“I was the first Roma Pentecostal believer in this region, ” the old pastor said, his enthusiasm and energy at odds with his age and the obvious handicaps left by a stroke. “I will tell you a story of how the revival started among the Roma people in Transcarpathia!”
“It was 1955, and a Roma man came to a certain village here in Ukraine with some buckets to search for food for his family. He came upon an Adventist Church and asked the people for some milk for his children.
‘We will give you some milk, but first just come in to our service,’ they said. Afterwards, they gave him food and milk and he began to come every Saturday to the service, eventually becoming a believer.
But he did not tell anyone about it in his Roma village, because he did not want to share the food and milk he was getting every Saturday.
Eventually, he could not keep quiet any longer and he told his sister about it. She listened about God and began to share with the rest of the village.
But it was a very difficult message for our Roma people because Adventists don’t eat pork meat and cannot work on Saturday. And, our Roma people really love pork meat. But a few converted anyway.
My sister’s husband’s family were converted, but they would eat pork meat in secret. Eventually, they went to Kazakhstan to make bricks and earn some money. When they came back, they met a gadjo (non-Roma) man with a pig.
‘I will sell you this pig,’ the man said to him. ‘Ask some of your Gypsy people; maybe they will want to buy the pig.’
The Roma man looked all around him to make sure no Adventists were watching.
‘No, I will buy this pig!’ he exclaimed. So he bought the pig, but one Adventist saw him and followed him secretly to see what he would do with it. He watched while the family slaughtered it and began to cook it over the fire.
So this man went back to the church and told everyone that the Roma family was eating pork meat.
When the Roma man came the next Saturday, the people kicked him out of the church. ‘Until Jesus comes for the second time,’ they exclaimed, ‘we will not allow any more Gypsies in our church!’
The next Saturday, the Roma believers, having no idea what had happened, showed up for the service—but the deacons were waiting at the gate. ‘Go home, you cannot come in anymore,’ they said.
The Roma went back to their village and asked themselves, ‘What will we do now?’
But there was one gadjo deacon who did not like what had happened and wanted to go to the Roma village. So he came to the village and began to preach to them, starting a little house group with the small group of believers.
And he too, was kicked out of the Adventist Church.
At this time, now around 1975 or 1978, there were some Pentecostals in another part of Ukraine who wanted to come to Transcarpathia because they heard there were many Roma there.
They came and found this small house group and began to preach to the villages. God began to work and the Holy Spirit began to move, and a great awakening started at that time. And everyone became Pentecostals—now there are hardly any Adventists.
***Afterword: This pastor estimates that today in the Transcarpthian region in Ukraine, among the Roma there are an estimated 12 Pentecostal churches, 12 Charismatic, and 2 Baptist.
***Although this oral history account differs from the brief historical study done in Transcarpathia by Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov on the Roma Baptists and Pentecostals, this only points to the need to collect more oral history to understand the various factors contributing to the spread of Christianity among the Roma in Transcarpathia.