Many people, when I first mention Croatia, tend to give me a puzzled look. “Croatia?” they ask. I’ve had many people say, ‘Oh, the cruise that I took there was beautiful,” or they list the touristy cities in Croatia, which I have never been to or even knew existed. I smile at their comments and respond by saying “Maybe one day I’ll be able to experience those places as well.” For me, Croatia isn’t about the coast and its mesmerizing beaches. It isn’t about the beautiful architecture that lines the streets or anything that a tourist would know this small country for. It’s about a small group of people that most of society doesn’t want to be associated with. It’s about what the Lord is going to do through this small group of people. It’s about reaching the unreached and unloved. It’s about being called to live out the simple Gospel.
For those of you who don’t know where Croatia is, let me help you out. Croatia is in central Europe in between Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In moving back to Croatia, the plan is to live in Zagreb and work with a church that is already established and has been working with the Roma Communities for a long time.
For those of you who would like to know what I’ll be doing in Croatia, please keep reading.
What is a Roma Community? Roma communities, otherwise known as gypsy communities, are little settlements of people who are outcast from normal society. The people that live in these villages are looked down upon by society and many times are deemed unworthy. They speak their own language and most of the time marry only within the Roma Communities. Many of these families live in extreme poverty and in really filthy conditions. Most homes consist of two rooms, one for sleeping and the other for eating/hanging out, and don’t have a bathroom. Families normally have to use an outhouse (if they have one) or the nearby grassy hill. There are many homes that don’t have electricity or running water and at the same time are infested with cockroaches and rats. Families normally consist of 10-13 people who all tend to sleep on the floor in the same room.
Back in 2014, I was privileged to visit a Roma Village for the first time while I was studying at Bible College. I remember being so excited to go into the villages and share the gospel with the Roma people. I also remember driving up to a village for the first time and telling myself that there was no way that I was going to get out of the car. I was struck with an insurmountable amount of fear. It was in those villages that the Lord revealed His love for the gypsies to me. It was in those villages that I got to meet some of the most beautiful people I have ever met to this day. I’ve been given the privilege to be able to work with these beautiful, energetic, loving and yet difficult people. The kids that I first met in 2014, I now know. They know my name, they give me hugs, we’ve played games and laughed together, but more importantly, they get to see Jesus lived out through me every time I’m with them. I so strongly desire for each one of these kids to KNOW JESUS. Not just to know the Bible stories and to be able to answer questions thrown their way but to experience Him. These kids from a young age are told by society that they are not wanted, I want to dismantle that lie and show them that they are very much wanted by Jesus!
The team that I am apart of works in three different villages every week, Loncarevo, Trnovec, and Strmec. Each village is unique in its own way. Normally we arrive at each village, gather the kids and do a Bible lesson and craft with them. Each lesson is crafted up in an interactive way that requires the kids to participate. Though these kids love the way the lessons are presented, I believe that worship is their favorite part. We end each lesson with a craft for the kids. While a couple of us work with the kids, we have 1-2 guys that work with some of the men in the village as well. The men gather together and study God’s word. In learning the Croatian language, I would absolutely love to start a study with the women. Once a month, we are able to bring sandwiches, chips, and soda to the Bible lesson. We have our biggest classes on those days. For us, a sandwich is nothing special, but for these kids, it’s like Christmas.
We’ve also started a program called Bright Futures, in where we take ten jr. high age kids out of the villages and bring them to the city to live with us for the weekend. In a typical Roma home, education is not important. You raise your kids to marry so that they can make more babies that can one day marry. Guys and Girls are dropping out of school at 15-16 and getting married. They have kids by 16-17, maybe even younger. Men sometimes leave the country to find work, while the women stay home and take care of their 5+ kids. Other men stay home and try to find work near home. Then there are the men that stay home and drink away all of the money that is given to them. Alcoholism is rampant, and sadly, many times this can lead to abuse or neglect in the home. We see this crippling cycle and we want to help change it. So we bring ten kids with us to the city to live with us. Over the weekend, they get tutored in Math, English, Croatian, Science, and any subject they are struggling with. However, we know that even though education is extremely important, it isn’t eternal. So we focus on teaching them God’s word through devotionals, Bible Studies, and church services. We want them to know that they are valuable, not only to society but more importantly to God. We end the weekend by doing something fun with them. It’s a blast to see a 12-year-old ride on a small roller coaster for the first time or to take them to the movies to see a cartoon, or even just taking a trip to the store to buy an ice cream cone. We do this in hopes that what they learn about Jesus throughout the weekend they take home and share with their friends and family. We do this in hopes that they’ll become the lights on the hill within the Roma villages.
Working in the communities hasn’t been a walk in the park. Each time we go into these villages, it’s like we are entering a battle zone. These people, as loving as they are, can be a challenge. I was recently given this statistic. There are about 16,000 Roma people in the area that the team works in. Out of those 16,000 people, most of them would say that they are religious but don’t really practice or live it out. Only 1.5% of the Roma people are actually following Jesus. If you were to do the math, that would make each team member responsible for sharing the gospel with 3,200 souls. Talk about intimidating. The awesome thing is that we already see the gospel changing the lives of some of the Roma people. Though the numbers of believers in the villages are few, we know not to limit God to what He can do. You see, when I think of Croatia, I don’t think of a postcard. I think of all of the lost souls who are unreached. I think of the 16,000 souls who are despised by society but who are loved by the Lord.
Though I had some wonderful people partner with me at my dessert gathering, I still do not have enough finances to go back to serve the Roma people. As of right now, I have about 25% of the monthly financial support that I need. My heart’s desire is to be back in a Roma Village before the next school season starts. However, I cannot return to Croatia until I have reached my goal of $1,000 a month. Therefore, if you would like to partner with me in reaching the unreached people of the Roma Villages, please click on the Financial Partner button at the bottom of the page.
Please pray for me as I continue to walk by faith. I am really excited to see how you’re prayers are going to bring change to the Roma Villages! God Bless You.
Your Sister in Christ,