When I first met her, I immediately noticed the sadness in her bright blue eyes, her shyness, her quiet reluctance to be part of the group. If the women were in a circle talking, she would be on the outside. She always seemed to be waiting, holding herself back—but in this reticence I sensed that she longed to be included, longed to belong, to be wanted. I had a feeling that this was not something she had often, if ever, experienced in her life.
It was this deep longing, I believe, that drew her to continue coming to the Little Darda Church. Like many others, J.’s story is laden with sadness (click here for poem I wrote based on several women’s stories). As a young Croatian woman, she ran off and married an older Roma man, much to her family’s chagrin and subsequent rejection. The marriage was far from easy, secure, or peaceful. She had many children, and all of them were taken away from her by the state because of their dismal living conditions.
Her lost children are a deep, unhealed wound that is never far from her mind and heart.
But she and her husband began attending any event or church service that we hosted. She started writing simple poems and songs to God that she would share in front of the church. Her prayers were always the same—for her children, for the leadership of the church, for God’s help.
She and her husband attended the Roma worship conference that was in Osijek a few weeks ago—and in front of all the participants and Roma pastors she spoke up and talked about her financial needs and worries. At first I was worried about how people would respond, because her sharing could easily be interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as asking for money. But her story was probably familiar to many in the room, and one woman got up, laid hands on her, and prayed passionately for her.
When she finished praying, she embraced J. and kissed her on her cheek. I could see J.’s face clearly from where I was sitting, and I saw it—the hunger for love, the delight of being accepted, the dignity and worth that that kiss somehow bestowed upon her.
Last weekend we hosted our monthly kid’s club in the Roma village in Darda. I saw J. and her husband walk up to watch the activities unfolding on the hot, green field and I had a sudden flash of insight. I called her over and asked her if she could assist me with my group. She agreed, and together we facilitated the children’s Bible story, the workbook time, the craft, and the games. When I saw her sitting in the circle, one little girl in her lap and two more on either side as she, with her rudimentary education, instructed the children through their workbooks, I almost choked up. Nothing could ever replace the children she lost, but how could I not recognize God’s unexpected gifts along her path to redemption and transformation?
The next day at Little Darda Church she was still beaming. “I slept the whole night through,” she told me, smiling. “I didn’t wake up until 9 a.m.! That never happens. And when I woke up, it was as if God lifted me up and gave me joy.” She paused and repeated the phrase. “God lifted me up. I usually always feel so sad, but today I feel happy.”
How can one better understand the quality of God’s redeeming love? By watching the slow transformation of someone—from unloved to loved, from unwanted to wanted, from marginalized to belonging.
“Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.” Hosea 2:14-15