“I was a robber, a thief, and lying so much that I even succeeded in convincing myself about my own life.” It was P.’s turn to share about himself and his ministry, and like the others, he began with his story.
“Did you notice changes in your community after the church began to grow?” I asked.
He grinned at me conspiratorially. “Before, someone would enter the community fully dressed, but when he left, he would be without clothes.”
We were a strange mix of cultures around a table in Bucharest, Romania, talking about Roma communities, ministry, and what God might be doing—Roma, Romanians, myself, a Chinese-American, and a Chinese woman from Hong Kong all sat for hours as each took his turn to tell his story and describe his vision for his people. I have learned that when you begin to listen to stories among the Roma, such things cannot be rushed. The stories were varied: one pastor had been in prison as a young man, another was a long-term heroin addict who had been given two weeks to live after his weight went down to 50 kg , and one had lost his best friend in a terrible accident. All identified distinct and dramatic experiential moments with God related to their conversion and calling to ministry.
But how did we come to be sitting around this table? The Chinese women wanted to mobilize Chinese churches to serve in Roma communities, working alongside the Roma leaders. They were gathering information, wanting to learn as much as they could, and convinced there were some cultural similarities between Chinese immigrants and the Roma.
As a final questions, I asked the group how they understood the idea of mission, and what they hoped would happen in their communities.
There was a moment of silence, and then one, who had previously admitted he loved to talk, began to cast his vision for his people. Twenty minutes went by, and I realized that it was getting late and some had driven quite a distance. My friend tried to close the meeting, but one after the other insisted on sharing his own vision for his people.
“It’s not surprising when someone in the right context grows up to be a doctor; but I believe it is God’s plan to change our people as a witness to the world.”
“Many people are not married legally—I want to help my people with this.”
“God chose the Jewish people, Gypsies are the least of people, but the first will be last. When all the Gypsies are converted, God will come back.”
“How to stir up the desire for education and changing culture? We need to have practical tools to equip the people.”
“The Bible is the only book that can help the Gypsies. God changes prisoners and makes missionaries.”
Truly, a strange but delightful meeting of hearing stories, listening to different perspectives, sharing culture, and making new friends. Who could have imagined?