The sun was sweltering with a half-promise of future rain, but the heat did not deter the children’s exuberance as we played games on the field next to the Roma village. The leadership team from The Little Darda Church was hosting a short-term group from America who were there for a long weekend, putting on a teenager program, children’s program, and treating the community to a traditional Croatian čobanac soup, cooked over outdoor fires, after church on Sunday.
Months of planning had gone into this—we had been asked to identify our needs and hopes for the church and village community, and the short-term team designed the program around those aims. They were flexible and energetic, and asked for feedback regarding their program and how they were relating to the people—in short, they were the best kind of short term team. After only the first day of activities, the kids were already firmly attached to their every move.
Suddenly, I heard an alien rumbling, and a large charter bus pulled up, its gleaming whiteness dwarfing the ramshackle houses in the village. The children were halfway through their stations—crafts, face-painting, Bible story, games, balloon animals—but their attention began wavering as 30 people descended from the bus and began setting up their program. I sighed with irritation—we had been informed just two days previous that another short-term group wanted to to come and perform a drama, and an unfortunate lack of communication (on both our end and the other end) had resulted in this: an awkward collision of two short-term teams in one small Roma village in Croatia.
The drama was loud and dramatic which the people enjoyed very much, although the performers dressed up like demons terrified the small children. Next the people performed an impressive choral number in English—but the unfamiliar style of music struck the people as quite hilarious and I saw many of them laughing behind their hands.
Afterward, their large group dispersed to join our already-formed groups, and the guests attempted to speak a few words of Croatian to the children. “We want some one-on-one time with the children,” one of them told me. I tried to match one or two of the children up with each of the guests. Wide-eyed and curious, the children sat next to them, unsure of what was happening. The guests passed out quart-sized bags of small chocolate candies and prayed for them in their native tongue. Then, they loaded back up into the charter bus, waved goodbye and rumbled off, two men with cameras emerging from the village just in time to rejoin their group and jump on the bus.
We all stood slightly dazed at this 30-minute spectacle as the children, always on a perpetual sugar high from a steady diet of coca-cola, ripped into their big bags of candy with relish. Our team tried to re-group the children and finish off the stations, but interest had waned. Eventually, we brought our own program to a close—most of the children had already drifted off amidst the wind-blown wrappers of a hundred pieces of candy tossed on the field.