In deporting thousands of Roma, or Gypsies, to Romania and Bulgaria this summer, France polarized the European Union and focused continent-wide attention on the ethnic minority known for its centuries-old story of discrimination. Fewer know how far the gospel is spreading among them.
"Most people still hate Gypsies, especially in France," said John Boyd, a Roma pastor who works with Light and Life, an international Assemblies of God ministry by and for Roma. "[Yet] revival hasn't stopped. God is calling Gypsies all around the world."
Pentecostalism has spread throughout the worldwide Roma community since the early 1950s. France, the source and center of the main movement, has over 200,000 Pentecostals among perhaps 500,000 Roma, according to Thomas Acton, a professor of Romani studies at the University of Greenwich. Missionary efforts among Roma continue to be fruitful.
In the United Kingdom, Boyd and his fellow ministers host tent missions where groups of Roma converge in a field to hear preaching and teaching. "This summer has been exceptional," he said. "In eight weeks we've seen about 300 people come to faith in Christ."
Such gatherings still attract controversy. One of Boyd's meetings near Cambridge this summer made national headlines. Newspapers featured local residents complaining about the Roma presence and making the same accusations of theft and disruption levied at Roma throughout the centuries. The Daily Mail reported that a local pub barred the outsiders.
"Frankly, I'm glad. We're against drinking," said Boyd, who rejected the media's description and said police didn't report any real problems with the villagers.