Monthly Archives: June 2015

How a pig changed everything

'I am selling fat pigs'

‘I am selling fat pigs’

“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.

And that is how the Roma became Pentecostals instead of Adventists and how the revival started in Transcarpathia.”IMG_0501_2

***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.


Sometimes, it is about the destination

“Even though it is in the Ukraine,” my friend told me, “it is actually just over the border of Hungary.  We would drive for three hours and then take a train for four hours. It’s a short trip—and we are only gone for three days.”

They say that it is the journey that is important, not the destination, but when you are traveling for four hours in a non-air conditioned train in 85 degree (30 C) heat, somehow this saying loses its inspiring punch.

Fifteen hours after began our journey, we fell into our beds ‘just over the border’ of Ukraine, exhausted at what appeared to be the longest ‘short trip’ ever.

We were invited to come see a gathering of Roma church leaders in the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine. This beautiful region is a rich cultural mix of Hungarian, Slovakian, Roma, and Ukrainian cultures—evidenced at the conference with the frequent switching of languages between Hungarian, two different dialects of Romani, and Ukrainian.

I was intrigued by Ukraine, having never visited,  but apparently our travel (mis)adventure quota had not been met for the month.  After a stifling hot ride and a delayed connection due to a train incident,  we finally stumbled off our train after 8 p.m., exhausted and bedraggled from the heat.

We were greeting by half a dozen young taxi drivers who only spoke Hungarian and Ukrainian, and each tried to convince us that his car was the best.

I emerged from the WC to find my friend convinced that one man was the pastor who was supposed to pick us up.

“Sergei?” she asked pointing to him.

“Sergei!” he agreed, smiling.

“Svete?” she asked, referring to our translator who was supposed to accompany him.

“Svete!” he agreed, smiling wider.  The rest of the guys were  laughing  and gesturing, and it was just about at that moment we realized that this man would agree to be anyone we wanted.

We sat in front of the train station, once in a while getting cryptic messages from our hosts.

“Our car was in the mechanics, we are coming in 30 minutes, please wait for us!” the first one read.  An hour later, the phone beeped again: “We are coming, don’t worry!”   Finally after two hours, we sent them a text asking if they were okay.  “We’re at the border, they think we have drugs!”

We entertained ourselves by watching the taxi drivers test out each of their car’s  capabilities.  They would all pile into one car, speed off in a burst of exhaust with music pumping, and roar back up 5 minutes later before repeating the exercise in the next car.

Each time the train station would signal an approaching train, they would sprint past us up the stairs to try to be the first to the potential customers.

By the time our hosts finally arrived, it was close to 11 and I was exhausted.  They were profuse in their apologies and bundled us into the car.  Although the pastor was leading the conference the next day, he seemed unperturbed at the lateness of the hour or the drive we still had to do.

“What time do things start tomorrow?” I asked.

“We would like it to be 10 a.m., but it will probably be around 11 a.m., ” he said. (After the conference began at noon the next day, I began to realize that the concept of time is considerably more relaxed in this context).

It took us over an hour to cross the border, and then much to my chagrin, I found out we were driving all the way to the camp where the conference was being held, another 40 km.  This would have been no problem on a highway, but Ukrainian roads are like an Indiana Jones adventure ride, potholes so big you could lose a tire, fender, or a medium size animal  if you are not careful.

We gratefully tumbled into our beds around 2:30 a.m. “Sleep as long as you want!” our hosts urged.

The next morning, we were awakened by someone pounding on the front door, announcing breakfast…