The Roma, with their colourful clothes and fine looks, constitute one of the most enigmatic and exotic people groups in Europe today.
Their origins are subject to question, but it is claimed that they departed from India approximately a thousand years ago. Their skin colour and the linguistic overlap with Sanskrit would suggest this.
The intervening years, however, have been far from kind.
Enslaved in Romania until the 1850’s, horror stories abound of Roma families being sold as estate chattels. The second world war saw them targeted by the Nazi regime, and – with the exception of those deemed to be of pure Roma origin – ruthlessly terminated, with estimates varying from 300,000 to 1.5 million deaths.
A tour through gypsy villages today is a study in contrasting fortunes. On the one hand, palatial villas with every gaudy finish line the streets, often built through deception and ill-gotten gain.
But such people are in the minority. Most Roma live in appalling poverty. Decrepit shacks of rickety poles and plastic sheeting or earthen-walled, one-room dwellings are the norm.
Often a television will be squeezed in somehow, electricity being tapped illegally from an overhanging cable.
But perhaps the most revealing statistic we’ve encountered is that the majority of Roma children are hungry all the time, with 40% of Roma families living in conditions below those deemed minimal for human survival.
Unquestionably habits of crime and horrendous iniquity are found in Roma communities. A millennium of vice is no small thing, and not easily overcome.
But we hear the Saviour’s call for faithful men to go and make disciples of these people, and it has been a joy to sponsor two of them.