In western Romania, near the Hungarian border, pastor Cristian Giugila and his wife Mirela operate a mission called Casa Lumina (“House of Light”) in the Transylvanian city of Oradea. In addition to spreading the Gospel within the city, they conduct an outreach ministry to the people of Dicanesti, a village several kilometers away. The residents of Dicanesti are Roma, an impoverished people who have inhabited this region since the Middle Ages, when they left northwest India to begin a migration that took them through Persia and the Middle East into North Africa and Eastern and Central Europe. The mistaken belief that they originated in Egypt accounts for the common name “gypsy.”
Cristian drives the mission group in his van. A few kilometers outside Oradea, he turns onto a gravel road, and from there onto a farm track and then simply across an open field to reach the village, which has no other access. Dicanesti has no water, running or otherwise, and so it must be carried on foot from a source three or four kilometers away. This creates problems of sanitation and nutrition in the midst of a prosperous agricultural region. The communal toilet is not even buried. Some of the small houses are constructed from bricks of mud. Transportation is by horse cart.
But the spiritual poverty may be the most acute. The people bear faint relation to the romantic image of the gypsy. There is no music or fortune telling, and few colorful costumes. In fact, many Roma have hardly any livelihood. Some men perform odd jobs in return for a government stipend of about $40 a month. Others, if not from this village then elsewhere, operate in the cities as beggars or thieves, “skills” they then teach to their children. “They are like savages,” says Mirela. This blunt description would not go down well in the politically correct West, but few from the West undertake the arduous task of bringing the Gospel, along with education and other features of civilized life, to the Roma. Mirela and Cristian spend at least three days a week giving the people of Dicanesti an education in faith, rudimentary knowledge, and basic manners. Other Romanian and foreign churches have undertaken similar missions, but many give up in frustration.
Mirela’s directness appears to be borne out. The children are mostly dirty and unkempt (though there are exceptions) and regularly push one another. Some adults spit on the ground and pick their noses. Both children and adults have tattoos, some of which appear crude. Yet they are cheerful, and it is obvious that they are grateful to Cristian, Mirela, and their daughter Denisa and welcome them enthusiastically. Few white Romanians treat the Roma with any attitude other than contempt.
As the lessons begin in a small, enclosed piece of grass that is the closest approximation to a village green, a problem has developed. Some animal has been allowed to foul the plot with its waste. Mirela insists that it must be cleaned before the lesson can begin, and a woman reluctantly turns over the soil.
We begin with songs of praise for Jesus, and the children sing with enthusiasm. Then we move to mathematics. Individual children -- some who seem to be as old as eight or ten -- are asked to count to ten, which they mostly can do, but some must think about it. Geometry consists in identifying a circle, square, triangle, and rectangle. This is the only schooling these children receive. Even if they could get to the nearest school, which would be a hardship, they would be so far behind the others pupils that their presence would be mostly pointless.
Sophisticated people may sneer at the notion of bringing the Gospel and “civilization” to a benighted people. Those with a more political cast of mind have had more ambitious agendas to solve the Roma “problem.” The Nazis tried to exterminate them outright and nearly succeeded, killing some 0.5 - 1.5 million -- a larger proportion of their population than the percentage of Jews murdered. The Communists appeared more humane and tried to settle them in public housing, which turned out to be largely useless for the traditionally nomadic people, who would bring farm animals into apartment blocks and break up furniture to build fires. In frustration, the Communists, too, eventually undertook measures for their elimination, such as programs of sterilization in Slovakia and elsewhere. The European Union is apparently more humane still, proclaiming 2005-2015 the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.” This has consisted mostly of importing American-style welfare and affirmative action programs that have the predictable effect of breaking up Roma families and creating dependency on government officials.
Given this sorry legacy, it is difficult to see how anyone could resist the clear alternative: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But for the grace of God we would all be in this condition, and at one time or another we all were. It is not clear how government programs can help more than a tiny minority of already privileged Roma. They need hope, self-confidence, an honest work ethic, sexual discipline, the manners accepted by civilized people, and the ethics that permit social trust and enterprise. In short, they need what we all need in our personal lives and the life of our civilization: people like the Giurgilas and Casa Lumina to bring them the salvation of the Lord.
Casa Lumina is supported in part by East European Outreach International. More information is available at http://www.casalumina.com/engels/indexe.html. Stephen Baskerville is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007). Read full bio.