On April 8, the Roma celebrate International Roma Day. They celebrate their history, their language, their culture. And we would normally celebrate right alongside them.
Instead, we are mourning.
Thousands of Roma call Ukraine their home. As Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the Roma (who speak various Romani dialects) face systemic discrimination because of their traditional reputation as liars and thieves. They lack equal access to education, employment, housing, health care, and public services. The invasion of Ukraine from neighboring Russia has left many Roma in that region even more vulnerable to the persecution they have experienced for generations.
But God’s Word among them is helping many replace what they hear—the negative label of “gypsy”—with what they now know: they are valued children of God.
Progress on Bible translation work has become challenging—in Ukraine as well as in neighboring Slovakia. Ukrainian Roma Cluster project team members have fled their homes, but they are attempting to continue their translation work in another part of the country. The East Slovak Romani translators have paused their work in order to bring light into the darkness, spreading God’s Word through their faith-filled practice of it. Read on to discover how.
A Terrifying Flight from Ukraine
On February 24, the Ukrainian Roma Cluster project manager and his family fled their community before it was overrun by Russian soldiers. They have effectively lost their home and their community as they once knew it, along with more than 2 million people who have fled Ukraine to seek shelter and safety in neighboring countries.
Right now, some Roma people are fleeing to neighboring Slovakia. Their flight echoes the trauma of many Roma generations who have escaped danger through their nomadic lifestyle.
The Slovak government is offering financial help, free health care, free transportation, and accommodation to Ukrainians, including Roma people. On the border, free food, water, and clothing are available for everyone passing through. Although the majority of refugees are not choosing to stay in Slovakia, they still receive assistance in reaching their chosen destinations.
Christian Neighbors in Slovakia Show the Light of God’s Love
As Roma refugees cross into Slovakia, churches and East Slovak Romani team leaders are also stepping up. They are welcoming their neighbors from Ukraine with food, shelter, and the unshakable hope found only in the Word of God.
One translator, who pastors a church roughly 12 miles from the Ukrainian border, has paused translation work to assist Roma people as they enter Slovakia. Because of the church’s prime location, they have multiple contacts with Roma churches in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine, and every day they are receiving more and more requests to assist refugees who cross the border on foot. This translator’s church picks them up and provides them with food, accommodations, and biblical encouragement before they move on. (Many Ukrainian Roma already have family and friends in the West, and they just need assistance to get to their destinations.)
Seeing the great influx of Roma in need, more churches have since followed suit. Another East Slovak Romani translator, also a leader in his church, is helping to pick up busloads of Roma, transporting them to a safe place to stay for the night while also providing meals and the nourishment of God’s Word.
Many more Roma people are displaced but still living in Ukraine, where they are being helped by churches in the southwestern part of the country, the region where there is no military action yet. In one church building in the Mukachevo District, every square inch is occupied. Church leaders are conducting services for the refugees every night of the week, and people are coming to Christ.
Partners in Russia Find Ways to Support Their Ukrainian Brothers and Sisters
Although Russia and Ukraine are two very different countries—with unique identities, cultures, and languages—they are generationally connected in many ways. Many Ukrainians have family ties in Russia, and vice versa.
One of our Russian field partners is currently using financial reserves to support some of their missionaries who are Ukrainian nationals; they are living and working in Russia or Georgia and cannot get back to Ukraine. These Ukrainians have lost their financial support that normally came from Ukrainian churches but has since been blocked. Not only have they lost their support, but they are cut off from their families who are still in Ukraine. They live with the knowledge that many of their loved ones are hiding in bomb shelters, only coming out from time to time just to find bread to eat.
But sometimes, the light appears that much brighter when it breaks through the darkness.
A Call to Prayer
As we continue to see examples of sacrificial service and unity between neighboring countries, we are reminded that God’s love extends far beyond spiritual and physical borders to advance the gospel of peace. Our partners in Ukraine, Slovakia, and Russia are asking us to pray into this reality. Will you join us?
- Lord, your people are hurting. Remind them through your Word that you are holding them in their heartache and fear. We pray that Ukrainians and Russians, especially those in positions of power, remember the common bonds they share.
- Almighty Father, empower our translators with supernatural grace, strength, and stamina. For those who had to flee their homes, bring them hope. For those who are providing aid, bring them perseverance.
- God, we lift up our Roma brothers and sisters who, in addition to the current struggle for basic needs, also experience the barbs of those who want to capitalize on their distress by expressing racial prejudice.
- Jesus, heal the deep political rifts that have developed, even among Christians. Embolden your global church to be a shining beacon of light and a haven of peace in this difficult time. Amen.
Right now, you can bring God’s Word to Ukrainians longing for hope through our partners at American Bible Society.