“If I go dancing with you then you must come to church with me,” answered the young missionary in response to an invitation extended in small-town Czech Republic. Peter,* a 19-year-old Roma bodybuilder with a reputation for fighting and drugs, was just high enough to agree to this ridiculous pact. Little did he know, it would change the course of his life.
Sitting in church that first Sunday, high on drugs, Peter suddenly felt compelled to turn things over to Jesus, almost against his will. Four years later, he awoke in the middle of the night with a sudden burden for his people—just recently, he began a Roma church.
Like most places in Eastern Europe, the Roma and the Czech people remain largely divided. In the impressively creative Roma cultural museum we visited, I was shocked to discover that 90% of Roma from the Czech Republic perished in WWII.
Unfortunately, like so many other places, this divide often extends to the church as well. One Czech Christian told me of his growing disillusionment with his church—he was encouraged to run a ministry for street kids, most of whom were Roma, but was told that he couldn’t bring those same kids to church.
“What was the point of having a street ministry if there was no Christian community to welcome the kids into?” he asked. Now, he serves in a Roma church. Others told me of pastors discouraging Roma worship music even when there were a few Roma attending a church because it was ‘too emotional.’
My brief excursion through Slovakia and Czech Republic highlighted some of the same themes and dynamics I have seen elsewhere. And yet, some of the stories reminded me anew of the central theme:
The Holy Spirit is the chief protagonist in this story.
In the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit directing Philip to the Ethiopian and then snatching him away, and preventing Paul and Timothy from speaking in Asia or passing through Bithynia. This flow of mission is like a river that carves its way through a canyon. We can only look at one small piece of the river—noticing that for some unknown reason it bends to the right rather than the left. But it is impossible to rise up and get the bird’s eye view, to see the river in its entirety and surrounding habitat—its source beginnings all the way until it flows into something larger than itself.
It is also impossible to stop or quench a river rushing through a canyon.
A young Roma missionary sent from Czech Republic to Slovakia to plant a church? He now supervises 11 churches, including a church plant in Ireland and England.
Another group of Roma in a small town in Slovakia began to gather and read the Bible and pray together. Now several of them serve their community on holistic level—caring for the spiritual, physical, and material needs.
Still others struggle and labor without dramatic results. Someone spoke wistfully to me of the ‘formula’ for successful church planting, convinced he was missing something.
Certainly, there are better or worst ways of doing something, but even more certainly there is no formula.
The Holy Spirit calls unexpected people in unexpected ways—some ministries expand faster than you can exhale, others have doors closed on them.
One missionary told me of his organization’s recent decision to shift the focus away from Roma and towards the Czech people. After working among them for numerous years, this was a decision he was painfully but graciously trying to accept.
If this story of the Roma in Eastern Europe was written as a book of Acts, I wish I could read it a hundred years from now, to see a bit more of the river.
Because like many Roma leaders, Peter has the vision to train Roma leaders who would be willing to build bridges with the Czech people. How might this future vision change the context of Eastern Europe?
*Name has been changed