God Among the Roma
Bakić's family was converted after his brother was miraculously healed of throat cancer, and he is now preparing for ministry in the pastoral footsteps of his father. Bakić and other Roma leaders are walking alongside their people on the path from conversion to transformation.
For example, in the 1970s, ethnic Serbian pastor Mio Stanković and his wife, Else, opened the doors of his small evangelical church of about 30 to the 8,000 to 10,000 Roma living in villages around Leskovac, Serbia. After 10 years, Roma trickled in after word spread of miraculous healings. Within 20 years, the congregation exploded in growth, recording 1,000 members.
In 2004, the church split, but both communities have become a base for missions, planting other Roma congregations in Serbia and reaching out to Roma communities in Croatia. Different languages, dialects, cultural groupings, and host countries make each Roma village unique. What unites them are miracles, dreams, and visions that lead to conversion. "Our gypsy people really want to see something—to feel the presence of God," says Selim Olivić, one of the pastors in Leskovac.
Change is neither immediate nor easy, leaders told CT. "Roma people come easily to Jesus, to pray the Sinner's Prayer—and then they stop," says Alexandar Subotin, founder and pastor of three churches and two mission stations in northwest Serbia.
"At the moment they hear the gospel, they are usually without hope. They accept and have a fire in their heart, but they don't know how to put wood on the fire."
Subotin was converted as a teenager, and served in a local Serbian Pentecostal church until he began a Roma church in his village. He biked to other villages, as far as 35 miles away, in order to lead home groups and evangelize. Fifty Roma now attend his largest church, though he recognizes that many come just for humanitarian aid. Still, he aims to treat equally everyone who attends.
Across the Board Outreach
Systematic poverty, a survivalist mentality, low education levels, different cultural values, and persistent prejudice have conspired to keep Roma at the bottom of European society. But effective discipleship has a proven track record of transforming individuals and renewing Roma culture. That is the conclusion of scholar Miroslav Atanasov, who's completed groundbreaking research on Pentecostal Gypsies in Bulgaria. A key factor is grassroots Roma pastors having a comprehensive vision for ministry.
In 2008, Subotin placed new emphasis on the command from Christ to care for "the least" (Matt. 25:35–40)—no matter what it takes. His work requires him, depending on the need, to be a pastor, lawyer, advocate, nurse, and counselor. "He gave me these people, and I must serve them, work with them, encourage them," Subotin says, "not only to preach the gospel but to encourage them to work and have normal lives."
Subotin says instances of violence and witchcraft have decreased, and school attendance and legal marriages have increased. More Roma now have personal documents that give them legal status in society, and there is as an increasing desire to work and keep gardens and houses clean.