The next day Pavel took us to a village outside Lucenec called Cinobana, site of another strategic ministry.
A large portion of the population of Cinobana is Roma, a people-group known colloquially as Gypsies. Having migrated from northern India long ago and standing out from European Slovakians not only by the darker color of their hair and skin but also by their poverty, large families, and customs, the Roma are often scorned by other Slovakians.
But not by Pavel.
The Lord has blessed Pavel with a powerful ministry in Cinobana. Pavel’s church in Lucenec purchased a community center in the village, where every afternoon scores of Roma young people congregate for conversation and recreation. Many of the young people have become Christians, loved into the faith by Pavel and his family. One grateful male convert praised Pavel to me: ‘He is a great man!’
Ninety percent of the Roma are unemployed, a staggering number. Most are uneducated and barely eke out an existence. Pavel took us into a big and crumbling apartment block made of concrete, the home to dozens of Gypsy families. The stairwell stank, the stairs were wet and mossy, and the walls were peeling. We could barely process what we encountered next in a two-room unit, the abode of a family of six or seven – a grandmother, a single daughter with two children, an uncle, a cousin. The fireplace was both the source of heat and the stove for cooking. The floors were concrete, stained, cold. The inhabitants slept on mats on the floor, in dark rooms, a solitary 20 watt bulb hanging from a frayed electrical cord in the center of the room.
It was here that the grandmother celebrated our visit by cupping my cheeks with her dirty hands and pulling me to her chaffed and bloody lips for three successive kisses. Had I anticipated such a moment before the fact, it surely would have made me wince. But I can honestly say that in real life the woman’s expression of affection humbled me and filled me with joy. Moments earlier, walking towards the building, I wondered what these people would feel about our visit. ‘Are these Americans here merely to sample our misfortune and then make a hasty exit?’ Yet, as we looked into the eyes of our hosts, there was absolutely no hint of suspicion. To the contrary, just smiles, warm smiles, welcoming smiles, perhaps even the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen, beaming from the faces of everyone, male and female, young and old. They could not possibly have been more expressively grateful for our visit, offering us sodas and homemade bread. How very happy these people were, with seemingly nothing to be happy about – except that it wasn’t so. They had discovered a genuine happiness not borne of material plenty, but of spiritual riches, the blessings found only in Jesus Christ. These people were full.
As Lesli, Jon, and I walked from unit to unit in the dilapidated building, grieved by the poverty, warmed by the love – we wondered what could we offer these people. Money? Yes, of course, we could give them money. We could give each of them $20 . . . or more. We who have so much, why not empty our pockets into deprived existence of these people in the name of Jesus?
Not a good idea, responded Pavel. Extra funds, even if minimal in our eyes, carry an extra temptation, namely, to squander the funds on addictions, drugs and alcohol, causing even Gypsies renewed in Christ to be drawn back into old habits and brokenness. Much better are paths of ministry demonstrably more productive. Helping people to help themselves, helping them to find a job, helping them to acquire a skill, helping them to achieve literacy, helping them to earn and save money for appliances and vehicles – assisting them in the name of Christ, loving them with the love of Christ, who wants them to thrive as human beings.
Mitchell, Josef, Julia, Grandma, Paul – precious human souls to which we are now united in the bonds of Christ.
Blessings in Christ!
Read more posts in the series:
- Tokens of Love and Gratitude to Christ | Part 1
- Tokens of Love | Part 2: History of Poland
- Tokens of Love | Part 3: Through Our Suffering, God Can Work Mightily
- Tokens of Love | Part 4: Freedom in Jesus Christ
- Tokens of Love | Part 5: Poland’s Favorite Sons
- Tokens of Love | Part 6: Peace and Freedom
- Tokens of Love | Part 7: Assurance of Eternal Life
- Tokens of Love | Part 8: Exploring Krakow
- Tokens of Love | Part 9: From Artistry to Depravity
- Tokens of Love | Part 10: The World Slowly Being Transformed into a Wilderness
- Tokens of Love | Part 11: New Life in Christ
- Tokens of Love | Part 13: Grieving the Empty Seats
- Tokens of Love | Part 14: The Greatest Work of All
- Tokens of Love | Part 15: The Kingdom Plans of the Lord
- Tokens of Love | Part 16: Until We Dance at the Foot of God’s Throne
- Tokens of Love | Part 17: Fullness of Life