Stepping back into the Little Darda Church yesterday was a warm and delicious homecoming—my church where few can say my name and consequently I have been dubbed “Melek,” a strange but not distasteful nickname. I was greeted with robust kisses and hugs from the women, firm handshakes from the men. They threatened to cut up my passport so I couldn’t leave the country again. One old grandmother jokingly tied her headscarf around my leg to demonstrate how she would keep me here. I felt unexpectedly loved and blessed by my homecoming.
But it turns out it that mine was not the only homecoming yesterday. I was amazed to see the man who had been trying to stir up trouble against us enter the church with his daughter—a surprise homecoming nobody expected. During our communal prayer time, one woman thanked God for his return and prayed for forgiveness if she had done anything to offend the man. The man himself, his voice cracking and breaking with great emotion, asked forgiveness from God for his opposition to the church. When Đeno stood up to preach, he also, with tear-filled eyes, prayed for forgiveness if he had done anything wrong.
After the sermon, we had communion—a fitting event in light of what had happened. I smiled at the man as I served him the bread and wondered how it felt for him to partake in the church after so many months away. Like a slow-forming piece of clay at the potter’s wheel, the changes in this young church are undeniably creating something different out of its shapeless beginnings.
This is what I love about the Roma in the communities I have visited—their vulnerability, their emotional fervor, their willingness to be communally repentant and speak the issues as they really are. I have never been in a church where people pray so openly—maybe it’s cultural or maybe it’s because the Little Darda Church doesn’t know any better. Regardless, amidst all the warts and squabbles and issues, the chapter from yesterday’s story offers a striking picture of the kingdom—a group of people, circled around the Lord’s table, walking in repentance and practicing forgiveness.