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Roma Gypsies face familiar challenges after French expulsion


By Trent Parker

BUCHAREST, Romania --Florin smiles deferentially as the Romanian police officer unleashes a tirade of curses at him in front of the Bucharest airport.

“You are the reason for Romania’s bad name!” yells the policeman. “You Gypsies go to France and steal, murder and prostitute yourselves. Now you are our problem again. You are a disgrace!”

Since the beginning of 2010, France has deported more than 8,000 Roma to Romania in an attempt to dismantle Roma camps and sweep Gypsies out of the country. Florin and his family were among the last wave of Gypsies to be expelled in October. Many Roma had gone to France in search of work. But French authorities now cite rising crime rates and financial burden as reasons for ousting them.

The French government provided Florin, who was working as a brick mason, and other Roma with 300 euros and a flight back to Romania. While they were waiting to be deported, the Gypsies were directed to holding camps. Those who did not comply were arrested.

Florin, 21, does not respond to the policeman as he looks for his mother and brother among the colorful river of Roma flowing from the airport terminal. Florin and his people were unwelcome in France — obviously the sentiment in Romania will not be much better.

The Roma Gypsies are a transient people, though not always by choice.

“Every opportunity is closed for you when you are a Gypsy,” said Florin. 

“Gypsy” is a derogatory term commonly used for the Roma people. Europeans, who thought they came from Egypt because of their dark skin, first called them Gypsies. The Roma people actually migrated to Europe from India hundreds of years ago. Many Europeans still view the Roma with suspicion because they stick to their own cultural practices and beliefs.

Cornel Tuns, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, is familiar with the constant challenges facing the Roma people. A Romanian-American, Tuns was 14 when he moved with his family to Los Angeles from Bucharest in the 1980s to escape communism. He said the Roma’s hardships have led to ministry opportunities.

“The biggest challenge in working with the Roma, as it is with any group, is dealing with sin,” said Tuns, who served in Romania as a short-term missionary in 2005 and then returned in early 2010 as an apprentice missionary with his wife, Erica.

Tuns joined several Roma believers at the Bucharest airport to meet the throng of expelled Gypsies, offering rides and helping them connect with family members. Knowing that music is an important part of Roma culture, the missionary also handed out CDs containing Christian music and the Gospel message. 

Tuns’ efforts received a mixed response. While some of the Roma were thankful for the help, others were suspicious of ulterior motives.

“Many Gypsies are skeptical about getting anything for free,” said Tuns, a native of Ames, Iowa.

IMB missionaries have started two significant ministries with the Roma. From Everywhere To Everywhere (FETE) trains Roma believers to go across Europe and share the Gospel with other Roma. Far Away Romany Missions (FARM) is a summer program dedicated to providing biblical and evangelism training to the Roma. Florin is a believer who served with FARM in previous summers.

The Roma are the largest minority group in Europe with an estimated 6 million spread across the continent. Often the recipients of prejudice and suspicion, their involvement with theft, prostitution and drug use do little to alleviate stereotypes.

“The sin issues the Roma struggle with are often manifested very obviously and outwardly,” said Tuns. “Because of this, their appreciation for forgiveness of sins is sincere and heartfelt.”

Despite the Roma people’s wariness, Tuns and other IMB missionaries across Europe are seeing a response to the Gospel.  Rugul Aprins (Burning Bush) is a rapidly growing Roma church with 3,000 members — located in a Romanian town with a population of 7,000.

Tuns was surprised to see Florin among the Roma arriving at the Bucharest airport. He knew Florin from working with him at FARM and offered to give Florin and his family a ride to the train station. As they drove, Florin told Tuns the problems the Roma had faced in France and the bleakness of their return.

“Not all of us were [in France] committing crimes,” said Florin. “We needed work and there was none for us here in Romania.”

Unfortunately, Florin and the other expelled Roma return from France to face familiar challenges. While many are originally from Romania, it is no longer their home. But they must once again find a way to make a living in the face of discrimination and hatred.

Florin remains hopeful for his people, despite their circumstances.

“God created us to be this way,” he said. “We were made by Him and He knows why.”

Tuns is asking other Christians to join the task of reaching the Roma with the love of Christ.

“Southern Baptists can be involved through praying for [the Roma] and through taking initiative and concrete steps to be part of God’s answer to those prayers,” he said.

For more information on how you and your church can pray for the Roma people, go to Missionaries like Cornel Tuns are supported through the Cooperative Program and receive 100 percent of Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Trent Parker is a writer for the IMB in Europe.

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