Gypsies really are the last and the least here in Romania. At the bottom of the pile when it comes to hygiene, housing, healthcare, education, employment – everything. Doctors need to take a bribe before they will consider giving anaesthetic to a child undergoing a rather delicate and dangerous operation. Gypsy children are rarely allowed in the Romanian schools – if they are, they must sit at the back of the class. There is little work for the adults, especially during the long, hard winters. They have no sanitation or running water. Generations have experienced physical or natural abuse at the hands of family or parents – they know no different. It's an endless cycle as the abused become the abusers, and so on and so forth. Their situation seems hopeless. But there is light shining in the darkness, a big house called the Isaiah Centre in Tinca founded and run by a little known ministry called Forget-Me-Not Ministries.
Three years ago a woman from Vegas called Rachel Ross was working in a hospital nearby when she stumbled upon the gypsy village in Tinca. Immediately she was struck by the immense need and cried out to God for a solution. She was to become an answer to that prayer. After visiting families and carrying out "holiday club" type programmes, a vision grew for a day-care centre which would be an oasis of love for some of those children. A dear friend of mine, Dave Truss, caught the vision three years ago and has been living here permanently since April 2009.
As wells as the programmes that continue within the gypsy village itself, within the walls of the Isaiah Centre children are cared for, washed, clothed, fed, played with, educated, given nap times, left untouched and unabused, and most of all, loved. Here, they are normal kids, full of beans – laughing, playing, drawing. It wasn't always the case. Three years ago, when the centre opened, they were wounded, broken, emotionally guarded; they trusted no-one. Over time God has worked through Rachel and Dave (and others they've been working with) to bring incredible healing to those 11 children. They have been following Jesus faithfully by touching untouchables with love and "binding up the brokenhearted" and gradually these captives to abuse are being set free (Isaiah 61:1).
Can Forget Me Not solve the problems that the gypsies face? Not at all, not even close. But what they do reminds me of a well-known story of the starfish …
Once upon a time, an old man was walking on a beach strewn with starfish washed up by a storm. A little boy was picking up the stranded starfish one by one and tossing them back into the sea. The old man smiled indulgently and said, “You’re wasting your time, child. There are so many doomed starfish on this beach. You can’t save them all. What difference will it make to save a few of them?” The little boy looked at the starfish in his hand, and as he sent it sailing toward the water, he replied, “It will make a difference to that one.”
The Isaiah Centre will, on the face of it, make very little difference to the plight suffered by the gypsies here in Tinca. They will always be an underclass, many of them will continue the cycle of abuse. However, every single one of the 11 children so far (and this is just the beginning – there are plans to expand the centre to include up to 100 children as well as providing education for the adults) know what it is to be loved, and valued. Maybe, just maybe, they will learn to love others in return. Maybe, just maybe, they will form healthy relationships with their families, their spouses and their children when they themselves become parents. Maybe, just maybe, the cycle of abuse will be ended, and a cycle of grace will begin.
Like the starfish story, at the moment it isn't making a massive difference to the plight of the gypsies here in Tinca or in Romania, but it has already made a massive difference to those 11 children and their families (which in itself surely makes it all worthwhile) and who knows what could happen – the cycle of grace could continue in such a way that the gyspy community itself becomes a community of grace and a beacon of light. Sounds far fetched, but we know a God who rather enjoys making the impossible possible. In the words of a well-known song, "Greater things are yet to come."