27 August 2016

Why didn't you tell me sooner?

"Every time we bridge racial, ethnic, gender and socioeconomic divides, we become prophetic witnesses to the reality of the kingdom of God" writes Brenda Salter McNeil in Roadmap to Reconciliation.  When sharing at a church where a friend is pastor here in Slovakia, I recognized that I was in the presence of a fellowship trying to navigate their way forward as prophetic witnesses.

The church in Nesvady celebrated the baptism and union of a Roma woman into the church and were curious about what steps to take together next.  How do we integrate this woman and her family into their congregation?  What is the best way to reach out to them?  I have heard that some of them refuse to say "Amen," why is that?  These and similar questions followed the presentation on Roma history and what Scripture says about the ministry they were beginning.  
It was after the presentation that I had a chance to talk with the catalyst at the root of these recent events.  He is a stern looking older gentleman who carried a cane that looked more like a weapon than an aid.  He was unsure how well I was following his Slovak even though I assured him that I was understanding everything.

He told me that after his wife passed away he began bearing witness to Jesus Christ as best he could with the Roma family next door.  Using every tool he could - from Christian videos to Scriptures and personal conversation - he began to share Christ.  Along the way, the two households began a transformative relationship.  People who lived next door to each other for decades slowly became neighbors.  And that is when, and how, his attempts at bearing witness bore fruit.

Like adding pieces to a puzzle,
when all are represented, we get the fuller picture.
If someone wrote a one-size-fits-all How To book about bearing witness to Jesus Christ with the Romani peoples, it would be an unfortunate waste of paper.  The Romani community is very diverse - even from village to village. The key to sharing Jesus with them is, in the words of a Roma pastor friend, "You must live with them."  The essence of bearing witness to Jesus Christ across any divide is when we move from seeing the other as a target of evangelistic efforts to seeing them as a friend ... someone we know by name.

Concluding his story of how wonderful it was to see his neighbor become part of the church, he held back tears.  "After she was baptized," he looked across the congregation at his neighbor and called her by name, "she asked me 'Why didn't you tell me sooner?'"  He shrugged a little and smiled.  Being a prophetic witness is hard work.  These two neighbors know it is worth it.