Russia (MNN) — Around 250 Roma families were evicted from their homes in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, last week.
The Associated Press reports that some 1,000 Roma, known more commonly as "Gypsies," were placed on a bus and relocated to a new settlement. Despite the protests of many Roma–not to mention outcries from rights groups such as Amnesty International, the Serbian government has not relented on their eviction process. They have declared the Roma's Belgrade settlement to be illegal and preventative of construction projects.
It's not an uncommon story for the Roma, thousands of whom are spread across Europe. Compared to France's 2010 campaign against the Roma which expelled 13,000 of them from the country, Serbia's response is almost friendly.
The Roma are blamed for poverty, crime, and other social ills. They maintain their own cultural practices and beliefs. Across Eastern Europe, including Russia and several former Soviet countries, the Roma are often seen as outcasts of society, notes Slavic Gospel Association.
SGA knows something many Roma do not know: there is a God who loves every one of them.
SGA-sponsored missionary pastor Piotr Tokar labors in Russia's Belgorod region, where he reaches out to the sizable Roma population. According to Tokar, the labor is indeed hard. The change in lifestyle from fortune-telling, stealing, drinking, and drug abuse to a life dedicated to Christ is enormous. Add the Roma view of outsiders to the mix, and evangelism can be extremely difficult.
But Tokar is dedicated: "Whenever I meet a Roma man or woman, I always try to tell them about Jesus Christ. It is not customary for Roma to talk to people of other nations (like Jewish people did not talk to Samaritans in John 4:9). They believe other people are inferior. In fact, one Roma Christian told me, ‘If it were not for Jesus, I would not even start to talk to you as you're not a Roma, to say nothing about a joint meal with you at the table!'"
Yet, the Lord is stirring in Roma hearts, adds Tokar. "The Lord is doing miracles among them as I tell them about salvation and what God has done for us. And they forget that they are talking to a stranger. I thank the Lord for knocking on the door of their hearts, as most of them listen to His Word about salvation. I pray that it will remain in their hearts and that they will remember the Word of God."
There is a now a Roma church in Kursk with 30 members. The pastor, Andrew, is also Roma, and came from Ukraine. From the very beginning of his ministry, there were Roma coming together around him, and a Bible study group was formed.
Pray for Tokar, as well as for Pastor Andrew, as they reach out in Christ's love to this forgotten people.