Roma Travel Journal - Day 5
Michael, GBGM missionary in Ukraine, has returned to L’viv by bus this morning. We already miss his easy manner, stories of ministry, and willingness to try to communicate. We are surrounded by a smorgasbord of languages – Ukrainian and Russian because we are close to the border, Slovakian, Czech, and Hungarian because those three languages have all been part of this country as borders have changed over the years, and other Eastern European languages because people have moved out of their countries when violence has broken out. Now more than ever, being part of the European Union has made crossing borders from one EU country to another seamless – no stopping at the border, no stamps in our passports, no visas, no problem.
On the other hand, as Michael crosses over to Ukraine, there could be challenges if he doesn’t have his papers in order. There are problems with contraband coming back and forth between Slovakia and Ukraine.
Michael’s stories of spending a night with a Roma pastor near the border in Ukraine were a stark contrast to what we’ve been seeing with the Roma in Slovakia – one dirt road down the middle of the village, no inside water or toilet, a single wire and light bulb in the house – which was pulled outside to light Michael’s way if he had to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Primitive conditions, poor people.
Storks and Mistletoe. We left the flat at 7:30 today, in cars driven by Svetlana and Attila. We moved from their two cars to the van owned by the Michalovce UMC, driven by the pastor of that church. Pavel spoke excellent English (Macedonian, Slovakian, Hungarian, and Swedish). He became our chauffeur, guide, and translator for the day as we drove to the village of Gerlachov in the high Tatras Mountains – still snow on top of those mountains.
The three hour drive was through beautiful farm country with trees just budding out in the spring weather, decorated with strange department store size “balls” of green. It was mistletoe, and some of the trees were so full of these oversize balls that they looked surreal. Eventually this parasite plant will kill the trees.
We enjoyed looking for huge storks flying overhead, or their nests on tall poles along the road. Taking pictures of storks in their nests will not turn out well. There’s no reference or perspective. It was fun trying, but those pictures will often have to be, “what do you think this is” pictures.
When we arrived in Gerlachov we were greeted by Lubos Sirkovsky, a lay pastor, and thirty Roma children standing in front of a school eagerly waving to greet us. Lubos had negotiated with leaders of the community to rehabilitate an unused basement area of the school; the Slovakian UM Church had provided $30,000; and the UM Church will be able to use the space for the next 15 years without paying rent or utilities.. Cleaning, painting, repairing, they had reclaimed an area that became perfect for working with children, youth and adults during hours when there is no activity in the school. Occasionally during the winter when it was too bad outside, the school used the area for exercises.
The children serenaded us, accompanied by Lubos on the guitar. He had quite a rapport with them. We brought out Bella the purple bird puppet with big stinky yellow feet (controlled by Amy sitting behind a table on its end). I was Bella’s “straight-man,” asking all the right questions. Amy has done a wonderful job creating a script with humor and a message of God’s love for all God’s different children.
A break for lunch at the local hotel was followed by coffee and cake at Lubos’s house, and we returned to the school for a time with adults, youth, and almost as many children as we had worked with before lunch. This time it was loud, energetic music amplified by microphones, accompanied by guitar and keyboard, sung by three or four Roma men and a young women. We each had an opportunity to make our witness (Pavel translated), we shared the song the children had learned, and we left – the van surrounded by children peering in the windows, waving good-bye.