As we turned the corner leading into the Roma village, we saw a massive sea of yellow-shirted kids sprinting toward our vans. “Oh my lands!” I thought, already tired from the morning activities with over 200 kids. I was volunteering at a children’s festival in a Roma village— three long but rewarding days with irrepressibly exuberant children learning about Jesus in a message contextualized for their particular culture.
This small Roma village in Eastern Croatia is a complex fusion of various Roma languages, spiritualities, and politics: Roma clans from Kosovo and Turkey with Muslim overtones are not well-received by the other Roma groups who have an Orthodox background. According to one Roma man, each group has its own language and asserts their language as the “correct” Roma language. Because of these tensions as well as perhaps other reasons, the police are frequent visitors to this village.
The Bayash, one Roma group which is the particular focus of the ministry sponsoring the festival, is burdened with an oppressive history. Enslaved in Romania for 400 years, they eventually gained their freedom near the end of the 19th century. Their nation’s musical anthem is perhaps a picture of their self-concept, proclaiming that they are cursed by God since they stole a nail from Jesus’ cross. Consequently, one of the festival’s themes highlighted God as their refuge who is for them and not against them.
On the last day of the festival, a visiting Roma music group from Romania performed a concert for the adults in the field. Roma worship is a very charismatic affair, and as the concert went on, the people pressed closer and closer to the performers until they formed a tight circle. Some people were just staring bemusedly at the singing and preaching, while others were obviously very engaged.
At one point, the music stopped and one performer began passionately and loudly praying. Suddenly, a rainbow phenomenon appeared over the sun against the blue sky. I have seen rainbow sun halos before, but this was more like bright rainbow colors slashing through the sun. It was so startling that everyone began pointing and looking at the sky and some kids began running across the field shouting, “It’s Jesus Christ!” I could see something happening in the front of the crowd: some adults and children were weeping, and the Romanians were praying for various people.
Coincidence or not, what to make of the timing of this sun phenomenon? Would such an event only feed superstitions for a people whose worldview is at least partially crafted by their own folk religions mixed with pieces of Islam and Orthodoxy? Or, if it was interpreted as a supernatural sign, could it help illuminate a true glimpse of God? Most of the festival volunteers did not really know what to make of it, fearing to “over-spiritualize” and yet recognizing it as a unique and beautiful occurrence.
As for me, there were a few seconds— when the kids were grabbing my arms and pointing at the sky, and I turned to look—there were a few seconds when time seemed to slow and I felt something descend on the crowd as I squinted against the sun’s rainbow glare, a something that filled me with a moment of involuntary awe and sent goosebumps racing up my arms.
Later, as I was leaving the festival, I was struck by the thought of the Biblical meaning of the rainbow, the meaning of which the kids had learned just two days ago when they heard the story of Noah and the ark. A covenantal promise between God and all creatures on the earth—a promise that inherently opposes a curse.
To find out more about this Roma ministry, click Roma Bible Union