In 2003, God called us to begin ministering in a large Roma (Gypsy) community living on the edge of Elbasan.
This is a town of around 140,000 people where we have been dreaming of bringing hope and transformation to all. What has God done over these 16 years? We’ve seen God working in various ways over the years. For starters, through our children’s program, an entire generation of children has been told that they have a Creator who loves them and that their lives are for a purpose! For some, to enter the Roma area can be intimidating because there are always men standing around watching you. Not for us! That scary looking guy was in our kids meeting a few years ago and we know him! We pray for him! We tell him that God is waiting for him.
16 years ago we were viewed with suspicion. Now we are accepted and wanted in the Roma area. They enjoy our teams of all colours and nationalities. The area has also physically changed. Many homes have been improved by the government. The roads are paved, rather than huge mud puddles. It feels lighter and easier. Some people believe the presence of God and His church has helped bring about the physical changes. We are actively working towards helping more children attend school and we see them developing well. Many are going to the local kindergarten where we have been building relationships by volunteering. When we started, even the older children could not colour or use scissors. Now we see Roma children who are on the same level with non-Roma children of the same age.
***A short testimony from one of our team members: “It is hard to witness the heart-breaking situations that some of the children live in. One little boy, Emanuel, is ostracized from the other children because they believe he was infected with a contagious disease from his mother at birth. Initially, I had low expectations of him when doing activities, but I have been amazed by his progress! It means so much to him when we praise him and tell him he is special. Another child, Georgjina, is the child of a man and his girlfriend who is reluctantly being cared for by the man’s wife. “She is bad,” the lady says, and many others repeat this. She is only 5 years old! We tell her she is loved and important. These children are created in God’s image and we are his hands and feet to them.”***
When we visit families in their homes, we are generally welcomed in. Even if they are not regular church-goers, they want us to pray for them and they believe that God can make a difference. We share with them that God is the answer to their difficulties, and he has proven himself faithful on many occasions. There was once a violent altercation between family members, which resulted in a serious injury. But, with God’s intervention, lives were spared and forgiveness and reconciliation were possible.
Usually the Roma people ask us for help, but recently they had the privilege of helping others. Albania suffered a major earthquake last November and many people in another town were left homeless. Many of our Roma ladies sell used clothing and they were very happy to donate some clothes to the earthquake victims. Ervin, who is only 6, lives in a one-room house with his family and doesn’t have many toys, yet he wanted to donate his plastic bowling set for the earthquake victims. It was so powerful for the people who have almost nothing to have a generous heart and give to others.
We have started a church for the Roma people and it is regularly attended by 15-20 people, with many more attending periodically. We are seeing people being truly transformed and growing up as leaders and teachers, not only in our church but in the community, as well. When someone trustworthy is needed for a community project, it is the believers that are asked first. These brothers and sisters in Christ love their community and want to be a part of the transformational process. They are eager to pray, preach, evangelize and be salt and light in their community. Some of the believers are young men in their teenage years. Our work does not seem boring when you see a 16-year-old boy lost in worship with his hands raised and his eyes glowing with the presence of God. Many of our young teen boys are growing as musicians and are part of our worship group. We believe the Roma people have a God-given inheritance in music and dance.
So, what is in the future for the Roma church? We believe that God has a special plan- that He will fill them with His Spirit, and healings will come. What we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg! As the Roma people are historically a nomadic people group, it can be challenging to disciple people who then move on to another place. But, perhaps this is a part of God’s plan to see His Kingdom spread! The Roma often earn money by selling used clothing in far away villages. Who will go to preach in these remote villages? The Roma can! In fact, some have started already. They are also a people with great faith to see healings. Even before they were true followers of Christ, they believed God could heal! While the educated church people are still wondering if God can heal today, the Roma will be doing it. We are certain that our work among the Roma has eternal significance, both nationally and internationally. What a privilege to be a part of God’s transformation of this unique people group!