He crooned over the accordion, an artist coaxing out the unique melody that only he could hear. I sat transfixed, mesmerized by the yearning on the singer’s face:
“Living God, you have pulled me from a dark place
How can I not serve you forever?”
The musicians, from one of the Roma churches in Southern Serbia, were playing
a song—reminiscent of the Psalms—written by a Roma after his conversion. This group had come up for the weekend to do some evangelism and encourage the handful of us who have been frequenting Darda, a Roma village outside of Osijek. We had just spent most of the day in Darda, where we visited houses, prayed for people, played music, drank coca-cola, and the visiting Roma pastor preached an evangelistic message. When we returned to Osijek, I was exhausted and began heading to my bicycle.
“Let’s be together for a little bit and drink some coffee,” my friend suggested—Croatian code for “the night is far from over.” At first, the discussion remained serious, the visiting pastor giving his input about how we should move forward with the people in the village. Eventually, he retired for the night and I once more prepared to go.
“Stay a little longer,” my friend pleaded with me, “and then we will drive you home.” My head ached from trying to understand Croatian for so many hours, but I stopped my feeble protests when the accordion player, who used to play with one of the most famous orchestras in Serbia, started to speak.
“I will tell you how I was converted four years ago, ” he began, “a story I have not even told my church. For many years, I had everything you could want: fame, money….” He told his story unhurriedly and with deep emotion, at times pausing as if to remember the specific feelings attached to an event, such as when his son and daughter-in-law were miraculously unharmed in a terrible automobile accident.
This story appeared to warm up the rest of the group and the storytelling continued.
“We did not win our Roma easily in Leskovac,” the singer began softly. “They were won through fervent, constant prayer and fasting. And this is what I commit to you…that in Leskovac, we will begin to pray and fast for Darda.”
After these stories, the music began—first wild and intoxicating, then dropping to a reflective passion, and then lifting us back up to a certain headiness, the harmonies soaring together through the hauntingly minor strains.
Before I knew it, the rousing melodies infected my blood —I rose to join my friends who had formed a circle and we began to dance. Amazed, I watched my friends, the Roma couple whom I accompany to Darda, skillfully maneuver their footwork. We let the music fill our souls as we danced and sang until the singer was hoarse and the drummer had too much pain in his hand.
“Enough!” They said with big smiles on their faces. By this time, it was late— we had been singing, dancing, and talking for almost four hours.
My spirit was revived, refreshed, celebrating God in the unique way of the Roma—a people I know God holds close to his heart.