Romania (MNN) – Can you imagine living in a community where one out of every three people you know are unemployed? Where 90 percent of your neighbors are impoverished?
That is exactly what it’s like for the Roma community in Europe, according to CNN. Ever since they immigrated from India around 1,000 years ago, the Roma people have been marginalized. And once the cycle of poverty begins, it is difficult to break.
Unless there is something to shatter the poverty cycle.
TeachBeyond recently shared a narrative from Rachel K., a team member who traveled with a high school missions team to Tinca, Romania. The team went with a group called People to People to help with work projects at an elementary school in the Roma community. During their ministry, they saw education and the Church making a difference in the impoverished community.
“When we left for our student trip we thought we would be replacing a fence and installing a play structure,” says Rachel. “In reality, we were digging trenches, hauling concrete, shoveling gravel, removing trees, knocking out walls, and the list goes on. All this while playing with children any time they weren’t in class.
“After some of our students expressed discouragement of not feeling like we were making a difference, our Romanian project leader shared the vision of the future improvements for the school and the pieces that had to be in place before those could happen. For example, a good perimeter fence had to be completed around the yard before the play structure was fixed and new components installed so they would not be stolen or vandalized. In their culture it does not help to tell them that this new structure is for their enjoyment and benefit,” says Rachel.
The Roma children grow up surrounded by violence and poverty. Some of the kids come to school just so they can get a meal that day.
While working at the school, Rachel shared a moment with one of the Roma girls.
“A group of boys, maybe 6 to 8-years old, were punching and kicking one of their female classmates, surrounded by a group of spectators. Sitting on the sidewalk painting swings, this kerfuffle caught the corner of my eye. The girl fell to the ground and clung to the cement with her face down as the boys continued to kick her. Fights had been breaking out on the playground and in the streets every day of the week. It is ingrained in the culture and little could be done. But on this final day of work, this was one ‘fight’ I could not ignore.
“I threw down my gloves and made my way toward the group, which quickly dispersed. A few of the girls hung around, trying to get their friend up to no avail. Without being able to converse in their language, all I could do was act. After several failed attempts I was finally able to peel her off the ground and onto my lap where she immediately buried her face in my shirt, sobbing.
“I felt completely helpless, and in the moment all I could do was show her God’s love by hugging her and praying for her. Eventually recess ended and she was called back inside. I lifted her up, gave her one last hug, and sent her off with as much of a smile as I could muster. I don’t remember seeing this girl before, and if you asked me to identify her in a photo, I wouldn’t be able to, but those few minutes of her life will be imprinted in my life for years to come.”
Rachel shares, “I still do not know what prompted this particular act of violence, but these situations are typical in the Roma communities. Alcoholism, teen marriages, and fertility-based success levels lead to many consequences that their school is trying to combat.”
The elementary school had a unique start when Christians saw a need. Rachel explains, “The school in Tinca, Romania, had its beginning in Christmas shoeboxes. One young couple realized that one gift at Christmas would not break cycles or save lives. From this, a church started and eventually it led to a school being added. Now there are 180 students from Kindergarten through grade 4.”
By participating in the community through the service of education, the local church is acting as ambassadors for the Gospel.
“Education and introducing Jesus is truly the best way to break cycles of violence and poverty. People to People is a small Christian organization working in Romania with marginalized groups, saving families and changing lives,” Rachel says.
The insight into the Roma community and the unique struggles they face caused the team of high schoolers to reflect. Rachel explains, “During our week in Romania it was neat to hear how our students processed what they were seeing. I have never heard a group of high school students say so many times in a week how much they value education and values passed down from their parents.”
You can support TeachBeyond’s education ministry efforts here! Join them in being the hands and feet of Christ around the world.
Please pray for spiritual and economic renewal in the Roma communities. Pray for education to break the chains of poverty, and for kids to find hope at school and in Christ.