“I didn’t have a mother or father, I lived with an older woman,” Z. says in her hoarse voice. The old woman would go out and beg for money every day and sometimes clean houses. Because they daily struggled for survival, often Z. would not have enough to eat.
“Once I marry,” she thought as a young girl, “I will have security and then things will be good.” But when she did marry, things went from bad to worse. Her husband was unreliable and would beat her and so she felt even more insecure.
“Before, although things were at such a basic level, I knew what I had, and no one beat me. Why does Jesus allow so much suffering in my life? I want him to tell me what I did wrong so I can make it better.”*
In my last blog post, I wrote that relationships which are joined by an unequal balance of power contribute to the complex mire of poverty, and cannot merely be reshaped by top-down initiatives and laws. Listening to the others’ stories becomes key in reshaping perspectives and collective identity—as the listener’s own self-understanding grows in a mutually dynamic direction with the other.
But if listening to the stories is key to reshaping relationships, how are the stories themselves reshaped to offer hope, purpose, and a way forward?
Of course, this question of “what did I do wrong to deserve such suffering” is an age-old question spanning cultures and histories—but in many Roma communities there is a deeply held, intrinsic belief that they are cursed by God. Such a belief likely stems from a combination of centuries of hardships superimposed on old myths—some of which claim Roma either stole or forged the nails used for Jesus’ cross.
“Mom,” B.’s little ten year old daughter asked her after watching a documentary film on the Roma in Hungary, “if God knew that we were going to be so hated and suffer so much over so many years, why would he create the Roma?”
Such questions, and the past, cannot be lightly dismissed or trivialized when looking to reshape the current stories. And yet, when there are no more dreams and the current story seems to be unending in its continuous cycle, is there a critical point of change that can begin to reshape the narrative?
“What would you want Jesus to say to you? What would you ask him if he was here right now?” we asked the women in the circle.
S. looked at us, her eyes sadly reflective. “I would just want Jesus to come to me and I would ask him if he really loves me—am I actually important to him? Will he take care of me? I want to fall asleep right now and maybe he would come and tell me—why so much suffering?” **
Church doctrine and structures, theology, missiology—the focal direction of these pursuits rests on the critical question: Has Jesus actually incarnationally entered our story? Because if not, hope becomes another useless structure with which to attempt to prop up such world-weary faces. If one only preaches about some kind of heavenly better—is this not a shutting of one’s eyes against the overwhelming present reality of poverty and hardship, and a callous dismissal of the tumultuous past?
The day after the women’s circle, there was another gathering in the Little Darda Church. S. came in, her face alight with something new. “Last night,” she said, “Jesus came to me in my dream and told me he really loves me.”
Emmanuel—an experiential encounter with him, recognizing his presence in our community—can be the critical catalytic point in our stories.
*Paraphrased from a conversation
**Many Roma expect that God will speak to them through their dreams.