As I entered the dimly lit theater, I heard the sound of an uproarious crowd anticipating the coming performances. Kids ran up and down the center aisle, toddlers were being passed over the audience from one family member to another, and traditional Roma music blared out from behind the theater’s curtain. “Amerikanka!” I turned to see some of the Roma kids we had visited that day waving and grinning at us from their seats. They yelled out random English words, making me laugh out loud: “Very good, very good, FBI!” they shouted. One of our Roma friends ran up the aisle to bring us to a seat. The long walk to the front row made me self-consciously realize how much of an outsider I was in the room— yet I did not feel unwelcoming eyes on me, but merely curious ones.
When I am in Osijek on Sundays, I accompany a Christian Roma family to a nearby Roma community to visit a series of homes where we build relationships and often share the good news of Jesus. We always conclude our visits by having lunch at the family whose mother was miraculously healed after being in bed for four years (Click here to read that story.) There, they insist on treating us like royalty, waiting on us hand and foot and serving coffee, food, and dessert. This past Sunday, we noticed that some of the teenage girls had rags tied up in their hair (their way of creating curls), and we were invited to their cultural dance at the nearby theater house.
Even when the performance began, the noisy hubbub did not subside, making it difficult to hear the two young women describing what we were about to see. As three men, each sandwiched between two women in brightly colored, traditional Roma dresses, emerged onto the stage, I really had no idea what to expect. I was amazed to see their method of dancing which involves continuous, fast hopping on alternating feet while performing the actual dance.
Overcome by the loud, intoxicating music and the whirling colors, I allowed myself to be pulled into this surprising experience. I was struck by a profound dichotomy: I had just finished visiting impoverished families in tumbledown shacks, surrounded by mud and manure, and now I was immersed in this explosion of beautiful cultural expression. These were the disdained peoples of Europe? What would happen if the redemption promised in the Good News took root in this culture—transforming the poverty and brokenness— so that the world could see the Roma as one of the many beautiful and unique trees displayed in God’s vast garden of cultures?
I left feeling very privileged that I had been able to catch a glimpse beyond the poverty, beyond the many problems and difficulties the Roma face. But isn’t that glimpse really how God sees the Roma anyway?