I walked into the church service, rage pulsing through my body as if I had an inner volcano emitting lava burps—and this was the second time in one week.
The first had been a few days prior—my friend and I were visiting with one young Roma man who had just returned after a 3 year stint attempting to claim asylum in Canada. Like so many other Roma from Croatia, his application had eventually been rejected and the authorities came, without warning, to deport him.
But that was not why I was angry—Canada was just following its immigration procedure, stipulating that refugee status involves a “well-founded fear of persecution, which is defined as torture, risk to one’s life, etc.” Of course, things get a bit muddy here as Roma from Croatia, Hungary, and other places are certainly subject to discrimination, having a more difficult time finding jobs, housing, and fair treatment simply because they are Roma. This is a complicated subject, as seen by this recent article: Canada pays thousands of Roma to abandon refugee appeal.
It was what happened while he was in Canada that really got my blood boiling. Somewhere along the way, this man began to feel haunted and terrorized by something—whether on a spiritual or psychological level I cannot say. He reached out to a certain prominent televangelist and began sending weekly donations of money he likely could not afford in a desperate attempt to secure the promises of “healing” and “freedom.”
He placed a stack of form letters in front of me—I estimated between 40-50 letters “written” by this televangelist, promising secret envelopes, blue stones, that the “unlocking” was just around the corner. The carefully worded, manipulative prose was designed to make a reader feel that this televangelist actually knew the reader and had insight into his problems.
And so I felt an unexpected rage—that this man was abusing his spiritual power and selling something that should be free, preying on uneducated and poor people who were desperate for help and answers.
Of course, I don’t want to imply that this Roma man was just a helpless victim; he chose a poor way to try to deal with his problems. As a struggling immigrant trying to support a family, this Roma man estimated he had given $5,000-$6,000 dollars to the organization, and each letter seem to allude that his “deliverance” was just a cash deposit away.
I took a deep breath. “Here is my problem with this so-called evangelist,” I began.
Fast forward a few days later when I walked in late to church, my heart pounding, almost dizzy with anger. Without going into specifics, my anger was set off by how a woman was being treated by her husband—as a possession, an object, a thing to be kept rather than a human created in God’s image to be treasured and respected.
I knew my anger in both cases was about injustice, about the evil in the world which has no favorite culture, ethnic group, socio-economic status, or gender. We say that God has no partiality, but that is also the case with evil. My anger reminded me that things are definitely not as they should be.
But I have to admit that in that moment—squirming in the messiness, the pain, all the difficult things that I actually do not really want to know about—I was tempted to disengage. To emotionally disengage so that I would not have to care so deeply, so that I could stay even-tempered and unemotional when exposed to dark things.
But in that moment, as I walked into church, one little Roma girl sitting in the front row turned around. When she saw me, her shy face lit up in a big smile—a smile of pure joy and unadulterated sweetness. I smiled back and waved—and that one smile tipped the balance for me. I knew that to close myself off would be to step away from God’s mission in the way of Jesus.
“When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep.” John 11