel, mel! you crack me up. i laughed out loud when the chicken leg thunked and you were all giggles. but it truly is great to hear your stories and learn of the various cultures you are experiencing.

  4. Someone being healed by Jesus is ALWAYS worth talking about.

    Thanks for your good humor, openness, and truth. Keep writing.

  5. Oh how I love sharing in this with you…AM passed along your blog.
    And we love her…beyond words…
    And your brother (in a non-creepy-sorta-way)
    And your dad’s last escapade was awesome.
    We’ll be praying for you Melody and following along in your adventure.
    Thank you for sharing….

  6. Instead of “Three cups of Tea” you title it Three cups of cola.” May your faith increase my friend.

  7. Pingback: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain | Balkan Voices

  8. Pingback: Happily ever after? The stuff of fairytales and not faith. | Balkan Voices

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