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A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic

February 2013

Ministry with the Roma

February 14-15, 2013, Regional Liaison Burkhard Paetzold and I attended the Roma Network meeting of the Eurodiakonia. The meeting was held here in Prague and the host was the Diakonie of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB).  Participants came from all over Europe to share about Roma work in their countries and to learn about work with the Roma across Europe.  Interestingly enough, 5 of the approximately 25 participants work with the PC(USA) and 4 of them are originally from the U.S.  In addition to me, one of the other participants originally from the U.S. was Al Smith, who currently lives in Berlin, Germany, and is a mission co-worker in Russia.

Others originally from the U.S. were Carolyn and Dick Otterness, who are mission co-workers with the Reformed Church in America working with the Reformed Church in Hungary. They were joined by a number of other participants from Hungary, which included a Roma gentleman and several others working with and for the Roma.  Another large group of participants came from Germany, which included Regional Liaison Paetzold.  Other countries represented were Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Serbia, Romania, and of course the Czech Republic.  In addition to me we had staff from the Central Office of the Diakonie and from the Diakonie Center in Vsetin. 

Al Smith and Karen in the metro station Naměstí Míru - Photo by Burkhard Paetzold

We began our meeting on Thursday morning, February 14, with a devotion led by Rev. Jan Dus, who is the Director for the ECCB Diakonie Center of Humanitarian and Development Aid.  The Scripture reading for the devotion was 2 Corinthians 4:7, “And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”  After an icebreaker Catherine Mallet (Storry), the organizer of this meeting and the Policy and Membership Development Officer for Eurodiaconia in the office in Brussels, Belgium, talked a little bit about Eurodiakonia.  The mission of Eurodiakonia is Solidarity, Equality, Justice, inclusion, care, and empowerment for everyone, particularly the marginalized.  Their goal is to achieve positive change through praxis, advocacy, and promotion of identity and values.  They work from an openly Christian perspective and work in ecumenical and interfaith contexts.  They have several networks; the one working with the Roma began in 2009 and meets annually in various cities around Europe. 

We had a variety of speakers throughout our two-day meeting.  Blahoslav Číčel, who is the Director of the Centre of Social Assistance in Most, gave the initial presentation.  His center works with many from the Roma community, so he talked a little bit about the Roma in general.  He commented that the Roma are often seen as being very religious.  They often have baptisms and weddings in the church and they often have religious artifacts.  Many of the Roma in the Czech Republic come from Slovakia.  Faith is expressed physically with movement, dance and singing.  For them songs are prayers.  He went on to comment that it is quite probable that the Roma will move from being a minority in the Czech Republic to being a majority in 20–30 years.  How would that change the culture when the minority becomes the majority?   I believe he talked about some of these general attitudes and beliefs about the Roma as a way of getting us to begin talking and to get us to think about some of the assumptions we carry with us in this work.  He went on to talk about some of the general issues that arise when people from different cultures encounter one another and work at building relationships.  He finished his presentation on the following day prior to the close of the conference.  I appreciated the thought-provoking way in which he challenged us to be aware of our assumptions and to be open to a genuine encounter with others from different cultures than our own.

We then had a presentation from Mikuláš Vymětal, a pastor of a church here in the southern part of Prague.  His congregation has reached out to the Roma community near his church.  He had some slides and talked about some of the events at his church in which Roma had participated.  He was aided in his program by a young lady, Mariposa, who does advocacy work with the Roma throughout the Czech Republic. 

Following lunch we boarded three vans to travel to Rokycany, which is a small town near Plsen.  We visited “Klub Akcent,” which is set up to support Roma youth and children.  We had a tour of the facility and the director of the Klub then sat with us and told us about the work of the Klub and answered our questions. 

After our return from Rokycany we gathered for dinner and spent more time getting to know one another.  The next day began with two presentations about Mobile Youth Work.  The first presentation was given by Prof. Walther Specht from Germany.  He is connected with the International Society for Mobile Youth Work (ISMO).  He had slides from work done all around the world including the U.S. and Europe.  The success of this work is due to the fact that it is rooted in the community, sometimes in a church, for example.  The work focuses on youth between the ages of 10 and 25 or 26 and has been done in some Roma communities.  Walther currently works in Stuttgart, which has a number of foreigners, many of whom are from the Middle East and Turkey.  He has also worked in China.  There are several basic principles for this work: trust and building relationships is central, participation must be voluntary, and advocacy is crucial.  We also had a presentation about Mobile Youth Work in a Roma settlement called “Makzuda” in Varna, Bulgaria.

Following a break we had a presentation from Anca Enache, who is with the Helsinki Deaconess Institute in Helsinki, Finland.  Her presentation was Beyond Aid: the CABLE method—Community Action Based Learning for Empowerment.  This is a process being used by the Social Work staff in Finland. 

We then had a discussion and presentation about the issue of “Statelessness.” Geesje Werkman from the Kerk in Actie in the Netherlands led the discussion.  She pointed out that people who are stateless have no rights or protections and that there are about 12 million stateless people worldwide.  There are two different sub-categories of statelessness: those who fall into the category of de jure, who have some rights, and those who are in the category of de facto, who have no rights.  There are several consequences of statelessness:

 1.         No birth certificates
2.         No nationality
3.         Discrimination
4.         Poverty
5.         No access to education, health care, or work

Lobbying is one of the most effective ways of dealing with this issue.  In working with those who are stateless it is important to: help people move from de facto to de jure status, work on PR, particularly regarding the image of those who are stateless and many of the Roma are often stateless, and work to bring this as an issue for a unified European effort.  I must confess that I found this part of the conference particularly compelling because I had never thought about it before.  As someone with citizenship in the U.S. I have not had to deal with this before.  As a foreigner here in the Czech Republic I have been challenged to rethink some of my own attitudes and assumptions.  Since many of the Roma have been displaced, they are not citizens of any particular country.  In the past when many Roma communities were nomadic this may have been an issue that was not discussed or dealt with although it probably contributed to the discrimination toward them.  However, today statelessness is quite a problem, one we often ignore. 

This was a very important and helpful conference for me.  It reminded me of how ministry with and for the Roma embodies the three global issues that we strive to address as mission co-workers in the PC(USA).  The three global issues are:

  1. We will identify and address the root causes of poverty, particularly as it impacts women and children.
  2. Together with other members of Christ’s body, we will share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
  3. We will engage in reconciliation amidst cultures of violence, including our own.

As a part of a marginalized community the Roma often face poverty and discrimination, which definitely impacts women and children.  In all that we do, as part of the church and the Diakonia, we are called to share the good news of God’s love.  And much of our ministry with the Roma involves advocacy and PR with non-Roma communities.  This work is an important part of reconciliation and justice.  It was so exciting to learn of all the ways in which many organizations across Europe are confronting these global issues in their service with and for the Roma.  It was also a challenge to be reminded of how much work there still is to do.  What a privilege it is for me to be a witness and participant in this important ministry.

As a way of moving forward from the conference, Burkhard and I will be visiting Vsetin, which is in the southeast corner of the Czech Republic.  We will be visiting there in early April, just after Easter.  We plan to visit our ECCB Diakonia Center, which works with the Roma.  I will also be visiting one of our ECCB congregations and participating in worship. 

I invite you to be in prayer for:

  1.   Ministry with and for the Roma across the Czech Republic and Europe
  2.   The Eurodiakonia and its work across Europe
  3.   Burkhard Paetzold as he serves with those who reach out to the Roma
  4.   Al and Ellen Smith, who minister with and for the Roma in Russia
  5.   Carolyn and Dick Otterness as they minister with and for the Roma in Hungary
  6.   Burkhard and I as we visit in Vsetin
  7.   Klub Akcent and its work with the Roma in Rokycany

S přáním Božího požehnání,

I wish you God’s blessings,

Karen

Rev. Dr. Karen R Moritz
ECCB Central Church office
Ecumenical Department
Jungmannova 9 P.O. Box 466
CZ 111 21 Praha 1
Moritz@e-cirkev.cz
+420 224 999 280  office

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 285
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