A very invigorating part of Ron’s ministry as CHE Central Europe Coordinator is mentoring new teams and strategizing and launching new development and outreach projects in poor Roma communities. In April Ron and Jeannie went on a 18 day, eye-opening trip to explore 8 new projects, one in Romania, two in Serbia and 5 in Macedonia.
We started in Romania where Pastor Zsolt Albert has planted a Roma church in the community of Parhida from which he would like to begin a community development project. As Ron was presenting to the church group that Sunday, a family burst into the room announcing that their daughter had just given birth to a still-born baby. (The infant mortality rate among Roma is twice as high as among Romanians.) It was encouraging to see the close-knit body of believers share in the family’s shock and grief. This is a solid core for a CHE project. Pastor Zsolt needs a church partner to launch his dream program here.
In Serbia, we surveyed the site in the small Roma community of Donji Petrovac, where Marijana Čizmanski and her ZZ Serbia team are now working, where a community center will be built out of shipping containers this September. A short-term
team from North and South Dakota will be assisting Marijana and the villagers in this effort. The community center will be used for CHE trainings, community events, children’s meeting and church meetings.
Klara and Emil Kisgeci-Dudas from the REZ Serbia team took us to the agricultural village of Nadalj, north of Novi Sad, where they have been doing community visits since last fall. We discussed strategy for a community-wide survey of the mixed Serbian and Roma population as the first phase of their outreach program this summer.
Our main objective was to spend 10 days gaining a vision of the new CHE projects being started by members of the Galilee Foundation in Macedonia. Since their first CHE training last year, team members have begun door-to-door visitation and surveying in five very challenging communities both urban and rural.
Adams and Marija Polikarp have moved into Bregovi to begin a community program through the Roma church plant there. Their presence has gained the attention of local muslim leaders who have sent an Imam to Bregovi to “reconvert” the muslims who have become Christians. Muslims in the Balkans have been largely nominal in the past, but are now being challenged and coerced to become more fundamentalist and radical by leaders sent from the Middle-East.
Delchevo is a small, economically depressed city in northeast Macedonia. Stojan and Zorica Manovska, who oversee a small church here, are now doing home visits among the destitute Roma population. Men make $2 per day recycling plastic bottles to supplement $25 per month government
checks. Eight people or more often live in small one room room apartments without utilities or water. Taking a bath or washing clothes involves using a baby bassinet in an outdoor privy. The majority are generally unhealthy and without hope. Stojan would like to quit his $200 a month job to devote himself to full-time evangelism and community development among this group. Zorica is finishing Bible School to join him in this.
Two Roma squatter-neighborhoods totaling 1000 people sprawls up the side of a mountain on the outskirts of Prilep, Macedonia. The people call their community Mexico because of the high crime and drug problems they face. Mexico has no running water or sewage system. The water supply is contaminated and the children are often sick because of it. No children go to school here. The community is illiterate. The only work
involves illegally collecting wood from a distant forest and selling it in the city for a couple of dollars a day. Alit Halidoski, from the Galilee Foundation, has been visiting homes in this community. The leaders I met with are ready for CHE to come with the gospel and with training and sustainable solutions. But we have a closing window of opportunity. Radical Islam, with its tactics of intimidation, is encroaching rapidly in the region of Prilep. Alit has already had a gun held to his head and a knife to his chest for leaving Islam and becoming a Christian leader.
The fields are white and ready for harvest. Our job now is to pray for laborers and resources and to help find sustainable individual, church and mission agency partners to stand with these faithful, hard working nationals during the process of personal and community transformation.