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God Among the Roma
Image: Damir Sagolj / Reuters

A shivering 15-year-old, Biljana Nikolić, stood shielding her one-month-old on a street corner in Serbia as a fierce thunderstorm whipped through town.

Biljana leaned against a house to steady herself against the wind. She was fleeing her abusive second husband, and this, less than a year after running away from her first husband, a man her mother forced her to marry. She watched her baby struggle to breathe, and remembered a song her aunt taught her when she was 9: I have a phone that goes up into the sky, when I have problems I can call Jesus.

"God, I know you are here and that you gave me this child," she muttered, "but I don't know what to do with him. If you want, take him."

Just then, a Serbian woman opened the door of the house Biljana was leaning against. She urged Biljana to come inside. It was the first of a long string of answers to prayer that would change her life.

Eventually, her first husband, Đeno, asked her to return to Croatia for the sake of their son. Yet the couple struggled for years. Grinding poverty compelled Biljana to beg on the streets, and forced to sift through trash for scrap metal to sell for cash. They had no legal documents in Croatia, so they were denied assistance from agencies. Mutual growing bitterness resulted in violent arguments. There seemed to be no end to their suffering until 2004. While Biljana was begging on the streets, a local Christian woman befriended her—an encounter that eventually led to Biljana to give her life to Christ.

The change in Biljana's life moved Đeno. "I would wake up in the night and could see she was in tears praying for me," he says. "I thought that she had surely cracked, but my conscience began ...

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In the Magazine

May 2013

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