Racism – A Romani Story

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Racism – A Romani Story

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”  – This is the hope of Martin Luther King Jr. as he dreams for the end of racial discrimination. This is also the dream and hope for the Romani people here in Ukraine.

Racism is not dead. And to the Roma community, it’s an every day fact of life.

Romani VillageThe Romani people are very poor, and often looked upon as outcast of the community. You see them begging, living in squatter settlements on the outskirts town. They make homes out of scrap materials they scavenge from the streets. Sanitation is not an option for them because they can’t afford it. Jobs are not readily available. Education is poor. This is what defines racism toward the Roma Gipsy.  But thanks to the hope of Jesus Christ, there is a way to be free! There is a peace that passes all understanding, even in these harsh conditions.

Recently, Pastor Brugosh and I had a wonderful time traveling together to the other side of Ukraine. 36 hours by train. We really got to know each other. It didn’t take long for me to exhaust my limited Russian vocabulary, and so we spent a lot of time using hand signals, and the Bible as a translator. It was quite comical. Boy, we sure looked like a funny pair, an American and a Roma. Along the way I noticed subtle instances of discrimination, but I kind of shook them off. Things like people not wanting to sit next to us, glances and glares, and people cutting in front of us in lines. Ah, no big deal. But it was the bus ride in Kiev that I’ll never forget.

You can never know what this is like until you experience it yourself… I’ve lived in many big cities, experienced many cultures, but never has racism cut me so deeply.

Our directions told us to go to this train stop, transfer to this bus, and get off on that stop. The problem was, the bus stops were not obvious and didn’t have signs. The stops were named after streets, landmarks, or marketplaces. If you’re not familiar with the area, there’s no way you can know where to exit. So, Pastor began to ask people for directions. Some shrugged shoulders, some pretended not to hear, and others would just look at him with blank stares. I was like, are you kidding me? I mean these folks were just rude.

We had to know, so he went to the bus driver and asked for directions, but the driver didn’t say anything. He totally ignored Pastor. Pastor asked the driver again, a little louder, nothing. The third time he asked, oh boy! The driver responded. I have no idea what he said, but he blasted all kinds of noise at Pastor. It was all shouts and screams, and hand waving. It was crazy! Pastor just froze. He didn’t know what to do. It was in that moment I looked at my friend and saw an expression I’ll never forget. His face was part stunned, part ashamed. He was totally embarrassed and completely deflated. He looked about curiously to see if anyone else heard this. Well, of course the whole bus did. And with a sigh and a smirk, He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, winked, and tipped his head. I knew this code meant, “Don’t worry, It’s OK. I am used to this.” And my heart sank. I felt like screaming, “But you shouldn’t have to be used to this! It is not right!”

Everyone on the crowded bus heard what happened. Anyone could’ve easily offered the answer, but no one did. I can’t describe all the emotions I felt in that moment. Everyone remained silent. They kept their faces forward as if totally unaware of the horrible cruelty that had just taken place. Finally, after a few moments had passed, one woman waved her hand slightly and motioned us closer. Quietly she whispered, “That’s my stop, follow me”.

I’d never experienced such profound prejudice or racism. You can never know what this is like until you experience it yourself, or until you are so close to it that you feel as if it happened to you. I’ve lived in many big cities, experienced many cultures, but never has racism cut me so deeply.

There are many underlying social issues and circumstances that people use to justify racism against the Roma.  Some sociologists would say its the “person blame” theory, others “society blame”. Whatever the reason, who ever is at fault, there is an answer. The answer is Jesus Christ. He came to set the captives free. He came to teach us faith, hope, and love. He died for our sins, all of us. Believe it or not, there are many religious people that would say that Romani people don’t need the aid, or they’ll squander away any assistance from World Missions. Many believe that they won’t benefit from the gospel and that salvation is unlikely. I have even heard people say that the Roma will just pretend to be saved to get access to humanitarian aid. Friends, let’s not allow ourselves to be blinded.  The Romani people are exactly the kind of people that Jesus came to minister the gospel to — people who are outcast in society, who are in need, who are hungry for love, who are thirsty for acceptance, and who are longing for freedom.

We are deeply honored that God has sent Michigan Bridge Ministry and others to minister alongside this community. The Holy Spirit stirred in us a deep compassion and love for our brothers and sisters here. And because of the gospel, we are experiencing the Holy Spirit, and Scriptures transforming this community. We have seen a Holy Fire igniting in this community and believe revival will soon break out. Chains are being broken; slaves are being set free. Healing has prevailed, and lives are being changed forever.

All the glory to God…

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  • A powerful, compelling story. My heart ached as I read it. May God continue to bless your compassionate ministry

  • Suzanne Manomie

    This is my church whenever I am in Uzhgorod which has been often for months at a time in the last five years.  It is a privilege and a joy to worship God with my dear brothers and sisters in Radvanka.  I have learned a lot from them and they have given me unconditional acceptance and love as their  Canadian grandma.

    • And, Sister Suzanne,  we miss you when you are gone! So as a member, what are your thoughts about racism against the Romany people?