A Gypsy Experience (part 2)

After a walk around camp and a short stop for Gypsy coffee (I don’t really know what constitutes it as Gypsy coffee except that it was made in the Gypsy camp), we headed to the church. Passing through the gates, the church stood in contrast to its neighboring wood homes. From the brick/concrete plastered walls, it was apparent that this church had been started and funded by people outside the gypsy camp. Ukrainian members of a church in Uzhgorod, who also has a sister church in Mukachevo, felt the Lord calling them to start a church for the Gypsies. It was by no means an extravagant church – the chairs were old benches and used theater seats, the wooden floors were chipped and dusty, and the pastel walls were chipped and cracked. But, it was comfortable and welcoming.

Slowly, the gypsies arrived until the room filled to capacity, leaving some to stand for lack of seats. The first thing i noticed was the sweet spirit of the Christian gypsies. Smiling, they greeted one another. One little old lady, slightly bent shuffled to a seat behind me. We made eye contact, and her face just beamed with love and acceptance. She reached for me, gave me a big, long bear hug with her frail arms and said, “slava bogu” – Praise God. She patted my cheek then sat down. Later, at the end of the service during a time of prayer, I reached back to hold her hand. I could not understand her words, but she vocally prayed out loud for me…a blessing I needed. Even as the rest of the congregation said, “Amen” (ahmeen), she held tight to my hand and kept praying another minute more.

I grew up charismatic, with sometimes wild church services…dancing, tambourine ladies running around the church, people laying on the floor prostrate before God, teenagers jumping up & down to the beat. Over the years, I have moved away from those churches & attended more sedated worship services. It’s been a while since I’ve been around the charismatic atmosphere…so when I was told that the Gypsy church was charismatic, I had prepared myself…You never know what can happen in a charismatic service. In fact, it was refreshing & uplifting with God’s pure, holy presence. There were no flashy presentations or effects, no large band, no inflexible schedule, and no big church mentality. It was simply people who love God getting together to worship their Lord and hearing his pure Word. During worship, their voices sang LOUD, not worried about pitch or what their neighbors thought. Their focus was God. Some clapped, others raised their hands, and still others just closed their eyes…but all worshiped freely in the way that they wanted to show their praise to God. The Spirit within me was moved, and my soul was refreshed.

We also didn’t expect to see other missionaries there. Turns out, there was a H.s. group from a private school in New Hampshire who put on a small presentation with dance and testimonies. There was also a man who is from Scotland but is a full time missionary here in Mukachevo and works with the gypsies. With him, were two American exchange students currently living in Hungary who had come in just for the weekend. But, the highlight of the missionaries were 2 men who had ridden their bicycles from Holland! You’re probably picturing 2 young Lance Armstrong type guys…think again! These were 2 grandfathers in their late 50s, early 60s! They had raised over $75,000 for an orphanage in southern Ukraine, but the catch was that they were going to ride their bicycles to the orphanage to hand deliver the money. Every day they rode 100 kilometers, taking them 2 – 3 weeks to reach this point. Amazing! that’s truly dedication and love in action.

The one thing I love about these smaller churches in Ukraine is that there is no hard-core-cannot-deter-from-the-schedule time constraints. Yes, they have a normal time space planned for 2 hours, but if it goes over…no problem…people don’t get fussy. If someone has an announcement, they can stand up and make it, without a pre-scheduled approval from the pastor. I love how the pastor opens up the microphone for ANYONE to come up and give a testimony, praise, or prayer request and then the congregation prays together for that person. It is truly a family environment where the people are there to encourage one another and participate in the service…they don’t go just to hear a sermon or watch a band perform some worship.

“SHOUT joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.
“Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalm 100:1-5

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ukrainiac
    Apr 30, 2008 @ 17:56:17

    Sounds like you had a great Sunday!

    Reply

  2. jaybrams
    May 01, 2008 @ 14:41:14

    Reply

  3. missionsminded
    May 04, 2008 @ 02:28:01

    God is awesome and works in place we don’t tend to think he will. I love reading your posts and about you ministry in the Ukraine. We will be praying for you guys.

    Reply

  4. lmparks
    May 04, 2008 @ 09:15:04

    Thanks everyone!

    Ukrainiac: we did have a wonderful Sunday, and expect many more!

    Jaybrams: I read your post, am still thinking/pondering over it, and will post my comments when i can get my thoughts all in order.

    missionsminded: Thanks for your encouragement and prayers. God is always working, even when we don’t see Him, or fail to look for Him. He is awesome, isn’t He?

    Reply

  5. Cari Miller
    May 08, 2008 @ 16:17:24

    I think that is so great! Wouldn’t it be great to worship like that here? Not having to worry about time schedules, what others think around you, etc. I think we have often lost the reverence of God and forget that we are trully there to worship Him. We must remember its not about us, people worship in many different ways, and we are ultimately here to glorify God.

    Reply

  6. RL
    May 16, 2008 @ 16:04:20

    Did the Sihani also impart a gift of tuberculosis on you? Be careful of that. It’s not their fault, but it’s a rampant disease in the camps and places like Shaslivtsi orphanage. And might I ask what are you doing to actually help them? The Roma people in the Uzhgorod area have incredibly high rates of illiteracy (self-imposed), TB, other medical problems and face terrible discrimination from Ukrainians.

    Besides saving their souls, are you doing anything to save their lives? Check out Romani Yag, a Roma newspaper and organization in the Shakta region of Uzhgorod. There are people who are truly dedicated to improving their lives, not just their churches.

    Reply

  7. lmparks
    May 17, 2008 @ 11:13:56

    RL: we are as careful as possible when it comes to our health. We really do not spend much time in the Roma camp. This particular time that I write about was our first time there, and tonight we will go again as we have been invited to a “coffee night”.

    We have been asked by a few of the gypsies to help them learn to read and to teach some English. We have not started this yet, as we have only been here 1 1/2 months and are doing full time studies ourselves. One of the commands of Jesus is to meet the physical needs of people (Christian or not), so we definitely will be doing what we can. We’re still getting acclimated here and trying to figure out just what that means when it comes to how we can assist the Roma people. But, it is definitely one of our goals.

    I will definitely visit the orphanages, schools, and organization. thanks for their info!

    Reply

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