Menka was born in Sutka in Macedonia to a family proud of their Roma heritage and passionate about the voice and welfare of the Roma.
Her maternal grandfather, Faik Abdi, was one of the representatives at the first World Roma Congress in London in 1971, and spent his life advocating for the Roma. Her mother worked as a journalist at a Romani TV station in Sutka. Both were big supporters of better education for the Roma.
Menka’s childhood memories include being on the front-row seat of her family’s involvement in the political arena in Macedonia.
A grandfather’s legacy
To Menka her grandfather is a role model and a great influence in her life.
“He dedicated his whole life to helping our people be recognised as a nation, for our people to move forward and to have better living situations. He fought against discrimination. I believe that our people, especially in Macedonia, have a lot of the freedoms that they do today partly because of the work that he’s done and some of the sacrifices he made, and how hard he fought. I’m very, very proud of him,” Menka said.
“He was also a parliament member in the Macedonian government. His main aim was to find a way to give our people a voice and a better life.
“He just loved our people. Everyday he went to work, whatever he did was so our people can live just like other human beings live in this world.”
Menka recalls fond memories of being included by her grandfather in his work.
“I remember I grew up among all this – the elections and everything. Running around after him. He used to call me his secretary. I would pick up the phone and he would get very important phone calls, such as from the president of Macedonia. I felt very special.”
A new home in Perth
When Menka was nine years old she moved to Perth, Western Australia, with her parents and brother, while the extended family stayed in Macedonia.
The family of four started a new life in Perth and made it their home. In this new city Menka found the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I was about 14 years old. I was curious to know about God, even though I wasn’t raised in a religious family. My parents called themselves Muslims but we didn’t really practice the faith. I felt my soul was yearning to know God, but I wasn’t sure which way to go,” Menka said.
“One day one of my friends invited me to church. I went and I sat there, it was a totally different experience to what I had seen and known before. When the altar call came up, I just felt this is it – this is what I’ve been searching for. This is home. This is my God.”
Menka’s new-found faith was met with opposition from family and friends.
“From then on it wasn’t the easiest journey, but I just knew Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour and there is nothing or no one that can tell me otherwise – and many people did try,” Menka said.
“Being Romani, Christianity was seen as the other people’s religion. My family didn’t really like that. They couldn’t understand why I would be drawn to it. It’s for the other people, not for the Roma people.
“It was really hard. I couldn’t always go to church. But I didn’t want to let go of my faith.”
Over time, Menka’s mother also became a believer. Menka has continued in her faith ever since, and her children have had Christian upbringing all their lives.
Sense of identity
Having grown up in a strong Roma family, Menka has always had a solid sense of Roma identity.
“I’m very proud to be a Romani woman. I’ve never wanted to hide it, I’ve never been embarrassed of being Romani. That’s mainly because of my granddad’s influence. He’s always taught us to be very proud of who we are because we are a strong people,” she said.
“I think we’re a great nation. We’ve been through so much, yet we’re still standing strong. We have such a rich culture and history.”
However, Menka said she did struggle with insecurity and lacking a sense of belonging.
“So while being very proud to be Romani, there’s always been an insecurity because of not having an actual home. When people say where do you come from or where were you born, you can’t really tell them an actual country. So that’s always been an insecurity that’s part of my identity – of not belonging,” she said.
“When I became a Christian, I felt home. This is it, this is where I belong. My identity in Christ – I’m a very proud Christian Romani woman that has a home.
“I have a sense of purpose and destiny, designed by God. That has really secured who I am and what I am to do on this earth as a Romani Christian woman. I am Romani, but first I’m God’s daughter. That is the biggest thing, it makes it even more special that I am a child of God that’s Romani.”
Those who know Menka will tell you that she has overcome many challenges in her life. Hers is a story of courage, grit and determination against all odds.
“I got married when I was 18. By the time I was 25 I was a single mum of three beautiful boys. I was working as a school chaplain and I felt I needed to provide better for my boys, which my work in chaplaincy wasn’t able to provide at the time,” Menka shared.
“I was seeking God, praying and asking him what he wanted me to do, whether I should go back to school. I didn’t even finish high school. I finished Year 11 and went to do a hair-dressing apprenticeship, which I didn’t end up finishing. I didn’t have much going for me.
“I was praying and one day I felt God said ‘Go and study law’. I thought that was the biggest joke. I left it at that because I wasn’t really academic, so law seems like a far-fetched idea. I didn’t believe that I was smart enough for law.
“A couple of weeks after, I was driving the kids to school in the morning. I said to my boys ‘I’m thinking of going back to university but I don’t really know what to study’. And then my middle child said, ‘Mum, you’re gonna be a lawyer!’. I was so surprised. He said it out of the blue, with such confidence. Out of the mouth of babes!”
Menka still didn’t think she could attempt such a grand thing as a law degree, but God provided the people and encouragement she needed.
“God just kept putting it on my heart. I told my parents and I’m very blessed to have amazing parents that literally put their lives on hold to help me do it. They are my biggest encouragers,” Menka said.
“My best friend told me she believed in me that I could do it. She was my biggest cheerleader.”
Menka enrolled for law school but at first she couldn’t get in. She had to do another course first, then apply for a transfer. This added an extra half a year to her studies, a demoralising start to what already felt like a long road. But Menka didn’t give up. She eventually got into law school.
“It was hard. I cried a lot. There were a lot of doubts. I just kept going, day after day, semester after semester. I achieved some great results. There were times I failed and I got back up.”
For Menka her time at law school showed her God’s loving hand in her life.
“Doing such a hard course allowed God to show me his grace and his provision. His unmerited favour. There’s been so much grace and how far I’ve come is only because of God’s grace.”
Finally after long years of studies, Menka graduated with a law degree this year – the first person in her family to have a university degree.
“It was a really proud moment for me and my family that this Romani girl that didn’t finish high school, that got married young, had kids young, got divorced young, and really wasn’t academic, became quite academic and now enjoys reading articles and cases,” Menka said.
“For my graduation it wasn’t just me celebrating my achievement. It was something that we all did, our whole tribe. This was thanks to all the people around me, the whole community. Even the school parents would bring me meals. To me, all this is God showing his love to me, encouraging me and cheering me on.
“When God says ‘go and do this’, which to our natural mind might seem impossible, he provides a way. I’m a living testimony of that.”
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