It is heartening to see that our church has diverse and hopeful programmes in the area of youth ministry, but we seldom talk about the ways we can provide examples to younger generations with our personal lives, and the ways we can lead them to Jesus. These are the issues that the nearly one hundred and fifty conference attendees had the opportunity to discuss at the annual conference of the National Reformed Roma Ministry, held on 15-17 October in the House of Reconciliation in Berekfürdő. The three-day event provided participants with enriching worships, testimonies and workshops.
Investing into the Future. This was the motto chosen for the conference, which refers both to the responsibility and to the opportunity that the raising and education of children mean.
Although participants came from all over Hungary and even from Hungarian-speaking areas outside the country – both Hungarian and Roma-Hungarian Reformed individuals – the common denominator was obvious: everyone had a connection to the theme discussed in Berekfürdő either as parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents, or as teachers, educators, as well as present or future pastors.
It is not too much to say that this year’s meeting was even more intimate and convivial than before, since participants had not had the chance to attend a national Roma ministry event since October 2019. It is thanks to the blessed work of the Holy Spirit that despite this fact in the sermons and discussions hardly any mention was made of the pandemic, the restrictions on community life and our losses. Instead, the whole conference was permeated by looking ahead, with a desire for action.
“I praise the Lord for His grace that I can be here – I thank Him for providing us with such opportunities,” said Gyula Ámit from Nagydobrony, Ukraine, who works in the local kindergarten with Roma children. “We are so happy to come here today – I feel as if we did not entirely come on our own volition but have been sent here,” explained Mrs. Elemérné Kiss from Lak in Borsod county, who, since September, has been involved in our Christian community development worker training called “Together – For One Another”.
God sees the entire story
“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court,” goes Psalm 127. This was one of the chosen Bible passages for the event, providing the basis of the Friday night opening worship led by Eszter Dani, head of the Synod’s Mission Department. “The child is a gift, but taking care of children can often be full of worries,” Rev. Dani said. “God, however, sees the child’s entire story. He sees the life and calling of the youth that are in our care, and it is our duty to guide them,” she added.
The opening worship was followed by icebreaker games led by Zsuzska Tóth, Roma ministry worker from Slovakia. “Seeing the participants puts me at ease – we have a great team here!” she exclaimed with joy, while people were getting acquainted first in one large group, and later in smaller ones.
The scriptural basis for Saturday was provided by Dániel D. Szabó, who is the spiritual father of the Roma ministry congregations in Bodrogköz, and retired Lay President of the Tibiscan Reformed Church District. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it,” he read from Proverbs 22. “This means providing young people with the message of salvation history – the fact that God has a plan for all of our lives,” said “Uncle Dani”, as he is affectionately known by all.
The significance of authentic life models
The theme of investing into the future was discussed by Péterné Bárdos in her lecture. Mrs. Bárdos, who is the professional director of Hajnalcsillag Tanoda (a type of after-school programme) in Kecskemét and an active member of the local Reformed community, brought up everyday examples to illustrate how we can become even better parents, teachers or other workers around children. “We ourselves are the roots of children’s lives, with our own, authentic life models. This is what raising children means, which is a great responsibility. Nevertheless, the first and foremost thing is loving and embracing children unconditionally – even when they are difficult to handle, or when we do not see any results for a long time,” she explained.
In order for conference participants to understand this idea even better, they got the opportunity to discuss child-rearing and youth work in small groups.
„I know and fully believe that if we invest time and energy into children, it could be a giant step forward for the Roma community: through children, even the parents can be reached,”
said Sándor Turgyán from Mátészalka, who was one of the group moderators and a leader in the prayer group.
Karola Koncz, a third-year theology and pastor major at Debrecen Reformed Theological University was another group moderator: “We talked about how God originally imagined children to be, especially small elementary school students,” said Ms. Koncz, who comes from Marosvásárhely, Romania. “We came to the conclusion that we must give children information on faith, which can later provide the basis of experiences of faith. We summarized our message in three key expressions: a child according to God should be optimistic, open and curious,” she added.
This was a task for all groups: to formulate key words on the topic: later on these were written on colourful ribbons, together with encouraging messages, which participants put on the “Roma ministry travelling stick” that began its journey at the conference. It was handed to the representatives of the Reformed Congregation of Újléta, with the mission to organise an event where they would hand it over to members of another community.
A deeper understanding of the conference’s theme was aided by a round table discussion, during which Reformed experts shared their thoughts on youth work.
The discussion was moderated by Anita Tóth, a national Roma ministry consultant, with the participation of Mária Sápi, educational officer of the Reformed Pedagogical Institute, Andrea Ignácz, coordinator of Roma ministry congregation projects supported by HEKS (the aid organization of Swiss Protestant Churches), Krisztián Lakatos, pedagogical assistant and Roma ministry worker, and Szabolcs Kerekes, pastor at the Girls’ Correctional Institution in Rákospalota.
The issues raised during the discussion included what challenges they face during their work, what methods they use to overcome them, and how they can integrate testimony of their faith into their work.
Together in game and dance as well
The second half of Saturday was more informal: attendees could participate in various free time activities in several venues. They could try creative art games with artist Tibor Balogh, learn Roma words with Andrea Ignácz, enjoy a Christian escape room with Réka Borbás, Synod Roma ministry worker and “Together for One Another” alumnus László Gönczi, and – in keeping with Friday night’s sermon – experience in real life what it feels like to shoot with a bow and arrow.
The evening programme was led by the art group Romano Glaszo – Emberi Hang (Human Voice): first they presented Roma folk music from the Carpathian Basin, and then they invited participants to join in in the dancing. At the end of the day, the musicians, together with the musical group of the conference praised the Lord together.
Grace in the valley of despair
The closing day was devoted to the Bible message and taking the first steps towards Jesus. The evangelisation morning had an intimate atmosphere bringing many to tears, where the sermon was delivered by Tamás Tóth from Sátoraljaújhely. Rev. Tóth’s message was based on the calling of Matthew. “The Lord Jesus knew when to approach someone and say ‘Follow me!’” he said.
“Matthew jumped up from the tax collectors’ table as if he was shot out of a cannon: his heart was filled with new hope that Jesus might be able to change him. Let us understand this as grace when we are in the valley of despair, as God is able to call us the best in such situations. The Lord has already begun cultivating the land of some of your lives and He may have not others, but when the time is right, He will approach you!”
Apart from the sermon and the many songs of praise during the evangelisation, testimonies from our brothers and sisters also helped us get closer to God. One testimony was by a man recovering from a stroke, who, despite his physical ailments, was full of joy when talking about the grace of God. Another testimony came from a woman who had been in a car accident a few weeks ago, on her way home from a Roma ministry weekend, but survived the incident with barely a scratch.
A man expressed his gratitude for the fact that God called him three years ago, and now he has great ambitions for converting the Roma. A young girl, who is currently suffering from a serious illness, shared how she is learning to be the servant of the Lord. Yet another speaker pointed out, when talking about the severe and defining traumas of his life: had he not experienced these, he would not be able to appreciate his life, and would not be able to perform his ministry in the way he does every day.
Saying goodbye is never easy after experiencing the strength of our relationship with God and one another. In a situation when we are not determined by the fact that we are Roma or Hungarian, but by the identity of Christ. This is what connects us even when we are hundreds of kilometres apart, what provides us with strength to survive the hardships of life, and what motivates us to share the wonders of the Gospel with others as well.
Investing into the Future – Jesus did this two thousand years ago, and He spent His life telling people what they should do with this. Let us also recognise who we are responsible for!
MORE PHOTOS ON THE NATIONAL ROMA MINISTRY CONFERENCE IN THE GALLERY:
Translated by Erzsébet Bölcskei