Roma Bible School: A contextual school by Roma for Roma

On Friday 26 February Roma Networks hosted a special live event on our Facebook page to introduce a new exciting initiative, the Roma Bible School.

The history of the initiative is very much intertwined with the history of Roma Networks. The idea for the school was first conceived at the first Roma conference in Budapest in 2014, the very same conference where Roma Networks was born. One of our board members, Miki Kamberovic, sits on the founding committee of the school, together with Sasa Bakic and Melody Wachsmuth.

The committee

Miki Kamberovic is a Roma pastor from Serbia and has been on the Roma Networks board since 2014. He has been involved in church planting and starting various ministries and organisations.

Sasa Bakic has a BA in theology and is a Bible translator into Roma languages, as well as a researcher of Roma Christianity in South-Eastern Europe. Originally from Serbia, Sasa now lives in Croatia with his family.

Melody Wachsmuth is an American writer and researcher who has been living in Croatia since 2011. She has been involved in various Roma ministries and has experienced the Roma life and culture and understands the Roma context in the Balkans.

The Roma Bible school committee speaking at the live event

How and why it all started

The Roma Bible School is very much a grassroots initiative, with the seed of the idea coming from Roma ministry workers who were at the conference in 2014.

“There was a special session at the conference where we had country regional meetings. Talking about many different issues we were facing in our ministries, almost everyone at the meeting expressed the need to have a Roma Bible school to equip Roma people to become leaders in ministry. We wanted to start straight away, but the time wasn’t right and we weren’t ready,” Miki said.

“Fast forward to 2019 we had another conference in Sarajevo. The need for a Bible school came up again, with a bit of disappointment from the participants because nothing had happened in the past few years. So at this meeting we appointed Sasa Bakic to be the leader of the group that will facilitate and put together this Roma Bible School.”

“The Roma people are very special in the way they learn and process knowledge… we want to find a way that will really equip Roma leaders in the way that they can learn, not just in the convenient way that everybody else learns”

Since March 2020 Sasa, Melody and Miki have been busy planning and organising for the Bible school. In the process they have consulted many people from various countries with experience and expertise in theology and starting a Bible school (from local pastors and leaders to experienced mission educators).

Miki said the main reason behind the Bible school is to provide theological education that would cater to the Roma way of learning.

“The Roma people are very special in the way they learn and process knowledge. Most of you know that the problem of education is very present in Roma communities around the world. So we want to find a way that will really equip Roma leaders in the way that they can learn, not just in the convenient way that everybody else learns,” Miki explained.

“There are other theological schools in the Balkans, but there is none that accounts for the educational levels of Roma or address the specific needs and challenges of the Roma contexts,” added Sasa.

“We consider this school as a bridge for some of the Roma students between lower primary education and higher theological education. We are also thinking about a holistic approach to education. We believe Christian leaders should be spiritually and emotionally healthy.”

“We don’t want to merely import Western curriculum, but to create something that will truly develop Roma leaders for this region”

Plan and structure of the school

Sasa said the structure of the school will be designed to meet the purpose of the school.

“The purpose is to educate, empower and equip Roma leaders to be able to make life-long disciples of Jesus in their communities. To equip leaders to think about questions that come up in their contexts from biblical, missiological and historical lenses. To give them skills to be able to teach, preach, counsel and engage in mission and evangelism,” Sasa said.

In order to do this, the school will take into account the unique contexts of the Balkans.

“In the Balkans we have Roma groups with their own unique contexts. That’s why we try to develop a contextualised school. We don’t want to merely import Western curriculum, but to create something that will truly develop Roma leaders for this region,” he said.

Sasa said one particular challenge in the Roma contexts is ethnic tension and prejudice.

“Most of you probably don’t agree with the name ‘Roma churches’ but in this region it is very difficult in practice for non-Roma believers to go to the same church with Roma believers. Actually both sides need time to build relationship. So the school will try to teach the students the theology of and tools for reconciliation,” Sasa said.

“We will do our best to tell the students there are no more Roma, Croatians, Serbians. But in the kingdom of God we are all equally important to Christ.”

In terms of structure, the Roma Bible school will operate as a mobile modular school.

“Mobile school because we want students to travel, to get to know other cultures of the region, to give them opportunities to visit other communities and to connect with Christians from neighbouring countries. We believe through this they will have better insights into their own culture,” Sasa explained.

“Modular school because we will meet with students every month for one week during the program. The program should not last more than two years. From time to time these meetings will happen in different cities and countries across the Balkan region. A certificate of completion will be awarded at the end.”

“Theology is making meaning of your Christian faith. It’s reflecting on the gospel in your circumstances.”

Curriculum and teaching method

Melody said the curriculum of the Bible school will be designed to equip students to practice theology in their own contexts.

“What is theology? Theology is making meaning of your Christian faith. It’s reflecting on the gospel in your circumstances. So as a contextual school we are discussing issues from the students’ contexts in light of the gospel. So you have this intersection of church, context and the gospel,” Melody explained.

Classes that will be offered will include:

  • Biblical theology
  • History where we will look at history of the Roma church around the world and also looking at global Christianity so we stay in touch with what God is doing everywhere.
  • Mission and evangelism where we will look at the context of the Balkans – the different religions, different social and economic issues, which influence how we think about mission and evangelism.
  • Practical theology – thinking about marriage and family, young people, leadership (character and practice of good leadership), and other practical topics

Melody said the teaching method will take into account how Roma learn best.

“The Roma are very relational, community-oriented, oral learners. So we don’t want to just put people in a classroom and lecture them for a couple of hours. We want it to be a very interactive learning process. So maybe you get some teaching, then you have to implement that teaching in a ministry opportunity,” Melody said.

“And then you have to reflect on what you learnt in that ministry opportunity. We want to think about problems and challenges in the communities using the Bible and different theological ways of looking at problems.”

It is not my school, it’s not the school of the committee… this idea belongs to Jesus and to all who have the good will to continue in this direction with us.”

How you can be involved

“Our goal and prayer is to start the school in September 2021. But with COVID restrictions we cannot give you an exact time. We will let you know hopefully by June when we plan to make a decision. That is why we need your prayers,” Miki said.

“We ask pastors and leaders in Roma communities in ex-Yugoslavian countries, please pray for this project. Please pray and try to find students from your own churches that you will send and equip for the great harvest that is coming in front of us.”

The committee expressed gratitude to everyone who has come on board so far, including Melody’s friends who contribute their expertise and experience, Dr Francis from Canada and his ministry organisation and the Danish Evangelical Alliance for their prayer and financial support.

“Any other ministry organisations, churches and individuals who can be part of this initiative, please pray with us, support us financially, or offer any knowledge or expertise that you can contribute to putting together the Bible school,” Miki said.

“We also want to invite people in the Roma Networks, if you have anything to add concerning the Roma context or knowledge of the Bible, please get in touch.”

Sasa added: “It is not my school, it’s not the school of the committee. The initiators were more than 10 Roma churches from this region. So this idea belongs to Jesus and to all who have the good will to continue in this direction with us.”

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