Stepping into a Roma village after so many weeks of being absent, I keenly felt my separation. The language, like sticky oatmeal on my tongue, came out muffled and garbled, many syllables sliding down my throat before I could utter them. I felt slightly disoriented—nothing changed in the village while I had been traveling all over the world, and this dissonance brought me a sense of shame at the privileges often open to me. Since my understanding of the language regressed, I stood awkwardly as my friend was swamped by a dozen welcoming kids who couldn’t stop hugging her and chattering excitedly.
I sat silently observing in one house as my friend presented a difficult teaching in Luke 6:27-36: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt…”
The couple was hunched over the scripture, laboriously reading it aloud, trying to understand what these words could mean.
“So am I just to let my neighbor across the street continue to attack me?” the husband asked, referring to an incident from yesterday.
“So when my husband’s brother tried to rape me I was not supposed to fight back?” She looked at me with sparks of defiance in her eyes.
My friend looked at me. “How does this apply to their situation?” she asked me in English. For the Roma, the meaning of these verses cannot be conveniently disembodied from their practical day-to-day existence—there are many fights and ongoing violence in the Roma villages.
Suddenly, the gravity of what we were doing struck me. This couple, along with others, are struggling to understand the scripture…and what it means for their lives. How easy it would be to teach something wrong, to lead them down a different path.
My ongoing weakness and inadequacy in the Roma villages continues to remind me that it is God’s mission, and the Holy Spirit is not the personal butler of the educated. Rather, the Holy Spirit is working through Scripture, dreams, and other ways in order to breathe life into the tender yet resilient seed of the kingdom that is growing in this village.
“I was so afraid for the situation my daughter is in, ” another older woman told my friend at the next house. “But then I had a dream I was at the seashore, although I have never seen the Croatian coast. I was looking at the sea, and all of a sudden you came walking out of the sea and gave me a big hug, telling me that things were okay. After that, I felt a sense of peace knowing God was in control.”
When we prayed with this woman and her son, both followers of Christ, there was a moment—when the prayers stopped and we were suddenly overcome by a silent awe—that we worshiped in the presence of God.
How badly I want to feel in control, to feel strong, and fluent and able to accomplish something! But perhaps I would then miss the mystery of the kingdom of God—a mystery easier to see if you come as a child curiously poking into unexpected places.
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”