The reformed Great Church in Debrecen hosted the 5th annual Protestant Roma Mission Conference where more than 1500 participants, mostly Roma, discussed, worshiped and prayed together under the biblical motto of the day: „Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51,10)
For the fifth time, the annual Protestant Roma Mission Conference brought together Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Pentecostal church members, both Roma and non-Roma. This time the event took place within the historic walls of the Great Church in Debrecen. More than 1500 people from all over the Carpathian Basin have attended the event, showing that God's grace overcomes any religious, cultural and denominational barriers.
“It is God’s special miracle that through Gypsy people he brings churches closer together,” said Daniel D. Szabó, known as “Uncle Dani”, former Lay President of Cistibiscan Reformed Church District and long-time supporter of the reformed Roma mission, more than ten years ago. At that time, it needed imagination to foresee how fruitful the Protestant Gypsy Mission cooperation would be years later.
Initially, thematic publications and joint booklets were produced under the auspices of the ecumenical cooperation, but in February 2016, the first Protestant Roma Mission Conference took place in Budapest. A multitude of blessed moments accompanied the events, as each year 3-400 Christian of Gypsy background praised together the name of Jesus. After last year's event in Alsózsolca, the organizers dared to dream big: they chose the symbolic center of the Hungarian reformed community, the Great Church in Debrecen, to be the venue of the fifth gathering, expecting more than 1500 participants.
The dream came true on the sunny morning of the 8th of February, as more and more people gathered in front of the the Great Church, waiting to celebrate together under the biblical motto: „Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Zoltán Kurdi, a Methodist pastor and leader of the Gypsy mission summarized the objective of the day tellingly: “Our heart is a place under attack, and the Bible is calling us to preserve it more than anything else we consider dear to us. That is why we need our heart to be purified!”
On behalf of the hosting church, Dr. Károly Fekete, Bishop of the Transtibiscan Reformed Church District greeted those present, emphasising the significance of the historic place. “Following Apostle James also our ancestors, the Reformers during the Synod in 1567 within these very walls confirmed that ‘all who are offered to the Church, should be welcomed all time irrespective of nationality'”.
The pastor of the Great Church added that there is no place for favoritism in God's kingdom, for he has redeemed us all equally. “Jesus did not show favoritism, so we shouldn't be partial, either”. This is the greatest encouragement for Gypsy and non-Gypsy believers alike to pray together for God’s mercy.
The partnership and cooperation of the Protestant Churches has been supported from the beginning, both financially and morally, by the State Secretariat for Social Inclusion, represented at the meeting by Deputy State Secrtary Katalin Langerné Victor. “We have to believe that the ministry to Roma is growing countywide, and this brings people closer to each other," she said. “But faith only makes a difference if actions follow. As far as I am concerned, I will continue to be involved and support this ministry. I am grateful to God for working with you on this!”
Dr. Erzsébet Sándor, Deputy of the Ombudsman on National Minorities, attended the meeting for the first time. In her greeting she encouraged the participants to continue their ministry, as their work plays an important role in the fight against poverty. The Deputy Mayor of the City of Debrecen, Dr. István Puskás was no stranger to the mission as he had already attended a thematic conference in Italy. “I only saw numbers there, but now all this became living and tangible reality to me – it is touching to feel like I’m a guest here“, he told.
At the event, the Exodus band was responsible for the music service. Gábor Rupi, Baptist minister from Romania preached the Gospel. He has been serving since long years in the Roma community in Korond, a city in Transsylvania, which was beneficiary of the offerings which participants collected during the day. “Just like Jesus transformed water into wine at the weeding at Cana, he turned wine into water in my brothers' lives,” illustrated the pastor the transformational conversion of Roma people in his community.
“The love of God is in everyone's heart, that’s why the devil is not looking for the cupboard in our house, but for the values that are hidden in our hearts,” he said, and urged the audiance to “throw out of their hearts what is wrong and pray for pure heart from the Lord.”
“I firmly believe that our Gypsy brothers and sisters, whose life and heart has been changed by the Gospel, will change the whole of Europe because they will serve as examples that others will follow,” said Albert Durko, leader of the Pentecostal Gypsy Mission. “We have been serving together the same objective, for there will be no separate ‘sections’ in God’s kingdom – but Christ alone! We started from afar, and we have a long journey behind us as churches, but we will go even further, together, to His glory,” he added.
In the afternoon of the Protestant Roma Mission Conference, Roma people offered personal testimonies, accompanied by reflections by Eszter Dani, reformed minister and head of the Mission Office of the Synod of RCH. In between testimonies representatives of the different denominations prayed for the witnesses. The meeting was a moving experience for all those present, and proved to be a blessed event both in terms of ecumenical cooperation and deepening, mutually transforming fellowship of Roma and non-Roma.