“Somebody set our neighbor’s pig on fire, and only a few people went to go help him—the rest just watched,” the woman told us, clearly agitated at such passivity.
This woman had warmly welcomed us into her house, scrambling around to find enough cups to serve us Turkish coffee and coca-cola. As she worked, she animatedly shared both village and personal news. I felt tremendous sadness when she told us of her five abortions—she was only 21. Her sincerity was evident, however, when she expressed the joy and peace she felt while reading the New Testament.
But the story of the burning pig smoldered in the back of my mind for the rest of the evening.
I hadn’t planned to go to the Roma village yesterday evening but there had been an unfortunate incident a few weeks ago. A good friend of mine had unintentionally committed a cultural taboo—doing something that while normal in both American and Croatian culture, was not acceptable in Roma culture. The fallout had been huge—false rumors and talk were spreading about my friend and we had heard that she and her ministry partner would no longer be welcomed in the village.
My partners, B. and Đ., both Roma themselves and much respected in the village, decided to confront the issue head-on. So last night, all four were going to visit some of the families. At the last minute, I decided to tag along to support my friend through prayer and presence.
The five of us prayed in the car before going into the village, but I had no idea what would happen when we set out—would people scream at us? Be angry? I was surprised to find us welcomed into every house, and although the questions about the unfortunate incident came up, one question dominated the evening: Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you!
It turned out to be one of those memorable evenings—where life’s meaning and purpose seem a little clearer than normal, when your spirit quivers in awe at the mysterious sense of the Spirit, when you feel the deep satisfaction of being united with a cross-cultural team in spirit and truth. Please come again soon, the families said, some having tears in their eyes after we prayed for them.
The hunger for God in this village is real—and people pour out their problems of money, health concerns, and leaking houses. And yet, it is no easy matter to encourage fragile seeds to take root and bear fruit in this context. The Roma come easily to Jesus, one Roma pastor told me. But those who bear evidence of blossoming fruit are much fewer.
As I reflected on the events of the evening, the story of the burning pig sparked my full attention once more. Pigs are a valuable commodity, a source of livelihood and food—therefore, it is no small tragedy to lose your pig. The image loomed large in my mind of a few people trying to put the fire out while the rest of the neighbors stood and watched. It reminded me of an incident the month before—during a fight between two families, a man started hitting a woman in the head with a metal pipe without intervention from the watching neighbors.
What are the signs of true transformation in this Roma village? Perhaps when neighbors begin to love one another, manifested in acts of service, peace, and sharing. When your pig becomes my pig, so that if something happens to you, I act as if it is happening to me. Who is my neighbor? Jesus was asked by a man hoping to prove his eternal worth. And I realize that in Jesus’ criteria, I myself often fail miserably to truly love my neighbor. Would I rush to save my neighbor’s pig, or stand hesitating and fearful on the sidelines?