“Please Jesus, help me. Please, I’m begging you, help me.” Suffering was evident as Jova poured out her heart to God during the communal prayer time in the little Darda church. I thought back to a year ago when we were visiting Roma houses and Đeno was teaching people how to pray. Back then, they would mumble a few words, barely audible. Now, people laid out their lives before God in the presence of the church—talking about what was on their heart, asking God for his help.
Still, I was constantly reminded that these were brand new believers. One old grandmother limped up to the front, her brightly kerchiefed head bowed and her hands clasped under her chin in front of the podium.
“God, show me if I have done anything against you. My leg hurts so much, I have so many problems—if I have offended you in some way I will change. But I know I haven’t done anything wrong…I am a good person.”
We decided we would have a time of testimonies each week. On good Friday, one of our members had been released from jail, where he was serving time for beating up his family a couple of years ago. He is a different man now, and with glowing face he shared how he testified about Jesus in prison, even to two murderers whom everyone else in the jail avoided out of fear. “After I told one man about Jesus,” he said, “I was blessed by God when the man offered me a cigarette for telling him such good news.” These are some of the memorable moments in the little Darda church!
As an American, I have learned that my pace of life can be more task-orientated then the pace of life here in the Balkans—instead, time for relationships takes more of a central role. Sometimes when I am rushing around, someone will say to me: “polako, polako” which means “slowly, slowly.” I even ride my bike faster then most people, and I have had friends tell me, “I tried to wave to you on your bike, but your head was down and you were biking too fast.”
Polako, polako…malo po malo. Slowly, slowly, little by little. These are the words for this little Darda church. When I see how their old way of thinking still so strongly influences their concept of God and his ways, it is a mirror into my own life. I can’t exactly see my own blindness—I need community to point me in the right way of thinking.
Later, after the service, we sat around in the circle and opened it up for questions. The animated discussion went from the state of our resurrected bodies, to the meaning of the 144,000 in Revelation, to the last judgement.
But when the man who had been in jail told Jova that she needed to forgive her ex-husband for all the evil he had done to her, emotions grew intense. She passionately listed all of his sins: He had forced her to live in a shack in the woods without running water, he drank constantly, and beat her so bad that once she was in a wheelchair, and because of the unstable home, all of her children(over 10) were taken away. This ongoing pain of the loss of her children was a hard burden to bear on a daily basis.How could she forgive?
We decided to pray for her and ask God to help her. As everyone went around and prayed for Jova, my heart swelled—it was the first time the church had prayed for each other instead of just themselves. The prayers were honest and heartfelt, and afterwards Jova was visibly moved with emotion.
Who can understand God as he actually is? Those of us who have been Christians for a long time certainly have more knowledge and can help others in the right direction. But we still see dimly through that glass—and by listening to these Roma pray, I suddenly see one of my blind spots. How often do I plan out my prayer so it sounds okay to others listening? How often do I carefully guard what I say so I can keep up a good appearance? These new Christians don’t have it all right, but surely God is pleased by their sincerity and their openness to speak about what is on their hearts.
Polako, polako…slowly slowly: This is certainly a better rhythm for spiritual formation than my madcap biking around Osijek.