“But what does it mean that we are created in the image of God? Do we look like him?”
“How did the tree of knowledge open their eyes? What was really different afterward?”
“Did God curse them directly, or the land, or both?”
The questions were not easy, particularly when thinking about trying to clothe them in culturally appropriate descriptions. There is a deep-seated belief among some Roma that they are cursed—a legend recounts one Roma who stole a nail from the cross of Christ— thus explaining why they are despised and poor. Speaking about the curse in Genesis 3, therefore, is a sensitive matter.
This was the third Sunday of the new Roma church in Darda—the village I have been visiting for the last year and a half. The first service was a big celebration—Roma pastors traveled from Serbia, a Roma music group led the singing, Croatian pastors attended to bless the church, and more than 100 people showed up to enjoy the occasion. After the service, a feast of two roast pigs further marked the day as one to remember. I had been wildly excited, feeling privileged and awed to have been a witness to this process. A year and a half ago, the first Roma couple had decided to follow Jesus after the wife had been healed. This was followed by other conversions and a few baptisms. Now, Roma believers
stood proudly waiting to greet the visitors, rushing around serving the roast pig to people, cleaning up, and generally taking ownership of their church.
But that was the first week. Now it was painfully apparent that the new believers knew next to nothing about the Biblical story. And I was worried—were we imposing some form of a Croatian Pentecostal church upon them? All of my theological and cross-cultural training swirled around my head as I sat among my team—five people who span four cultures, three languages, and a variety of theological viewpoints— listening to the discussion of Genesis 1-3. I had thought the sermon, preached by one of our team, was very clear, but the questions being asked were a reminder that cultures communicate with different symbols and images.
One man thought that Adam and Eve were literally blind before their “eyes were opened” when they ate the apple.
Another woman thought the apple contained a physical poison that oozed its way through their bodies and affected their offspring.
Another man thought that the apple gave certain powers that God had to restrain.
I didn’t agree with all the answers given, and I continue to wrestle with the reality of having little control over outcomes. In fact, I have no idea what will happen with this fledgling church. But the truth is this: God was already at work in the village, and it is the Spirit who carried things this far. Even more, God brought together an unlikely group of five people with different backgrounds, cultures, and languages, who share a love and respect for one another and for the Roma. We must choose to believe that this fragile group of new believers will continue to follow Jesus, spreading the message of hope and reconciliation in a way that transforms the village—and this choice is certainly an act of faith.
“I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” I Corinthians 3:6,7