To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Roma being recognised as a nation, we will be sharing with you a few stories from some Roma brothers and sisters from different countries over the next few weeks. They will share with us how they view their identity as Roma, their experiences as Roma, how they came to Christ and how this affects their sense of identity. We hope you are encouraged, inspired and enriched by their stories.
It was Monday afternoon in Romania when Nelu and Anca made time to chat with me on video call from inside their car. Monday is a quieter day of their typically busy week. Nelu pastors a church in a village in central Romania, where he has been serving for more than 20 years. Anca never runs out of things to do as a mother and a pastor’s wife. They have three children and have recently fostered two more. Anca is also involved in teaching and discipling the women and children in the church.
Both Nelu and Anca grew up in central Romania, not far from where they are currently living. They grew up among a mixed population of Roma, Romanians and Hungarians. When he was younger Nelu struggled with his Roma identity.
“I used to want to hide that I’m Roma, but it was hard to hide because my skin is quite dark. In my village the discrimination was not too bad, but I still believed I was inferior,” Nelu said.
Nelu counts it a blessing that he grew up in a Christian home and was taught about God from a young age.
“My parents and grandparents are Christian. My grandfather helped start churches in our area. My father was a pastor and I have known God for as long as I can remember. He got me preaching from when I was 14,” Nelu shared.
As he grew older and matured in his understanding of the Christian faith, Nelu’s perception of his identity changed.
“I know that I am made by God and that I am equal to everyone else. God has helped me heal from the past and to forgive. I now don’t see myself as Roma – I see myself as a Christian,” Nelu said.
Anca echoes this experience. She didn’t grow up in a Christian home but became a Christian as a young girl through going to church and joining the kids’ program. She had a rough childhood and her sense of self-worth was low. Knowing Christ has completely transformed that.
“I know I am loved by God and it doesn’t matter what other people think. It helps me feel secure and to not feel bitter about other people,” Anca said.
Their faith in Jesus has also given them a new sense of purpose and opened their hearts to love and forgive others, both Roma and non-Roma. In their ministry, they seek to speak God’s truth and show God’s love to those around them. They see first-hand the impact of the gospel lived out.
“There is one man in our church who turned his life around. He used to be really lost. He was drinking and beating his wife. Then he came to Christ. He now doesn’t drink anymore and is looking after his family well. This is just one story, there are many others,” Nelu said.
In her role as a pastor’s wife, Anca helps and supports the women in the church as they grapple with issues in their Christian walks.
“Many young women in our church struggle to respect their husbands, and their mothers are encouraging them to not respect their husbands. I am helping in that area, pointing them to what God teaches about how wives should relate to their husbands,” Anca shared.
Through their life and ministry, Nelu and Anca are also winning the respect of outsiders, including the non-Roma in their community.
“We live in a village that has a mixed population of Hungarians, Romanians and Roma. When we first moved here, our neighbours may not have thought much of us. But over time as they see how we live, they have come to respect us. We have good relationships with our neighbours,” Nelu said.
When it comes to Roma and non-Roma interactions, Nelu and Anca believe both sides need to give each other a chance.
“Not all Roma are the same. You must get to know each person and see for yourself,” Anca said.
“In the same way, remember too that not all non-Roma are the same. Some of them are stuck with the mentality about Roma – they don’t know any better. But we can show them through our lives, and they will see,” Nelu added.
When I asked them what they would say to Roma who are bitter and angry about discrimination from others, Nelu said:
“I would say to them that God can heal them from all past hurts. They need God to do the healing and to help them forgive. They need to know that God loves them as Roma”.
This story is brought to you in partnership with Christian Roma Support. You can find this story in Dutch on their website. While you are there, check out the great section they have prepared on the 50th anniversary of Roma. (You can select “Translate” into English when you get on the website)