On a sunny afternoon in Roma settlements, streets become playgrounds. Kids play soccer in an intersection. Groups of little girls stroll up the street, giggling and sharing secrets. Boys careen downhill on scooters and bikes. Teens promenade their style. When a car turns into the lane, most people scatter, but one tiny girl needs an extra tug and admonishment from the grandmother who holds her hand tightly.
Inside homes, more grandmothers keep family life going: working alongside their daughters to prepare a meal or care for a feverish preschooler.
Among Roma believers, these traditions and responsibilities take on a new flavor: a loving desire among older women to pass on their spiritual heritage. Their influence extends far beyond the walls of their homes.
Marta Gaborova first came to the mountainside village of Lesicek as a young bride. Now 68, she’s spent a lifetime in this small mountain village. She usually attended church, but her deep faith is much more recent.
“I didn’t know about the Lord like now,” she says.
Six years ago, while Marta was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery, her daughter-in-law, Eva, told her about her own new understanding of the gospel. Eva introduced Marta to Pierre van Vuuren of The Word For The World, who was helping plant a new church in Lesicek. Pierre and Eva shared the gospel with Marta, and Marta also believed. Now, she says, “I’m happy, and I thank the Lord that he gave me a new life and that I can follow him.”
When Marta’s sleep is interrupted in the small hours of the night, she uses that time to pray “for the brothers and sisters, for the church, for the pastors, for the various preaching stations, for the church plants, and for Slovakia.”
In the town of Sabinov, 77-year-old Alzbeta Ferkova is often asked to read Scripture for a group of 20 who meet weekly for Bible study. Poor eyesight forces her to hold her Romani New Testament close to her face, but her voice rings with confidence.
Alzbeta turned to Christ just a decade ago, about the time her husband died. Today her church and her family respect her as a woman of God.
“My greatest joy is to go to church and to read God’s Word,” she says. “I love the Lord Jesus because he gives us life and everything we need.”
With her 10 children grown, Alzbeta focuses on the next generation: her 30 grandchildren. She loves to read Bible stories to them.
“I would like them to learn to know God’s Word so that they would know who the Lord is,” she says.
In the village of Hlinné, Mária Tancoš prayed her son, Stano, into faith and now prays for him as he works with the team translating the Old Testament for the East Slovak Romani people.
“I have both translations, but there is something that always pulls me back to the Romani Bible,” she says. “God shows me things in a special way. I really want to see it in [everyone else’s] hands too.”
What will it be like when the translation is finished?
“I think it will be wonderful. God will be glorified by this. It is wonderful that I can read the Bible when I think of other people who have never had the opportunity to learn about God the way that we do.”