Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking for Some Good News?

Note:  The CBF Romany Ministry team is not directly connected with the European Roma Rights Centre. We do find good news encouraging. Perhaps you do, too?
Everyone has the right to be free from race discrimination. For Roma in Europe, though, that is more theory than reality. Most Roma in Europe experience discrimination each day. They are denied access to a decent education, refused the right to travel abroad, and many cannot even get equal access to drinking water.  Here are twelve ways we worked with Roma this year to make Europe a better place for all of us:
  1. For the first time in Europe an official Roma-only settlement was ruled discriminatory. This Italian court judgment reaffirms the long-held positions of many rights organisations that placing Roma in Roma-only camps, shelters or any other segregated housing fosters social exclusion and is contrary to the European Union laws.
  2. We helped a Roma community living in Uzhgorodo, Ukraine to legalise their homes.
  3. Sadly sometimes even EU funds are used for the segregation of Roma. Following our complaint to the European Commission, the regional authorities in Naples, Italy, stopped plans for a segregated housing project.
  4. Several Romanian Roma were detained and removed from Denmark. With the ERRC’s help, they have already established that their expulsion was unlawful. This year, we helped them reverse a decision refusing them legal aid to continue their case.
  5. Roma are often denied personal documents just for being Roma. 2015 was another successful year of our paralegal project in Ukraine, which has, in three years, secured 16 birth certificates, 24 internal passports and 3 external passports for Roma who were living without documents.
  6. We have to make sure that National Action Plans for Roma inclusion are really benefiting Roma. With our help, Roma civil society organisations in Ukraine are now actively engaged in advocacy with relevant authorities to improve and implement that country’s plan.
  7. When highlighting issues cornering Roma rights, the European Commission picked up our recommendations in its report on Albania, Turkey, Macedonia, and Serbia.
  8. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Hungary for discrimination resulting from the failure to investigate a racist attack against a Romani man. The applicant was the victim of a racist attack by a man who claimed to be a police officer and called him a “dirty gypsy”. We intervened in the case as a third party.
  9. Perpetrators of an anti-Roma pogrom were found guilty of hate crimes in Italy. We were a civil party in the criminal case.
  10. The Macedonian authorities racially profile their citizens who are trying to leave the country and stop Roma from leaving. According to a court judgment delivered this year, the Interior Ministry has to pay compensation to a Romani couple who were not allowed to cross the border to visit their family. The European Commission also mentioned racial profiling at the border in its 2015 progress report on Macedonia. The ERRC worked with a local NGO to help the plaintiffs.
  11. Based on complaints we filed with local NGOs, the Ombudsman condemned segregation in two schools in Albania; the Equality Commissioner also found discrimination in one of the cases (and is still considering the second).
  12. The Ombudsman in the Czech Republic found discrimination following our complaint about discrimination resulting from a refusal to enrol a Roma child in primary school.
“The ERRC is pursuing 158 legal cases in 17 countries. Institutions, ministries and schools must know that they can’t get away with discrimination.” - says Adam Weiss Legal Director of ERRC - “We are getting better every year at uncovering the ways they discriminate. In 2016 and beyond, we will be in court with new cases and securing new legal victories for the Roma rights movement.

Note:  This article has been slightly condensed from the original.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Signs of the Season

December 21, the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in central Iowa it is as dark and gloomy as the photograph on the left. Can you even tell what it is supposed to be? It's an image of Christmas. That's also why I've linked it with this blue sign. I happen to be in a hospital right now, waiting for test results on my 90+ year-old mother. It will not be our first Christmas season spent in part or in whole in a hospital. Perhaps you're familiar with that, too?
If so, this post is for you, and for everyone who is not having such a holly jolly Christmas. I know a lot of you--you are missing a loved one who was with you last year and left a hole in your heart this year.  You are half-way through chemo and facing an uncertain future. Your home was bombed, and your country is in chaos. None of this has happened to you, but you've been depressed so long you've forgotten what it even feels like to be happy.
Whatever the reason, you aren't alone. Even in the midst of the frenetic tinseled hype of an American holiday season, a couple of local churches paused to hold an observance for those among us facing a blue Christmas.They were inspired by the baby in this little beam of light. You know, the one who grew up to be a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.

 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. 

(Scripture references from Isaiah 53:3 and 53:4)

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Do you have one of those fancy coffee-making machines in your home? They make one cup at a time, brewed through these fancy little coffee-filled gizmos (refillable plastic-and-mesh ones if you're thrifty), and they cost $100+ unless you get them on sale. I know the price, since an in-law of mine was Christmas-shopping for them. We don't need one, though. When Keith was recording the Eastern Slovak Romani New Testament, the Romany brothers showed him how to make coffee without any kind of machine at all. Here's how it's done.

1. Spoon desired amount of coffee into mug.

2. Add boiling water.

3. Stir in sugar.

4. Then stir in more sugar.
5. Enjoy with friends.

So, that's all there is to it. No fancy coffee-making machine needed. Feel free to send the $100+ saved to a worthy cause. (And let me know if you need ideas about which worthy cause . . . I know of one or two . . . .)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Taste of Home

What foods make you feel at home? a particular snack? your own tea? Keith and I had been taking an 8-hour bus ride from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Dallas, Texas. I was feeling out of my element. The snack racks in the store at the rest stop featured cracklings in different flavors, pork rinds, and mini sweet potato pies.   

Then, behind a pot selling boiled peanuts, I saw it. There was the coffee Dutchmen slip into their suitcases and travel trailers so they can have a taste of home far from home:  Douwe Egberts (DOW-e EGG-berts). I couldn't believe my eyes! I had to run back to the bus to tell Keith about it. And then I ran back in to buy a cup to go.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Who is your neighbor--and fellow citizen?

This is an on-going debate, both in North America and in Europe. Take, for instance, the situation of Romany in Hungary. The European Roma Rights Center published the following 10 FACTS ABOUT HUNGARIAN ROMA to remind everyone that Hungarian Roma are an integral part of Hungarian society. As you read, think about your own (long-term) neighbors.
  1. Roma have been living as part of Hungarian society since the 14th century.
  2. Today approximately 750,000 Roma live in Hungary. That is 7.49 % of the population.
  3. All Hungarian Roma speak Hungarian and only 17% of them speak Hungarian as a second language.
  4. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49 the Roma sided with the Hungarian cause, and many repaired weapons or worked as cannon-casters or camp musicians who assisted the county-level recruitment campaigns.
  5. Numerous Hungarian Roma participated in the Revolution of 1956. One of them was Ilona Szabó, who was shot dead at the age of 17 by Soviet forces.
Regardless of the shared history and shared struggles Roma in Hungary face neglect, discrimination and oppression.
  1. Thousands of Hungarian Roma were killed for being Roma during the Holocaust. Later the Roma worked largely in sectors which went bankrupt after the democratic transition of Hungary in 1990 (mining, heavy industry) and they have not yet recovered: today, only 26% of working-age Roma are employed.
  2. The areas where Hungarian Roma live are mainly disadvantaged areas and small villages where there are no job opportunities. The average life expectancy for Roma in Hungary is ten to twelve years less than for non-Roma.
  3. Between July 2008 and August 2009, six Romani people, among them a 5 year-old child, were killed, and 55 others injured, in a string of racist attacks in rural Hungarian villages.
  4. The openly anti-Roma radical right-wing populist party Jobbik secured 20.54% of the votes during the Parliamentary elections of 2014.
  5. Hungary’s Supreme Court recently declared that the segregation of Roma children in church schools is legal.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Finding ministry opportunities

   A few weeks ago Shane and I traveled to Chisinau, Moldova to attend the annual Gypsy Lore Society meeting. It was interesting to hear papers and discussions about work among Roma from a completely different perspective. It was good to look at the situation of Roma with new eyes and be reminded that we always need to be open and willing to learn. You never know when you might meet a new co-­worker.

   Potential collaborators can appear when and where you least expect them, like in a conversation with an atheist researcher who studies Roma public health issues in Slovakia or with a young Spanish woman studying medicine as an exchange student. You might make a connection with an embassy worker or even the ambassador himself at a meet and greet which will later open the doors when you need to push for the repair of the roof at a local Roma school. Volunteering your time at a local school or library and sharing your story can put you in position to receive and share gently ­used clothes, books or furniture items. Attending a training or conference can open new doors to share ministry ideas over a dinner of pancakes and tea.

   Ministry comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. We just have to watch for opportunities through the right lenses.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How to Make Your Own Mayonnaise

First measure about a cup of oil.

 While American volunteers were teaching Romanians to quilt, this new Romanian friend (Georgiana) was teaching me to make mayonnaise. It really is very easy!
Just make sure to keep the mixer on the bottom, without moving it until the oil and egg have suddenly transformed into creamy white mayonnaise.

2. Break in an egg.
3. Add a bit of salt.

4. Mix. Keep mixer on bottom.

5. Crush garlic.
6. Chop mushrooms.
7. Mix mushrooms & garlic.

8. Fold in mayonnaise.
10. and watch it disappear!
9. Offer it to your friends . . .

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Us, Them and the "Love" Test

Last Sunday in our Dutch church the youth band led the congregation in singing, in English, Chris Tomlin’s song, Our God. It is a good song, but it led my thoughts to “us” and “them” as much as it did to God.

The chorus is:
     Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.
     Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power, Our God! Our God!
     And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
     And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

As I was singing I couldn’t help thinking that by repeatedly claiming God as “Our God,” and “Our God is for us,” that we are not just praising God. We are also, in a way, claiming that he is ours, and not those other people’s; that he is on our side, not their side.

I have always found it interesting that when we divide the world between “us” and “them,” God always ends up on the “us” side. I remember reading years ago the quote, “God made man in his own image, and man returned the favor.” (A quick Google search shows it attributed to many writers, but no one seems be able to actually pin down the origin.) Some atheists have taken it to mean that God is a product of human imagination, but I think that a more accurate interpretation is that we try to weigh God down with our own frailties and prejudices. If we care about skin color, then God must also. If we care about gender, then so does God. If we say that the Rio Grande is the border, then that must be where God divides the Mexican “rapists” from the God-fearing Americans.

When I was small child, my favorite Sunday School song was “Praise Him. Praise Him, all ye little children; God is love; God is love.” When I was 13 and started to develop a personal theology, I was very drawn to the fourth chapter of 1 John: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” At the time I was trying to understand the difference between agape love and the adolescent emotion of being “in love,” so I rationalized that the phrase “God is love” did not define God, it defined love. God, obviously, is much more than just love. While God is loving, he is also powerful and he gets angry and he punishes those who do wrong. And God chooses sides: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He is a personality, just like I am. He is a “he,” just like I am.

What if I was wrong? What if the two terms are equal, like a mathematical or logical equation where the one term can be substituted for the other? Love is powerful, love demands justice, love rebukes wrongdoing but never seeks revenge.

What would happen if we took every statement made about God, and substituted the word “love”? Would the meaning of Chris Tomlin’s song, be any different?
     Love is greater, Love is stronger, Love is higher than any other.
     Love is Healer, Awesome in Power, Love! Love!
     And if Love is for us, then who could ever stop us.
     And if Love is with us, then what could stand against us.

But would every statement we make about God hold up to the “Love” test? Which of these would we agree with: “Love gave us this land.” “Love wants you to vote Republican.” “Love wants you to vote Democrat.” “Love doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews.” “Love Hates Fags.” Ridiculous statements, aren’t they.

Keith Holmes

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Old Friends, New Friends

My old friend Tammy Stocks invited me to join her, 12 Romanian women (many Romany), and 5 American women for a quilt workshop. The workshop is held at the Naomi Center in Bucharest, Romania. This is an off-shoot of the Ruth School/Providence Foundation there. Children in the local neighborhood can attend the Ruth School. Women can sew, learn, and support each other at the Naomi Center.
And that's just what we've been doing so far this week. The American women have been leading a quilting workshop. The local women have been helping each other and befriending us. In fact, tomorrow one of my new friends is going to teach me how to make mayonnaise. She herself puts butter on her sandwiches because, she says, it's healthier and better for her children. Would you agree?

P.S. The name Naomi means "pleasant." Very apt choice for this women's center!
P.P.S. Guess who's birthday we celebrated today (September 1).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First Day of School

T successfully passed his entrance exams and is preparing to leave home in a couple of weeks to attend school.  He will move a couple of hours away from his family to begin his studies as a healthcare worker.  To help him gather everything needed, we took a trip to a nearby town so he could get photos made for his identification card that will be his pass to the dormitory.  As we were getting ready to head back to the village, I asked if there was anything else he needed to get ready to move.

"I do not have a suitcase." he said after carefully thinking through the long list of things he needs to bring.

It never occurred to me that among his limited possessions, that he would not have a single bag - a backpack or satchel or gym bag - he could use.  Of course we stopped into a store and picked him up a new travel bag.
Image result for back to school photo
T moves into the dorm on 1 September and school begins on the 2nd.  Dianne and I talked about how we both felt a little anxious and also a sense of pride that we were able to assist T.  Thanks to the financial support of faithful donors, we are able to provide T with a scholarship that will pay for his room and board as well as travel expenses.  We will also buy shoes, clothes, and toiletries to go along with that suitcase.

When we were having lunch, T and I spoke about how miserably I fail at taking pictures of the things we do so that other people can see for themselves.  He smiled and said he understood.  Perhaps then he will understand when I ask to take his "first day of school" photo in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Miracles through Different Means

We saw Lena* for the first time in several years on Sunday at the conclusion of the Children's Program in a Roma village in Moldova.
I gave her one of the little booklets of Peter & John healing a lame man. She looked at the cover, where we had printed the title in Ursari and Romanian. She puzzled over the words and turned behind her to ask Silvica about the meaning.
"A Beggar Is Changed," she repeated, rereading the words for herself. Then she turned to me with a 800 watt smile and said, "That's me."

Lena* was born with some eye problems. It used to be easy to see that one eye did not function properly. I learned more about this later in the week when Lena and her husband invited the entire team over for supper. While we were eating, she asked me whether Dennis was still alive. I didn’t know who she was referring to. He is an American, she explained, and he had cancer in one eye and always wore a patch over it. Eye problems are very close to Lena’s heart. Even when she was just one years old, one of her eyes was very sensitive to light. Often, she couldn’t really open that eye or stand to go outside. The light hurt her.

Nine years ago she told us, when Ion Matveev was pastor, he wrote several Christians he knew (including Dennis and Keith) about the possibility of Lena getting an eye operation at a hospital in Odessa, Ukraine. Altogether, they contributed the $2-3,000 needed for her passport to Odessa and her operation there. Her eyes were completely healed.
Luba thanked us all. 
“God takes care of us in a big way,” she said with that big smile of hers. Both eyes beamed.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.
P.S. It turns out that Dennis is connected with For God’s Children International, the foundation which supports a home for foster children in Nisporeni. And social media search showed that yes, Dennis is still alive. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Giving Lessons

This lady on the left lives in a Romany village in Moldova. She recently chose to follow Jesus Christ. She is busy learning what that means.

She and her daughter invited the volunteer team members who were staying in her village over for tea one evening. We sat outside. In the course of the evening, it grew increasing cooler. She asked me several times if I was warm enough. Finally, she brought out a brand new sweater, pulled the tags off of it, and gave it to me.  Then she got concerned about the other two women who were wearing sandals with no socks. She brought out brand new pairs of socks for all three of us. Next she asked if we ever wore scarves. She brought out a new skirt (which Els took home for her teenaged daughter) and a scarf to match each of our outfits. Finally, she gave a man's polo shirt to Zoltan, the Wycliffe/SIL team member who had been translating from Romanian to English for us all evening.

She is busy learning. She might also be teaching?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Inspired Development

Development does not have to cost a lot. Sometimes, we don't even have to plan it. For example, Erika likes to fix things. Last year when we visited the Roma village of Vulcanesti, she fixed Nina's sewing machine. (This was Erika's 5th visit to the village; she and Nina have become fast friends as well as sisters in faith.)

This year, when we visited the village, a steady stream of villagers came to Nina's house. One had a pair of jeans that needed to be shortened. Another had a different alteration. And some had ordered items to be sewn, like this traditional-styled apron made from a colorful scarf.

Nina's husband passed away this last year. She needs the extra income and delights in the extra company. And sometimes she takes the opportunity to read from the Bible with her visitors or to pray. Did I say this development wasn't planned? Well, it wasn't planned by Erika and it wasn't planned by me, but . . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cooperative Fellowship in Moldova

See these three women standing up in front of these Moldovan girls? One was born in a Romany village; her first language is Ursari Romani. One was a refugee from East Germany; her first language is German. One has two diplomas from Moldova; her first language is Romanian. What power could bring them together on one team?

See these four guys? One is the son of a hard-working couple from Kansas; first language English. One is the son of a hard-working Moldovan couple; first language Ursari Romani. One was born in Transylvania; first language Hungarian. One has family in Ukraine; first language Romanian. How on earth can they commune together?

See these two women? One is the daughter of solid, church-going Dutch farmers. The other grew up in a Moldovan orphanage. What basis do they have to cooperate so contentedly?

(If you do not already know the answer in your heart, you can see it in the right hand corner of this photo.)

Photos from Children's Program & Girls' Camp, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Romany village in Moldova, June 24-July 7.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Speed Teaching in Slovakia

In various communities in Slovakia this year, short-term ministry teams have invested in the lives of students by assisting them in learning English.  Supplementing the excellent work of local teachers, these teams encourage and challenge eager students.

A favorite activity for teaching is akin to speed dating!  The students are put into small groups and the native speakers sit with them for ten minutes.  During that time they ask simple questions, go through their introductions or colors, and get to know each other just a little.  Then it is time to switch groups!
Laughter and fun fill the room.  Being the presence of Christ by helping with English literacy has proved a meaningful ministry strategy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Alien Images

 As you can see from these old passport photos of ours, identity photos usually look like one a) has just beamed down from an alien planet; b) was recently in a line-up and really ought to be confined; c) is having a bad hair life, rather than just a bad hair day.
The identity photos we had taken this week were no better. We don't have copies of those, though. We are in the process of renewing our residents' visas. The new mug shots were part of that process and are still with the Dutch immigration service. As part of that process we also met a number of fellow foreigners. Some of them had very interesting--well, almost foreign--ideas about Americans.
For instance, why would we need to learn Dutch? We could do all our business in English, couldn't we? (Except read and write notes to school, send in a repair request to the landlord, sell something on line, fill out a form at the doctor's office or the bank or . . . ).
And why do we need visas? Americans can go anywhere they want. (Except the CBF couple who couldn't get into Canada or the other CBF couple who had to switch from Greece to Spain or the folks who were deported from a North African country or . . . . Our own team members in Slovakia  have to jump through serious hoops to renew their residents' visas or . . . .)
Perhaps the best one came from a very well-educated woman from Kazakhstan. She and her daughter wanted to visit the United States. But they were concerned about the danger. Everyone there walks around with weapons, right?
My image of Kazakhstan is probably as misinformed as her image of my country.  Thank God the image on my identity photo doesn't accurately reflect the real me, either. (Does it??)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Is this your language?

1 O Petre hai o Ioan gianas ko Templo ko ciaso le rughimasko, kăl trin pala ăl deșudui. 2 Ăk manuș, ologo dă kana kerdilos, sas andino. Sas muklo andă fiosavo ghes pașai poarta le Temploski savi buciolas e Poarta Șukar, kaște manghel katar kola kai întrinas ando Templo. 3 Kadava manuș, kana dikhleas le Petres hai le Ioanos, kă kamen te întrin ando Templo, manglea lenghe love.