Lawerence McHugh from Newtownbreda Gospel Hall writes:-
Deuteronomy 10v12: Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
The main Romanian Roma migration to Northern Ireland occurred in 2007 when family groups left Romania to resettle long-term here. It is estimated that Roma people make up less than 0.2% of the population with approximately 1,500 Romanian Roma and 500 Hungarian and Slovakian Roma living in Belfast, plus additional family groups in Craigavon and Ballymena.
We have been transporting Roma children to the young people’s meeting in Newtownbreda Gospel Hall from about 2011. The problem these children had with basic English comprehension was apparent from the start. One of the major difficulties for Roma is that their own language is not a written language but oral so the only time they see a language written is a foreign language. It has taken a long time working with them each week before we started to see some real comprehension of the Gospel truths being understood.
Three years ago reluctantly, we decided only to bring children of primary school age to the meeting as the older teenagers were proving problematic, had little interest in learning, were a distraction for younger children and a bad example to them. The younger children now attend school so are learning English and we have found them to show more interest in what is being taught from the Scriptures.
Having a concern for the older teenagers we decided to start a class specifically for them in a community centre on a Saturday morning. While most of them said they would come, in practice few of them did as they either washed cars or looked after siblings. However a few did come and lots of younger ones wanted to come (and we have allowed some) so we have had between 12 and 20 coming twice a month on a Saturday morning.
Our purpose on a Saturday morning is to help with them with their comprehension of English and in particular with the basic truths of the Gospel message. There are a number of believers from the Assembly who help in this. We take things very slowly and go over each word of a verse in different contexts to ensure that the correct meaning is grasped. In fact in the first two years we only covered A, B & C in 3 verses (All have sinned, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and Christ died for our sins) If those kids went over those verses once they did them 1000 times but we all felt it was important not to proceed with new truth until we were sure they had grasped what had been taught.
A Roma Pentecostal pastor told us that typical Roma church services last for 4 hours. He said that they typically sing for most of this time as singing is one of the main methods they use for communication. As we have some great Gospel choruses based on the Alphabet we started singing some choruses with the children, which also gives us the opportunity to go over the alphabet and help them with recognition and pronunciation of letters. The children, even teens really enjoy this.
During the course of the first year we were contacted by the chairman of the RRCANI (Romanian Roma Community for Northern Ireland – based in South Belfast) who thanked us for the work were are doing with the Roma children. He said they were fixing up a new centre in University Street for the needs of the Roma community and asked if we would consider using one of their rooms instead of the community centre. So we have been holding what we call the “English Bible Class” in the RRCANI Roma centre twice a month since then. They really appreciate the care and interest shown to their community and continue to encourage us to keep coming.
It is our desire that we would see a number of these Roma people getting saved. It is a mission field on our doorstep.
Please pray for the Roma community and in particular the children that their comprehension of English might improve, their understanding of Gospel truth might increase and that we may hear from some of them a clear testimony as to having been saved by the grace of God. We would also appreciate prayer for the workers: for wisdom and the ability to communicate in simple language, also safety while travelling and transporting the children and that the open door that we have in the community continues to be open to us.