Monthly Archives: October 2013

Sensationalism and Xenophobia—A response to the alleged Greek Roma kidnapping

A few days ago, police conducted a raid in a Roma community in Greece, discovering a little white girl with her two dark-skinned parents.  Although this story has been scattered over various news sources, click here for the story if you are unaware of the details.

Judging from the numerous angles the news sources have taken, this story triggered a multi-layered response:  it has played into the ongoing international fascination with the Roma, refueled the centuries old myth that “Gypsies steal children,”  revived  hope for those who agonize over their own missing children, and reinforced Roma prejudice and suspicion that lurks both explicitly and implicitly in Europe.

I must first point out that perhaps a crime was indeed  committed, and if this is so,  the couple should be held accountable. But many facts are obscured and confusing about the story and it is hard to understand what has actually happened.  Unfortunately, simply because it involves a Roma couple, it is not just an isolated case investigating a  possible kidnapping. Rather, all Roma are put on a prosecutor’s witness stand—a layered Pandora’s box with sinister overtones.

Here are some implicit implications in the media messages and the action of the law enforcement:

1. Gypsies, who are often dark skinned, should not have light skinned children.  If they do have a light-skinned child, they must have done something wrong.  Already, other countries are acting on this assumption:  Blond Girl, 7, removed from Dublin Roma family.

In what other cultural context would it be assumed that because an offspring looks different than the parents, the parents must have abducted the child? Is it not possible for a Roma family to adopt a non-Roma child?

2. The little girl, Maria, has been dubbed the “blond angel.”  Even this terminology sets up a dichotomy between the whiteness—and therefore goodness—of the girl, as opposed to her dark-skinned Gypsy parents.

3. The sensationalism of this story obscures the real issues.  There are, in fact, serious issues of child trafficking, crime rings, and prostitution that need to be investigated and prosecuted.  In fact, a Croatian Roma crime ring involving children was just recently discovered. Of course, such crimes exist in every context—but few other cultures have to bear the weight of guilt from one person’s illegal actions as do the Roma.

The Roma community in Greece expressed fear and anger when the police searched the entire community: “There is no buying and selling of children here,” Christos Lioupis,  a man who lives in the Roma community but is not of them, told the Associated Press. “The other Roma are not to blame. These are family people. After this event, the police have been searching everyone. Isn’t this racist?”

We know there is an insidious proliferation of  human trafficking found throughout the globe in numerous different cultures and contexts, but many of us do not realize the extent of a rampant Anti-Gypsyism, spread throughout the European continent.  While I do not want to  trivialize, reduce, or dehumanize little Maria’s fate to merely  “issues,”  it is also important to note that this case unintentionally  brings both of these serious issues to light.

The media has an important role to play in how the general public understands and responds to this situation.  The European Roma Rights Center just issued a plea for responsible reporting, restraint, and a full examination of all facts before assumptions are made, citing current example of skinheads in Serbia trying to take a two year old boy away from a Roma couple since he “wasn’t as dark as his parents.”  ERRC states: “Criminality is not related to ethnicity. Roma children are, however, much more likely to be put into state care, trapped in segregated education, and forcibly evicted from their homes. These are the stories that don’t make it to the front page.”

This story is important—if there has been a kidnapping, it needs to be rectified and brought to justice. I fervently hope that the couple is telling the truth and the child was given to them in good faith.  But the story cannot be separated from the wider historical and cultural context—a context  which 10-12 million Roma in Europe face each day.

Click Here for a great perspective on the situation from a Roma writer, Oksana Marafioti, who wrote the excellent book American Gypsy: A Memoir

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Dreams and Visions—What role do they play in Roma discipleship?

Recently, we were surprised to find out J., one of our baptized believers in the Little Darda Church, had taken her children through an Islamic religious ritual.  Her husband identifies as a Muslim, although he is non-practicing.   It is also unclear as to the ritual’s meaning, and whether it even conflicted with J.’s new Christian faith—but my suspicion is that it was a ritual diluted by other kinds of  spirituality.

I reflected on this incident in light of our leadership team’s  struggle to find a cultural key to communicate in ways the people can truly understand.  I have begun to observe that the people often give us answers they think we want to hear—not out of an attempt to deceive or manipulate, but because they want to get it right. But lack of understanding certainly does not lead to transformation.

Some might call this "church."

Missiologists talk about penetrating layers of culture with the gospel—beyond the surface level of behaviors and ideas, there is a much deeper level referred to as an “allegiance encounter” which deals with assumptions of reality and core values.*  This is the level where lasting transformation takes place. And this is the level that is so difficult to ascertain while you are working cross-culturally.

One of our leadership team went to visit J., and J. told her that Jesus had appeared to her in a dream and said, “I don’t know your name, but I know your prayers are sincere, and therefore I will answer them.  You decided to go  this way [to follow me], so you cannot anymore serve other gods, you can only serve me.”

After that, she woke up in the morning and felt very happy.  Her phone rang and  she was surprised to find her daughter on the other end of the line—for many years they had not spoken. Her daughter  asked whether she was cooking fish today and whether she could come over and visit.  One of J.’s  prayers had been for reconciliation with her daughter, so she interpreted the vision as a true message from Jesus.

Many in Roma communities have visions, so the vision itself did not surprise me. However, although somewhat confusing (if it was Jesus, why did he say that he didn’t know her name?), it caused me to reflect on the role visions can play in discipleship—a way to access those deeper “allegiance levels.”  This presents some obvious subjective problems, but several Roma leaders in various communities take people’s visions seriously, test them, and then pronounce if they are true or not.

Recently, I was reading Daniel 1, and was struck by a verse 17:  “To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.”  Could it be that visions and dreams are just another kind of knowledge that we in the Western world have marginalized and ignored?

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*This idea comes from Charles Kraft’s “Encounter model.”