Urgent call goes out to plant churches among the Roma, Romania ’s spiritually-starved Gypsies
Roma people among most needy people groups
By Allen Palmeri
August 31, 2004
BUCHAREST, Romania – Norm Howell, partnership missions specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), wants four or five churches in the convention to help plant churches among the Roma, or Gypsy people group of Romania.
“There is such a great challenge there,” Howell said.
The Roma have been a wandering, persecuted tribe since coming out of India about a thousand years ago. About two million of them live as an oppressed minority in Romania. Nearly 80 percent of Roma in Romania and Bulgaria live on an average of what amounts to $4.30 a day, according to a World Bank report. They also live an average of 15 years less than the general population.
“Roma are the bottom rung of every ladder of every society,” said Boyd Hatchel, the Bucharest-based International Mission Board missionary to the Roma. “We have colleagues who serve in Western Europe who would say the Gypsies are by far the most open people to the Gospel. Their social needs are enormous, educational needs, physical needs.
“We always try to point volunteers toward the greatest need that they have, which we believe is the spiritual need. We believe that the presence of the Lord will begin to change all other aspects of their life.”
Boyd and his wife, Jennie, have been working among the Roma for four years. Their goal is to plant churches that will reproduce within their culture. As Missouri Baptist churches join in that effort, they will find that the Roma are more open to the Gospel than Romanians, Boyd Hatchel said.
When Jennie Hatchel first heard about the Roma, she thought that they were straight out of a fairytale.
“I had dressed up like a Gypsy when I was a child, wore a long skirt and a ruffled blouse and put Mason jar lids on my arms, and that’s about all I knew about Gypsies,” she said. “I thought they were fortune tellers.”
One day in her apartment in Bucharest, she noticed some Roma camped like squatters across the street. Waiting in line for bread with her two children, she made eye contact with a Roma woman.
“She had this big bundle of wool blankets in her arms, and I thought, ‘This is the wrong time of the year to be selling wool blankets.’ And I looked a little closer, under the blankets, and she was carrying her baby around. So I kind of felt some kinship, because I was holding my baby. I thought we had something in common, but I didn’t know anything to say to her.”
Later on, she spoke with a Romanian believer who doubted that she was in Romania to plant churches for — and with — Roma.
“I didn’t know that a Gypsy could be a Christian,” this Romanian believer said.
Hatchel was flabbergasted.
“It just broke my heart to realize that if she didn’t think they could be a Christian, then I knew that she would never take a step to share her faith with them,” she said. “I knew then that God was calling me to take that step and to share with them — particularly with the young mothers.”
Boyd Hatchel remembers working in a village with two volunteers.
“On a Saturday when a team arrived, we did prayer walking in that area,” he said. “We stopped at one house and a young boy said, ‘I think we need to pray here.’ We felt compelled to stop and to pray.
“Monday we went back to that area. We were doing a medical clinic and we were also doing some visits. That morning we stopped at that house and we said, ‘We would like to talk to you about the Lord, do you have a few moments?’ The lady said yes and she invited us in.
“We asked her, ‘Are you interested in spiritual things?’ She said, ‘Yes sir, I am. Last night I had a dream that a man in white told me that today, three people from a faraway place would come and tell me about how to have a relationship with the Lord. Could you tell me how to know Jesus?’ We were able to lead her that day to the Lord.”
As a result of that encounter, God was glorified.
“She was a woman of high character, and we were able to begin a group in her home,” Hatchel said. “Now there’s a church that meets there on a weekly basis.”
Jennie Hatchel said any Missouri Baptist church that feels led to work with them in a Roma outreach would find a fertile mission field.
“We would definitely appreciate your prayers,” she said. “We’re beginning to see some exciting things happen.”