Through teaching English and leading a Bible study, Clista has formed strong relationships with Gandhi School students. CBF photo
ATLANTA – There are a handful of Roma teenagers who were just beginning to believe they could dream big dreams for their life. But those dreams – of overcoming the stereotypes and expectations of being born a “Hungarian Gypsy” – are now at risk.
The New York Times recently reported that the economic downturn has triggered a wave of violence against the Roma in Hungary where Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Clista and Glen Adkins work with the marginalized people group. After several years of seemingly less discrimination, old stereotypes and prejudices are aggressively returning.
“No one is pretending to like ‘gypsies’ any longer,” the Adkins said.
And that’s what makes their ministry all the more important now. In southwestern Hungary, just outside the city of Pecs, the Adkins serve at Gandhi School, a residential high school for as many as 300 academically-gifted Roma teenagers seeking a better future.
The Gandhi School was started 15 years ago and remains the only high school for Roma in the country. Public schools are open to Roma but are often hostile environments for this minority, the Adkins said. Though laws exist to protect all students, some schools still isolate the Roma into classes for the mentally handicapped. It’s no wonder that only 3 percent of all Roma in Hungary graduate and go to college.
“Many students want to have big dreams, but reality here tends to squash those dreams before they even have time to take root. They have a hard time holding onto hope,” Glen said.
Most Gandhi School students come from impoverished families, many of which don’t have steady income, healthcare or balanced nutrition. Their parents often are suspicious of and resistant to education, preferring their children to marry early and start a family. Beyond providing a standard high school education, Gandhi School teaches and equips its students to strive for more.
“When they graduate from Gandhi, they have what few Roma have – hope for their futures,” Clista said. “In addition, we hope we can help them to understand that God loves them and that God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ was for Roma just as much as it was for everyone else.”
Students like Janos have great hopes for the future. He wants to be a doctor and is thriving in school, where he is passing national exams, helping tutor his fellow classmates and improving his English – something his previous school told him he couldn’t do. Another student, Dori, wants to attend college in the U.S. and then return to eastern Europe to help educate Roma women and children.
“Education has given Dori the chance to dream. She wants to provide that hope and vision for other Roma women,” Clista said.
And that’s vital in a culture where desperate Roma girls and women sometimes resort to prostitution for income. Once during a weekly Bible study the Adkins asked students what they were most afraid of.
“One 15-year-old girl answered, ‘I don’t ever want to have to stand on the side of the road,’” Clista recalled. “The threat of having to be a prostitute to survive is both real and frightening. Therefore working with young Roma women – to help them find hope – is critical for the future of these desperate and despised people.”
Since 2007 when they were appointed as CBF field personnel, Clista has taught English classes at the school, and Glen has directed the school’s choir, which recently recorded a CD and will be going on tour in Baptist churches in Hungary and Slovakia.
“People all around us seem to be looking for hope. Hopefully, by building relationships with all of these students and teachers, we are being living parables about the love of God and the family of God,” Glen said.
Both seminary graduates, the Adkins previously served at First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., a CBF partnering congregation that is consistently engaged in Roma ministry. One group of women in the church recently provided a shopping trip for a new student named Isti, who arrived at the school with not even underwear or socks. Because of the church members, she was able to return the clothes she had borrowed from her homeroom teacher and buy something she wanted.
“I don’t know that I have ever seen such dawning joy on the face of a teenager in all my life. I think this shopping trip did more for her sense of worth than we will ever know,” Clista said.
More than 70 percent of the students arrive with little to nothing. To meet the constant need, other churches have given gifts of socks, toiletries, choir materials, English books, and funding for several students to attend last year’s Baptist World Alliance’s Youth Congress in Leipzig, Germany. Churches like Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., and First Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., have even traveled to Hungary to help with English camps and other ministries.
“Through all of your consistent and on-going efforts and gifts, we help these students get a glimmer of hope. We show that God doesn’t get tired and go home, that God’s love for them isn’t dependent on the political or economic climate, that God’s presence isn’t conditional or whimsical,” Clista said.
There are always opportunities for churches to travel to Hungary to teach English, lead camps, help with construction projects, and lead music and other special programs. Fellowship Baptists could also partner with specific groups or classes, such as English classes that are always in need of U.S. pen pals.
As with many CBF field personnel, the Adkins are financially supported through CBF’s Offering for Global Missions, which provides for operating expenses, salaries and life-changing ministries.
“I feel so privileged to get to represent all of our former congregations and the Fellowship here in Hungary. It is more of a gift from God than it is a job,” Clista said.
“This is a place where miracles happen every day, even in the middle of tragedy and hopelessness. If any or all of these students accomplish their goals, the results could ripple through their families and communities in ways we cannot even comprehend.”
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.