Christmas is always a very busy time for RCF, rich with opportunity for ministry in word and deed. The story of the divine Son of God taking on flesh and entering a broken world in order to bring the Kingdom of God and save its people resonates well with the Roma. We rarely have any trouble convincing them that the world is broken and in need of a savior and to share God’s truth, full of love and grace, at this time is pure joy and privilege.
Christmas is also a time for giving. For many Roma children, a simple gift consisting of a handful of candy, a few small school supplies, and an inexpensive toy brings great joy. The major Christmas “shoe box” ministries no longer consider Croatia a needy country so they no longer provide gifts. Of course, the Roma communities are very different from Croatian communities and the need is great. That is why each year RCF funds and packs our own gifts. In reality, it is much more cost effective to purchase contents and pack the gifts locally than have them shipped from abroad. Also, we are able to customize the contents to very specific needs and wants.
The giving nature of Christmas also brings into focus greater physical needs. Many Roma families we minister to live in “hand-to-mouth” poverty and the cold weather brings the major expense of firewood for heating. This expense then cuts into their food budget.
This year, RCF ministered to three Roma villages (Slavonski Brod, Capraške Poljane, and Palanjek) sharing the Gospel-centered, Christmas story with over 200 youth and adults. In Slavonski Brod, our tweens had a Christmas program, complete with a locally written, produced, and acted Christmas play! We also had special Mladice Club Christmas parties and Christmas-themed family home visits, sharing a simple meal, the Christmas story, and a few songs. In the Sisak area (Capraške Poljane and Palanjek) we focused on home-based, children’s Christmas parties and evangelistic home visits.
We wish to thank those that were a great help this year! Specifically, the Bjerk family, Simoen, Violetta, Vedrana, Janko, Johanna, and Jonathan. It is always such a joy to join together with the wider body of Christ while working for God’s Kingdom!
Please keep reading for some Christmas ministry observations from the RCF Sava team!
“The Chinese… the Chinese!!!” the children shouted in excitement as they ran inside the house to tell their parents that we were at their door. Although I was the only Chinese among the three of us, at that moment we were all “Chinese”. We smiled to one another as it was quite a common event for our team, or whoever is with us, to be labelled as “Chinese”. On this occasion it was a sign for us that these children remember us and were excited to see us. After we finished talking with their dad, one of their neighbors’ children saw us leaving. She called out my name and ran to give me a big sweet hug. I am always amazed by the children’s memories and how they remember our names. Sadly, I remember only a few kids’ names in this village even though we have been visiting this main Sisak village a couple times a year since 2013. Thankfully God knows all these precious children in this village by name and He has good plan for them.
This Christmas we were only able to have two parties for the kids and a few home visitations in this village as we had to change some of our activity plans for the first few days. It was because someone died in the village and according to their custom that there should not be any music in the village. Because of that we went to another smaller village where we had never done any ministry before. We are thankful that God gave us an opportunity in finding a home to hold a Christmas party for 20 kids and also a couple of home visitations in that village. The two parties in the main village were good, but a bit crazy as we had more than 70 kids in total. The last club we had to jam pack nearly 50 kids into someone’s sitting room! Although many of our activity plans for Sisak had to change, once again we saw our faithful God’s provision and how He orchestrated all activities in both villages for His glory! It is like what we taught our club slogan to all the kids at the parties “Jesus is the vine, we are the branches.” And without Him we can do nothing!!
Often, Roma kids are not the most well-behaved kids one would encounter. Due to the environment in which they are growing up, they usually don’t have a strong incentive to behave well. When the ministry first started, it was hard to not have chaos in the clubs. But, slowly, with a lot of patience, progress was made.
While we had Christmas clubs this Christmas season, I was surprised at how well the kids and teens have been behaving overall (most of the time), both in our Roma village in Slavonski Brod and in the Roma villages in Sisak. It is nice to see that, while we are sharing the Gospel with them and saturating them in biblical truth and love, we are also teaching them to share, be patient and be nicer, thus impacting their lives immensely, day by day.
It is a great challenge to share what is the real meaning of Christmas with the kids and even with the parents while Christmas is becoming more and more just a gathered family, food, drinks, and gifts. The story of Jesus’ birth sounds more like a fairy tale than a real story, as one lady has said at a Christmas home visit. Because of that, I am praying that Jesus becomes real in the life of those kids and people to whom we bring the Gospel.
During our Christmas ministry, we visited a young lady in one of the Roma villages. She shared a lot about her life. Even though there are a lot of details of her life that made me sad, I was shocked when she said that she gave birth to three boys and she wanted to have a girl and because of that she aborted several times. She talked about the abortus as if it were something completely normal. That reminded me of one Roma pastor who shared a story how he didn’t know that stealing is sin before he met Jesus because he grew up in an area where they respected you if you were a good thief. I am praying for this young lady and hoping to see her again when we come next time.
When we join other Christian workers for our village-wide ministry, I usually take a role of either managing the audio and video technology, driving, or patrolling the village keeping an eye on everything. As a consequence, I often do not get to do “direct ministry.” However, this year, in Capraške Poljane, I was able to join an evangelistic home visit.
As it turned out, last Christmas, as I sat in my car overseeing all of the workers, this family had invited me into their home for coffee. Having a responsibility to be available to the visiting US mission team, I politely declined. As a consolation, they sent a hot cup of coffee out for me to drink in the car.
This year, they reminded me of what had happened last year, and confessed that they were a bit upset with me for not coming inside. They also confessed, that for some time they were unhappy that we were doing so much ministry in Slavonski Brod and so little in their village, which is nearly 1.5 hours away.
These kinds of misunderstanding are common and easy to smooth over. But, they always remind me of how great the need is for ministry and how open the doors are to the Roma.
This family was one of the poorest I had ever visited. In their late 50’s they had 13 children and their home was bare and infested with roaches. Yet, they were delightfully warm and open people, their children bright and engaging, some speaking English unusually well.
When I experience such situations, my faith is both tested and encouraged. Can God really help people in such situations? Can the Good News be transformative in their life? As they seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness will God provide for them as He provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field? God’s Spirit inside me answers with a resounding, “Yes!”
I love the picture above, of the rainbow over Capraške Poljane. Over the years, God has used rainbows many times as a sign of His love and promise. God loves the Roma people! May He raise up what is needed to transform lives and communities!