Monthly Archives: June 2016

A disappearing city

Every third house stood empty.  The crumbling market square boasted only a handful of people selling their wares.  A filmy gauze of sadness, like the heat haze, draped around the  Roma mahala as a constant reminder that more goodbyes were coming.

Last year, I wrote about the town of Lom in northern Bulgaria—an area where the very first Roma church in Bulgaria began around 1908.  Even in a year and a half, I noticed a dramatic change as to how many people have left to seek jobs in Germany.

“There are no jobs. And even if you have a job it would only pay you 200 euros a month.”

This was the constant refrain heard in the mahala as some  discuss their imminent plans to leave for Germany, and others pray that they can stay.   These are people whose parents have grown up here as well as themselves.  Familial and relational structures that have stood for decades are being severed by the knife of survival.

One man,  fluent in English and passable in German told me he had seen a documentary claiming that 2 billion euros have come into Bulgaria from people working outside and sending money back.  He himself is planning on leaving in the next few months.

The Pentecostal church, started years ago, has been severely hit by the exodus.  Once a church of around 1000, it now has around 200-300 left in the church.  The pastor, a man who dances to Roma christian music every time he drove us  in his car,  at times seemed discouraged and burdened with the shifting demographics.  How to continue investing in a community when everyone is leaving? The pastor told us that hopelessness drives some to drugs and desperation drives others to tragic pursuits, most heartrendingly seen by the young women who line the road to Lom.

Still, new life is happening on the other end.  The Pentecostal mother church now has four baby churches in four German cities, all born out of the dispersed community of Lom.

“Some who go are not believers, but when they are in Germany, they seek out their own people, and if it is the Christians, they often convert,” one of the church leaders told me. “Some even are freed from drugs while they are there.”

This doesn’t really seem a sustainable economic long term situation for Europe, but this movement of peoples, a common theme, will certainly create new Roma churches in Western Europe. The outcome of this?  Too soon to say, but it is certainly something to watch.

IMG_2343Often in history, we can recognize that God uses the movement of peoples to do something new.

Christians are leaving Lom—but that also means Christians are arriving somewhere else. I certainly felt the sadness, but there is still more than enough joy to celebrate in Lom when the situation calls for it.

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The Narrative Prayer

I wrote recently about the beginning of a weekly prayer service in the Little Darda Church. This is not a mass revival meeting where I can report hundreds coming, healings, and radical transformations. This is more a small, mustard seed type event, where visible growth is visible when you squint your eyes.    One by one, people have found their voices in prayer. That first prayer is always short, exploding out of the person in quick, succinct sentences of both need and thanks.

“I felt ashamed today when I prayed, “ a woman said to me the first day she prayed out loud.

Yes, praying in community forces vulnerability, but vulnerability is key to building deeper community—and encouraging trust, support, and care one for another.

Some have taken their newfound voice to pray during church on Sunday. “Thank you Lord, for untying our lips,” one person prayed.

Others pray in what I have newly dubbed as the ‘narrative prayer.’   When it first began happening, I’ll admit I was confused. A grandmother began talking about her life and then declaring her belief that Jesus was stronger than those people who were putting curses on her. I opened my eyes because I wasn’t sure if she was talking and praying, so she continued her narrative while looking animatedly at me. So I began nodding and ‘hmmming’ along with her as if I was in conversation, only to be startled when she uttered an emphatic AMEN. “Amen,” everyone else repeated, their eyes still closed.

“Oh, she was praying after all, ” I thought.

But last week, as a woman’s prayer narrated a past suicide attempt and other events before she met God, I began to realize there was something very “Psalmesque” about this style of praying. To remember past life events and to recognize where God enters the stories as an reorientation toward the future— isn’t that exactly what many of the Psalmists do?

These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God. Psalm 42

 

To listen intently to an individual story is to honor the storyteller as a unique and valuable created being.  To listen to a story through the medium of prayer in the presence of God and community is to recognize God’s intimate involvement with that person’s story—and helps point the person and the community toward future faith in God.

In other words, it is kind of like saying:  “Here is what has happened to me, but here’s where God was and is. And now I praise God for what he has done for me.”

I think I might just try it.