There is nothing fake or institutionalized about this act of worship. It is a genuine expression of gratefulness to our Creator – an undeniable passion of a people set free. This is the power of the Gospel. While it may take years of hard investment: of teaching, of praying, of counselling; the harvest is simply breath-taking, regardless of its size.
For the last decade, different Christian workers have been sharing the Gospel with the Roma gypsies of Greece. This is another of my experiences from my recent visit to Greece. The Romani people, originating from India, spread far and wide across Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries through the trading highway known as the Silk Road. Many communities were established along this trade route from Asia to Europe as the regularity of their trading careers increased.
However, the introduction of controlled borders effectively severed the trading possibilities of the gypsies and forced the previously nomadic communities to establish themselves in a country not their own. Consequently gypsy minorities can be found throughout the Balkans and greater Europe worlds away from the original homeland.
Faced with persecution from the Ottomans of the Byzantine Empire, the Mongols, and the Nazi's of Hitler's Germany, the Romani Gypsies have long since had a negative reputation among the cities of Europe. Their culture is distinct from the rest of Europe, they have their own language, and despite many efforts to integrate them into European society, the gypsies have – for the most part – remained a distinct minority, proud of their traditions and opportunistic in regards to their (not always honest) procurement of wealth.
Fast forward to the present, and a church is starting to emerge among the Roma gypsies. Through the efforts of many missionaries and the movement of God's spirit among the gypsies, local believers are gathering together to worship God, leaders are being trained, and most importantly – they are excited to share the gospel in surrounding gypsy communities.
As I've been witnessing for the last two weeks, the years of challenging investment from the missionary workers are only just starting to blossom into a harvest, and for the first time in my life, I'm seeing a truly grass-roots-level church planting movement.
The ministry investment at the gypsy camps is generous, consistent and varied as different missionary groups have been working together for a common cause in different ways.
First, there is a team that runs a preschool program for the young children of the camp so that they can not only receive basic education but also hear the stories of the Bible and receive a basic seed of the Gospel. Moving up, there is another team that runs an after school program with school age children, usually centred around Bible storying.
There is also a food pantry ministry established by the church in which I'm serving that provides basic food supplies for the gypsy families that are struggling. Interestingly, these food hampers are only given out in agreement with the other known families in the gypsy camp, encouraging the gypsies to look for one another, and to help each other out during rough times.
Finally, and probably most importantly, hours upon hours have been sown into the adults in fellowship and friendship. After the first few converts were made, this fellowship then transitioned into a humble church service held in a crudely constructed building made by local believers and church members exclusively for that purpose.
A light and a hope
Now, this church offers light and hope in the gypsy camp with services which are led in part by local gypsy believers and in part by the missionary workers who began the work years ago.
When I visited one such church service, I can't say that I was fully prepared to see such passionate believers. After seeing so many ministry efforts in their primary stages, I'd almost forgotten what 'the fruit' even looked like. Local believers were worshipping God with their own songs, in their own tongue, with no inhibitions or propriety laid down by the institutional church.
The pure redemptive message of the Gospel was being shared, testimonies were being given, and best of all, there were always a collection of new people hovering at the back of the small church shed looking on with curiosity. As the evening drew to a close, a invitation for prayer was given and several people responded with requests for healing, for income opportunities and finally for salvation!
That night two women were welcomed into God's Kingdom with tears in their eyes and joy emanating through their faces.
It was then that I was reminded that this is what church planting is all about. Regardless of the years of hard work or the seeming unresponsiveness from the local people, if you are expanding God's Kingdom in accordance with God's desires, then He moves through the physical acts of compassion to stir up hearts of repentance for His kingdom.
It doesn't matter whose ministry, or whose missionary team is able to visibly see the harvest; it is God's work that is being done.
"But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God's weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength." 1 Corinthians 1 verses 24-25.
Blaine Packer is studying a Bachelor of Cross-cultural Ministry at Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies in Launceston, Tasmania.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html