Impressions at the Soup Kitchen in Radvanka

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After three visits, I was asked to write something about my experience at the Roma soup kitchen in Radvenka. Here are some of my first impressions.

On my first visit I noticed right away how crowded the small sanctuary was. The room is only slightly larger than my bedroom/living room at home. I am told that there are usually 60 to 100 kids, but on my first visit I saw close to 150! These kids sat with at least 2 to a chair, often with a little one on an older sibling’s knees, and many standing. Something that caught my attention (and has held it on my subsequent visits) was how well behaved the kids were. Roma kids do not have a reputation for being calm, quiet, or well-behaved, but I was very impressed by these kids. They were not angels, nor silent, but they behaved themselves beautifully.

Somehow, thank God, there was enough food for all of them, despite the number of unexpected kids. I smiled as I watched older kids sharing food with the younger and helping them eat. I have seen in other visits how these children take care of one another, older ones helping younger with eating, taking off coats, finding seats. One small nine year old hefted around a chunky 3 year old the whole time. I enjoyed watching the gentleness this boy displayed with his baby brother.

Once I came a bit early. They hadn’t started yet, and there weren’t any adult leaders in the sanctuary yet. After a few minutes of small talk, four of the kids got up and gave me an impromptu concert, a children’s song about God in Russian. The oldest boy was nine. The joy in those kids’ faces while they sang and their childish pride as they finished and sat down were worth seeing.

The service is held before the meal, and is led by three young men from the local Roma church (where the soup kitchen is held). These guys are young – in their late teens or early twenties – but obviously skilled at the work they’re doing with these kids. Without a microphone, colorful object lessons, or a bevy of games, these young men keep the kids interested in what seems to be an extremely engaging sermon using only their voices, bodies, and the words that the Holy Spirit gives them.

I say that it “seems to be” an engaging sermon because I understand very little of it. The service here is carried on in the Roma’s own language. Most of the time I understand very little. When they quote a Bible verse, though, my comprehension jumps up because they read the Bible in Russian. I doubt that they have a translation in their Roma dialect.

Those that can read, at least, read in Russian. I have a strong suspicion that this is a small percentage. I am told that they host a Bible study once a week, in which they play the Bible on tape, and then discuss it afterwards.

Twice I have left with kids, and walked with them as far as their homes. This has given me a chance to talk with them a little. On my most recent visit I spoke primarily with two kids, a boy and a girl. The boy was 9, excited about his upcoming birthday, and told me he was in third grade. The girl was 10, wasn’t in school at all, and seemed mildly embarrassed because she didn’t know when her birthday was.

First John 3:17 asks, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” There is obviously great need here, physical and spiritual, but I rejoice that God has provided a small team of people filled with His love who are dedicated to filling it. There is a tangible joy and peace here that convinces me that it is the Spirit’s work being carried out here, and I know that our Lord is pleased with it.

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  • Suzanne Manomie

    This ministry is so important.  Children can have a wonderful relationship with Jesus at a very early age.  The young men leading do a fabulous job of sharing their faith with their little brothers and sisters.

    • Thank you for pointing this out. If we can get the gospel to people at a young age, it can change their lives forever.