Gypsies Respond at Multi-level Outreach

Nov 25, 2002 03:00 AM EST

At a garbage dump near Skopje, Macedonia, a truck dumps its load, half on the road and half off, adding to the accumulating stench made worse by the late August sun. Mangy dogs nose through the new treasure. Quickly joined by human neighbors, the animals continue to scour through the debris while people beside them are trying to find food to help them survive.

About 500 yards up the road, the scene is completely different. A huge yellow-and-white-striped tent has been erected on a recently cleaned and leveled lot. A Convoy of Hope outreach is beginning in Shutka, an area on the outskirts of Skopje where 45,000 Gypsies are concentrated. A steady stream of Gypsies fills the tent where joyful music is playing.

Far from the commonly depicted image of a happy-go-lucky traveling troupe, Gypsies are Europe's despised--usually banished to the worst living conditions, jobs and treatment. One year ago in Shutka, Assemblies of God personnel Brian and Colleen Thomas planted a church.

"We had to remove 14 huge truckloads of garbage just to get started," Brian said. "Our desire is to bring hope to the 'people of the dump.' " All year long, the Thomases had been planning this multipronged approach to show compassion to Shutka's Gypsies.

In the next few hours, the Convoy of Hope team led by International Director Kenton Moody treats 3,458 residents as guests. There are carnival games and face painting for the children, who also receive toys from Save Europe's Children, a co-sponsor of the outreach. A Christian medical clinic offers help for the hurting. Free haircuts are available. Free snacks are provided for everyone, and each family goes home with two bags of much-needed groceries.

In the tent, Gypsy Christians from Macedonia and neighboring Yugoslavia are singing and testifying to their fellow Gypsies in Shutka of the joy they have found in Jesus Christ. Those who desire prayer receive it. Those in need of counsel find a listening ear.

Each guest at the outreach receives an invitation to attend evening tent services for the next week. At the first evening service, a partially paralyzed man slowly makes his way to the front. Once he receives prayer, he strides in front of the cheering crowd, who are amazed at the sudden change in his body.

In the daytime, a children's outreach ministers to 800 young people. They learn songs about Jesus, hear Bible stories and learn about God's love for all people, including Gypsies. "Evangelicals are a minority in Macedonia," Moody said. "To have 200 volunteers band together required a major effort from the churches."

There are nearly 1,200 Assembly of God believers and 30 churches and preaching points among the 2 million people of Macedonia.

By Assembly of God