By a Pioneers Field Worker in Albania
“Are we getting better at answering your questions?”
To be honest, I don't know what Sula’s asking; she’s speaking in a language I don’t understand, but my teammates tell me about it afterwards. They also tell me how sad the question made them feel.
My teammates – a married couple, their three children, and a single – have lived and worked in Tirana, Albania for almost two years. They came here to start a church among the unreached Roma people group, and like most endeavors in God’s kingdom, it’s proving to be far more difficult than they ever thought possible.
Oppressed and discriminated against for centuries, the Roma are used to receiving handouts from compassionate and/or guilt-ridden strangers. However well-meaning, these efforts have created a mentality among the Roma that says: “Outsider = money”. This ingrained perspective has been one of the team’s biggest roadblocks to church-planting here. How, after all, do you form a reciprocal, life-giving relationship with a woman who’s opening line every time you see her is, “My husband is sick, can you give me money for medicine?” And at the same time, when does it make sense to ignore the very real needs of those you came to serve? It is a dangerous, tricky tension to navigate.
Which is why it is remarkable we’re meeting in Joni and Sula’s home at all, listening to a recording of John 8:1-11, discussing what this passage says about God and people. The fact that we’ve gotten past the what-are-you-going-to-give-me phase and formed a friendship (at least a tentative one) is a huge victory.
We don’t often celebrate the victories, however, mostly because by the time we recognize one, we’re up against another barrier. Take today’s, for example: “Are we getting better at answering your questions?” may seem harmless, but to us, it means Sula is still trying to please us (possibly so she’ll get a reward). It means she believes she is “lesser”, not just materially but also intellectually. It means in her mind, she is the student and we are the teachers, instead of all of us being the students of a holy, utterly mysterious, yet nearer-than-we-could-ever-imagine God.
How do you get past that?
The truth is, we don’t know. My teammates have tried to encourage Joni and Sula to lead the discussions, to own their role as equals in the church, but nothing has worked. We’ll be the first to admit that while we know on paper how to plant a church among the poor and unreached, reality is another story. To do it well – to do any of this well – we need Jesus.
Sobered but not disheartened, we say goodbye and walk away. I look back and shake my head as Sula’s four-year-old son picks up a not-so-small rock to throw at his older brother. It is a far from perfect church; we struggle with fear, pride, addictions, temper tantrums, and a deep distrust in God’s provision and goodness, among other things. But it is, miraculously, a church. Most important, it is his church, and may God give us the grace to remember it.
Sula and her family are the only known believers in the Roma community our Pioneers team currently works in. Would you consider specifically praying for this unreached people group, giving your resources to those who serve them, or going yourself?