Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First Leg - Northeast Hungary

It was an interesting time to take a busload of Roma (Gypsy) students and teachers across Hungary and Slovakia. Although we were a bit nervous, given the current climate and recent Roma killings in NE Hungary, we took off in early August with 29 choir members and 9 adults, in a bus provided by many of you, to make the trek across the country on the first leg of the trip. We went to five Roma villages near the Ukraine border; those five communities may never be the same! I don’t know who was more fascinated and surprised—the Gandhi students seeing other Roma who lived in the villages, or the resident Romani welcoming High School students who were actually Gypsies! Evidently, both groups didn’t know that the others really existed. It was like an old homecoming for both groups. The choir members were “heroes” to the villagers, and the students just loved the attention from children and adults, alike.

Thanks to Ralph Stocks, Roma Baptist House-churches were our hosts and invited people and neighbors from their communities. You can see from the pictures that most of the performances were outside in dirt yards and that people gathered inside and outside the fences and against the walls. The Gandhi girls and guys looked wonderful in their traditional or black clothing. The program was a choir performance with some Christian testimony and a little extra Gandhi recruitment thrown into the mix.

The choir was wonderful. Joshua, Sanyi, Szabi, Istvan, and Peti played their instruments like pros. Andi, Andi (a second one), Laura, Peter, Nelli, and Marian all sang outstanding solos even when they were competing against village church bells, roving Gypsy children and adults, and sweltering heat. Nelli and Marian stepped in at the last minute when Klaudia, our original soloist, was robbed the night before the trip and couldn’t accompany us because she had no official “papers”. They went right up to the microphone and sang as if they’d been doing it for months! Trey Harper (Truett Divinity School) also sang one of Klaudia’s solos, so the choir and the audiences had a treat in hearing Trey. At every performance, these girls and guys were just stupendous. People enjoyed the music so much that they clapped, sang along, and danced—even the really old people!

In addition to the captivating music, Ricsi (rising 12th grader) and Szilvi (rising 11th grader) agreed to share their testimonies as believers at each performance. What a gift!! We were amazed how readily they agreed when Glen asked them. To give their testimonies in front of their many non-believing peers was truly courageous for both Ricsi and Szilvi. Their testimonies were brief, strong, and beautiful. I was so proud of them that I almost yelled “Bravo” every time! In addition, Laci (university student, Gandhi graduate/teacher, and translator) spoke of his years at Gandhi and university, and Marika (Roma teacher at Gandhi) spoke about the Gandhi School and the possibilities for Roma children from the NE. Since the performances were packed with parents, teens, and children, perhaps a few of those will find their way to Gandhi somewhere down the road.
After each performance, the church folks wanted to respond, so they sang a few numbers for the choir and served refreshments to all of us. The Gandhi students were wonderful. They visited with people--young and old, gave autographs on programs, held babies, took pictures, recruited young Roma for the school, and ate all of the offered food! After last year’s trip, I shouldn’t have been surprised that they “rose to the occasion” in such remarkable style!

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