How to be a Roma church?

A few weeks ago, there was an incident at the new little Roma church in Darda.  During the church service, a usually gentle man fell into some kind of seizure— reacting aggressively to those who came around and tried to pray for him.  Đeno did not know if it was medical or if it was a result of evil spirits, but he prayed loudly and with authority.  Two people in the church ran out, terrified and visibly trembling—and have not returned since.

When the five of us discussed the possible causes for this man’s affliction over coffee and cookies after church the next Sunday, Đeno expressed his regret at his response.

“My Pentecostal pastors [at his Croatian church] insist that it must be demon possession…but I don’t think it is,” he said sadly, “I think the kind of prayer I did just made the situation worse.”

Later, with the help of another friend who has much experience in different Roma communities, we decided to help the Roma man—who has been suffering from strange seizures for years— go to a private doctor and obtain a firm diagnosis.  Unfortunately, sometimes Roma who go through the public health care system are marginalized and do not receive the best standard of care.

Đeno and Biljana went to visit one of the people who had run out of the service.  They thought his fear came from the fact that he wore an amulet, given to him by a magic man, around his neck to protect him. Since I was skeptical about this being the reason, I was surprised when they related their conversation with him.

“He had a dream that a Serbian Orthodox priest came to him and tore the amulet off his neck,”  they told me.  “And then the next day the amulet broke off of his neck on its own accord. He knows now that it is not good.”   Despite this conversation, he has not returned yet to the church.

Last night, we visited a Roma cultural night that takes place every year in Darda.  The dancing, whirling, bright colors, and music bore the passion and complexity found in this culture. As soon as the Roma music began, people in the audience had a difficult time staying still.  Before I knew it, the entire row behind me was standing and doing the foot dance together.

As we were driving back to Osijek, Đeno asked me what I thought about having dancing in the church..”It is so much a part of this culture—it seems natural that you could use it to worship Jesus,” I answered.  I knew our Dutch teammate, who grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church, had some reservations about this concept.  But once again, I found myself surprised at Đeno’s response to my comment.

“Some of the dances wouldn’t be good because they are about the sexual challenge between man and woman. But other dances would be okay, I think.”

I could think of a dozen responses to this, but I stayed silent, basking in the thrill of watching this process of the gospel confronting a culture.  The questions and issues arising in this little church are so different from the ones facing the church in North America—and yet watching such a process is enlightening and refreshing.  Perhaps churches can become so comfortable in their culture that they forget how to ask the questions or are no longer able  to see what questions they should be asking.   IMG_3733

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4 responses to “How to be a Roma church?

  1. This is a great post, Melody…vivid and descriptive narrative on “the gospel confronting the culture.” I like the self-reflective and open-ended question/statement at the end…

  2. Pingback: How to be a Roma Church: Part 2 | Balkan Voices

  3. Hi Melody Joy,
    I want to have a donut and coffee after church with you and talk life and what we should be asking. Miss you lots!
    Kelli Joy

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