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International Romani Day celebrates culture and raises awareness

Romani are the largest minority group in Europe

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

In addition to helping children with their studies, mission co-worker Nadia Ayoub enjoys working with the Roma children in fun activities such as coloring, which is a favorite. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – April 8 is International Romani Day, celebrating the Romani (Roma) culture, history and people and raising awareness of the issues they face.

The Roma are the largest minority group in Europe and are commonly known in the English-speaking world as “Gypsies,” a pejorative term. Like “Native American,” “Roma” is an umbrella term for many subgroups. Ashkali, Kalderash, Manouche and Lovari are all considered Romani but each have their own distinct cultural and linguistic traditions.

Many of Europe’s 10-12 million Roma face discrimination that prevents them from acquiring basic needs. Hundreds of thousands of Roma lack secure housing, dependable food, potable water, electricity, heat, education, health care and employment. Hatred, fear and lack of understanding sometimes lead to violence against them.

The work of four Presbyterian mission co-workers involves sharing the gospel with Roma and addressing the discrimination, poverty and social separation they experience. The mission co-workers include Burkhard Paetzold, regional liaison for Central and Eastern Europe; Al Smith, working in Russia; and Nadia Ayoub, working with the Reformed Church in Carpath-Ukraine.

Paetzold, who lives in Berlin but travels throughout Central and Eastern Europe, has been front and center during the growing refugee crisis. “Among the refugees arriving in Western Europe there are a number of Roma from the Balkans and other regions in Europe,” he said. “Western European countries do not grant them asylum but deport them to their home countries while nobody talks about discrimination or racism Roma face after return. However, fighting the root causes of discrimination, racism and social marginalization that lead to poverty is on the agenda of many national churches in those countries. Our mission workers Nadia Ayoub in Carpath-Ukraine and Al Smith in Russia are supporting national churches or Christian networks and have been doing so for a time long before the current so-called ‘refugee crisis’ started.”

In Ukraine, the Ministry of Education has stopped providing free lunches for children in grades 1–4, which significantly impacts the Romani children. “Of course, children cannot learn on an empty stomach,” Ayoub wrote in a letter. “We thank God that here in the Peterfolvo area we are able to take children from three villages to school and then bring them to the Mission House in the afternoon for lunch, and then help them with their homework.”

The Reformed Church in Carpath-Ukraine established three day care centers in Ukrainian sub-regions to offer therapies for children and youth. One of the day care centers is in Mezövary, where three therapists foster 12 children and six teenagers who have disabilities. The youth visit the center  one to five days a week. To improve the quality of the work and the access to state subsidies the day care center is part of the “Don’t Forget Me” foundation, which is covering all the KRE-supported day care centers for children and teenagers with disabilities.

PC(USA) World Mission is collaborating with Swiss Church Aid to support the renovation of a fourth therapy section and the operation of the Mezövary rehabilitation center for the initial phase of 1½ years.

“Thank God greatly for all his love and grace and guidance for the wonderful work God is doing among the Roma people and the non-Roma here in Ukraine and other places, and for the support of the U.S., especially among the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” wrote Ayoub. “I thank you all, my partners in this great mission work among the Roma. Your prayers, encouragements, and giving support make it possible for me to be in Karpatalja-Ukraine and see all what God is doing among the Roma. Together we can say “for you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands.”

Paetzold recommends a free book published by the Reformed Church of Hungary (RCH) that highlights the work of Roma youth, mission workers, pastors, and artists within the RCH. The publishing of this work was supported by the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland.

The focus of the interviews is about what the love of God means to them. The introduction reads: “Nearly all have suffered from difficult physical and spiritual circumstances before managing to find their way to the Gospel. Their confessions shed light on the depth, the height, and the versatility of the Gospel, which is able to provide the fatherless with a father, to raise the despised, to offer a new beginning after each failure, to show an interpretation of our existence, to give us a goal in life, and to grant those who live on the periphery of society with the dignity of God’s children.”


World Mission asks for continued prayers for the Romani. To learn more about the work of the mission co-workers or support them financially, visit

Click here to download the PDF of the book published by the Reformed Church of Hungary.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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