Archive for August 2018

Reaching the Roma

August 23, 2018

Download Vista 30 hereReaching the Roma

There is a bus which runs directly from a small Roma Hamlet in NE Slovakia to Sheffield. When Slovakia became part of the EU in 2007, many Slovakian Roma travelled on this bus and settled in estates in the north of Sheffield, UK.

As the number of Roma grew, so did tensions in the city. Stories of increased theft, litter-strewn streets and ghettoisation started to appear in newspapers. In 2015 there were fights in the streets, particularly between the Roma and Pakistani residents.

Whilst tensions have decreased in the city, any mention of the Roma generally brings stories of disrespectful, system-abusing, unwanted immigrants.

Marginalisation of the Roma – the largest ethnic minority in the EU, is nothing new. Efforts to improve integration have met with limited success, with one in three Roma in the EU experiencing some form of harassment, with 4% being physical violence. (Fundamental Rights report 2018, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights)
Lack of education, employment opportunities and poor social skills contribute to their social exclusion. The 2016 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey of nine member states found that 80 % still live at risk of poverty. Moreover, an average of 27 % of Roma live in households where at least one person had to go to bed hungry at least once in the previous month; in some EU Member States, this proportion is even higher.
In addressing some of the need, there are many ministries reaching out to the Roma across Europe – this article highlights just two.

Mission Possible in Bulgaria started running soup kitchens and classes for children in Roma villages and hamlets in 1998. In addition, they give ‘Baby Boxes’ to families with newborn children, which contain donated essentials such as clothes and nappies.

Roma girls are married young and many become mothers between ages 13 and 15. They don’t receive instruction and lack medical care. So alongside the Baby Boxes, the Mission Possible staff hold classes for the mothers giving them teaching, health care, and mental and spiritual help and support. The spiritual aspect is important, and in several Roma villages, churches have also been planted as part of Mission Possible’s work.

Back in Sheffield, a small missional community linked to a local church is reaching out to the Slovakian Roma living in one of the estates.
“Many Roma already know Jesus – one of the first things you’ll hear out of their mouths when you truly start to get to know them is ‘I love Jesus’,” explains Sarah who has been part of the group since mid-2017. ‘But we want that they might truly encounter the living God and to cultivate a spirit of worship among the children.”

The group is currently in touch with over 100 children and their families (with families typically having up to 10 children). Due to the nature of migration in Sheffield, most of the Roma are related to each other in some way, and homes are always open with children moving freely from one to another. Sarah reports that it is hard to walk up the street without being stopped by 10 different children, all eager for conversation. “In such large families, children are often hungry for attention and time – which is something we can give them,” she says.

“Part of our mission is house visits. When visiting a new family, it often takes no more than a knock on the door and saying ‘Hi, we’re neighbours, can we be friends’ to be let into their house, offered food, coffee and friendship. We listen to the adults as they express concerns or worries, helping them to decipher letters, finances, doctor appointments, as many adults have limited English and literacy. We often end by reading the Bible together, praying and singing to Jesus, which they love.”

The group also do discipleship classes with older teenagers, and a highlight of the week is the Jesus party (so-called by the children) where they all share food together, have a short sketch or talk, and then singing and dancing, with the children often making up their own songs of praise.

“We have also started doing homework with the children,” says Sarah. “Many struggle in schools. Their chaotic home lives mean that they are not able to adapt well to the rigid school environment, and most of them before coming to England will have very limited experience of school. In Slovakia, the Roma are not allowed in normal schools, and instead attend special schools – or none at all. As a result, children are not used to rules or sitting still, and the exclusion rate is disproportionately high.

Their parents’ lack of English means they often can’t get help with their homework, even if they want it. Often during home visits, children are keen to practice reading or maths, or show us with pride a class test they have passed.

“But the children and families are also extremely vulnerable. Grooming is an issue. Alcoholism is a problem in some families. They are often very poor, exploited by landlords and employers and unable to access legal aid.

“Even so, we are seeing lives transformed. Children who a year ago had little respect for authority, and who we struggled to engage with are now kind and respectful. They listen, are polite and don’t fight.

“The Roma are so eager to and ready to love, and deserving of our love, if only we are willing to put aside cultural barriers and see them as Jesus does. They are a beautiful people and we just need to open our eyes to see it.”

Jo & Sarah Appleton

For more information about mission among the Roma visit romanetworks.org

Marginalisation in Europe

August 6, 2018

marginsDownload Vista 30 here

Mission in Europe cannot be properly understood – or responsibly carried out – without reference to the margins of European societies and those who find themselves there. Just as Jesus’ mission was “at, with and from the margins… the church’s mission cannot be otherwise.” 1

For Jesus this meant spending time with women, children, gentiles, lepers, the poor and others who were excluded by his contemporaries. We are duty-bound to ask questions about equivalent groups in Europe today: who is marginalised, from what, and how? And what should be our response to such marginalisation? But we also need to ask searching questions about our own locatedness (centre or margin?) – and what those on the margins may be teaching us.

Some European Christians complain that secularisation has seen the church itself being marginalised but loss of power and – which are not to be understood primarily as geographical or physical but social.

The English language abounds with forceful words for those who have been described as “from the underside of history, from the outskirts of society, from among the oppressed masses”2: these are the downtrodden, the ostracized, the dehumanized, the subjugated, the alienated, the stigmatized and the disenfranchised. The common thread being a denial of the right to participate fully or equally in society; being “far removed from decision-making processes.”3

There are those who are marginalised on the basis of their ethnicity, race or religion, whether Roma or evangelical Christians in some countries, or victims of centuries-old prejudices and discrimination. Such marginalisation may be institutionalised, legalised or legitimized by state approval (or tacitly endorsed by, for example, state churches).

Secondly, there are those who are marginalised because of their social and economic status: the homeless, unemployed, lower social classes, prisoners and others who face limited opportunities as impersonal but powerful forces work to exclude them from fully participating in society. Refugees and asylum seekers and those who are trafficked also fall into this category: often socially marginalised and, sometimes barred altogether from ‘Fortress Europe’.

A third type of marginalised people are those who are rejected, dominated or
‘dis-privileged’ because of their identity: women, young people, the elderly, the disabled, those not conforming to heterosexual ‘norms’. Across Europe, different states have made different levels of progress in terms of social inclusivity and acceptance, with some lagging behind considerably.

All three forms of marginalisation describe situations where those with power and influence use it (whether intentionally or not) to control, impair or harm those with less (or no) power and influence. That is to say, marginalisation has its roots in human selfishness, power lust and, ultimately, sinfulness. It is a complex phenomenon and varies from context to context; a person who is marginalised in one setting may be someone who excludes or marginalises others in a different context.

Our response

How can European churches and Christians respond? There are at least four necessary responses.

Firstly, oppressive powers – and that includes those of marginalisation – must be identified and denounced. This is part of the church’s prophetic role in society, and such denunciation may bring us into conflict with elites and those benefiting from the status quo. In some countries such as the UK there are many precedents for such condemnation; in others countries, churches may need to take bolder steps to confront injustice and inequality.

Secondly, the church itself must practise a “radical inclusiveness”4 that simply refuses to perpetuate us/other divisions, fundamentally challenging the concept of core/margin thinking: all are to be welcomed, all are to be invited, and the need for genuine Christian hospitality has never been greater in European churches.

Thirdly, those who have been marginalised “should not be seen as only recipients… but as actors in mission.”5 The marginalised are to be equal participants not only in society but in terms of participating in God’s mission too. Some would go further and argue that marginalised people are the “main partners” in God’s mission.6 What could we learn from such sisters and brothers? As the World Council of Church statement Together Towards Life reminds us, on the margins it is often possible to see what is out of view from the centre.7

And finally, some hard questions need to be faced by European Christians, especially given our continent’s long history of imperialism and colonialism: how have our lives, our churches, our theology, even our missiology, served our own interests and excluded or marginalised others? To what extent are we complicit in others being marginalised? Have our actions (or inaction) led to other groups or individuals being kept out – of our countries, our parliaments, our universities, our workforce, our churches.

When we marginalise

It is important for churches in Europe to be alert to the possibility of marginalisation wherever there may be imbalances of power. Three examples will illustrate the point.
Firstly, Harvey Kwiyani has sensitively raised the question of whether non-Western missionaries are being marginalised in the West, including Europe.8 The danger being that Western attitudes, assumptions and unacknowledged prejudices may lead to non-Western missionaries being seen as inferior to Westerners; or seen as equal but lacking equivalent resources and influence and being disregarded as a result.

Secondly, at missions conferences, training colleges and so on, are minority European voices being heard? Do Eastern Europeans have as much influence as Western Europeans in these circumstances? We need to reconsider who is setting the agenda for European mission.

And thirdly, are some missiologies or missiological approaches themselves being marginalized within Europe – whether liberationist, feminist, Pentecostal (or non-Pentecostals) or other? So even within missionary and missiological circles, we may find marginalisation occurring.

Where does this leave us? Ironically, there has been talk in recent years of Europe itself being marginalised, as other countries, including China and India, develop economically and assert themselves politically.
But whatever the international status of Europe, its churches and its Christians would do well to simply follow the example of Jesus Christ and his approach to power and to those isolated or excluded by it: the Jesus who ministered to the poor, the sick, the maligned and the oppressed, and challenged his disciples to do likewise; the Jesus who died among the despised, rejected and forsaken; the risen Lord who sent – and continues to send – his followers “to the margins (ends) of the earth” that all might be invited in.

Chris Ducker is Lecturer in Mission at Redcliffe College, Gloucester.

Endnotes
1. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, “Postscript: Mission at, with and from the margins – A missiology of the cross” in Jesudason et al (eds., 2014) Mission At and From the Margins: Patterns, Protagonists and Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum Books), p.262.
2. Miguel de la Torre (2014) Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, 2nd edition (Maryknoll: Orbis).
3. Genevieve Mwayuli and Misia Kadenyi (2009) “Environmental Justice for Peace and Development: A Biblical Perspective”, African Ecclesial Review 51:4, p.533.
4. Matthias Wenk (2009) “Reconciliation and Renunciation of Status as God’s final aim for Humanity: New Testament Thoughts on the Church’s Mission and Unity”, p.5. Wenk notes that this radical inclusiveness “also prompted conflict and schism with those that did not share his vision.”
5. Emma Wild-Wood and Peniel Rajkumar (eds., 2013) Foundations for Mission (Oxford: Regnum Books), p.240.
6. WCC (2012) Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, p.107.
7. Ibid, p38.
8. Harvey Kwiyani (2012) “Power in Mission,” Journal of Mission Practice No.2, Autumn 2012.