The Roma church in Leskovac, Serbia is about to enter an exciting season. This coming summer they will begin the construction of their new church building and accompanying facilities, which will become a one-of-a-kind complex in the Balkans.
The complex will be built on a four-hectare lot and will eventually house not only the church but also a Bible School, a community kitchen, as well as a kindergarten for up to 60 children and five educators.
This huge building project will be financed with funds from Christian communities from around the world. Because of the huge costs involved, the construction will happen in stages. The first stage will be to build the ground floor and first floor of the church building.
This exciting development didn’t happen overnight.
“The idea for this complex came around the year 2000, when pastor Miodrag Stankovic received a vision of 7000 people coming to Christ in the area,” said Pastor Šerif Bakić, who currently leads the church together with Pastor Bojan Rasimovic.
“He then began buying land, bit by bit over many years, around the Roma settlement. Over time he had bought a total of four hectares from seven different owners.”
Then the season of preparation began. The land had been used as a rubbish tip by people living in the surrounding area. All sorts of rubbish, unwanted items and construction debris were left at the site.
“We started working with our people to explain that this is the Lord’s land, and it’s also our land that God gave us to use, for the glory of His name and for the blessing of people. Little by little we started cleaning it over a period of seven years,” Pastor Šerif said.
After the land was cleaned up and prepared, a modern outdoor sports field was built on it a few years ago, where children and youth from the community can socialise and exercise.
The local government has pledged to provide some lights around the sports facility for World Romani Day (8 April), as well as some building materials for when the construction will start.
A living testimony of transformation
The journey to where they are today hasn’t been without its challenges. One notable hurdle was getting the building permit.
“It was very difficult to get a licence for building a Protestant church because it’s considered a sect in Serbia. Most people in authorities were not in favour and were not willing to sign the licence,” Pastor Šerif said.
“But because of the favour of the Lord we have been able to build good relationships with local authorities and even testify to them about God’s grace.”
“Our mayor is really amazed by what God is doing among the Roma people in our city.”
Over the years the church’s presence and impact has been keenly felt by the local community.
“The crime rate, physical violence, drugs and alcohol abuse have dropped rapidly. The church also helps encourage young Roma to finish primary and secondary schools, which wasn’t the case before. The city noticed the influence of the church. They can see the change that happens in the Roma communities,” Pastor Šerif said.
“When there’s a problem within the Roma community, the local authorities will come and ask the church to be involved in finding a solution. When there’s a conflict between Roma and non-Roma youth, they will ask the pastors to come and be part of the solution.”
This building project is more than just about a physical building, it’s a living picture of what God is doing among the Roma.
“The Lord takes what the world is rejecting and uses them to bring glory for his name. That’s the Roma people, who are largely rejected, but God is using the Roma to bring glory to his name and to fulfil his promises,” Pastor Šerif said.
“If it was not for God, we would never be able to do something like this. I’m really encouraged by the promises from the Lord. I have learnt to trust him through this process.”
“The thing that has held us together through all the challenges was prayer. People of our church have been praying for years for this vision, which will be a house of blessings that is open not only to Roma, but to anyone in the community.”