Lately, we’ve had a stream of visitors come to the Little Darda Church.
Three weeks ago, Roma missionaries from France unexpectedly contacted us a few hours before the service. Soon, our church was buzzing with Romani (different from what our church speaks) and French. Regrettably, the missionaries were told that I speak French even though that language has long receded behind a wall of Croatian. I was embarrassingly reduced to a few grasping phrases mixed in with the occasional Croatian word. Thankfully, they also had a translator who could speak Croatian, Romani, and French.
Our church loved their music and testimonies—and were heartened by the fact that there are Roma missionaries traveling around encouraging Roma churches.
These are some of the hidden currents not often publicized in Europe—the Roma as visionary participators in the mission of God challenges the dominate picture of Roma as hapless victims.
Yesterday, we had some guests from Samaritan’s Purse, who have been working with Biljana and Đeno in the refugee camp. An Egyptian man preached, and he told of coming from a very poor Orthodox family in Egypt—a background with which the people could identify.
“This reminds me so much of the little church in Egypt I used to attend,” he told me later.
He also shared about the difficulty for some people who convert from Muslim backgrounds —how they are rejected and persecuted by their families. I am quite sure this was new information for the Little Darda Church.
It struck me then that this Egyptian man was at our church because of the refugee crisis—how curious that this kind of cultural mingling is one of the many ripple effects caused by events happening in a different part of the world.
I was moved by his simple but powerful message on the Good Samaritan. This is, I believe, the prophetic parable for our day on multiple levels: for our church who is struggling to learn how to regularly forgive and love their neighbors, for the dynamics between Croatians and Roma, for Christian attitudes toward the flood of ‘strangers’ continuing to pass through Croatia, and for the many people in my own country struggling with fear and suspicion toward Muslims.
Meanwhile, our Swedish guest told me that his grandmother had been a Swedish Pentecostal Evangelist and church planter in the first half of the 20th century. Convinced that all people bore the image of God, she opened her home to 2 Roma families, 40 people altogether. For years, the Roma families spent six months of each year living in her garden before traveling elsewhere for work. In 1950s Sweden, this kind of radical living was not at all popular or welcomed in her village.
Perhaps no matter the context or time in history, Jesus’ question of who is my neighbor is always the crucible by which we can determine if and how we love God.
French Roma, Egyptians, Middle Eastern Refugees, Western Europeans….who would think that the Little Darda Church would be exposed to all these cultures and perspectives? The world has become smaller and more connected—even in such an off-the-beaten-track place as little Roma villages in the outskirts of small town Croatia.
Look around at all the small streams finding their way through the dense underbrush of the world’s fear, hatred, and uncertainty—if you follow them, you will see their eventual convergence in the mighty, unstoppable force that is the mission of God.