Two buses trundle into the tiny village, kicking up the dusty path with their weight, carrying nearly a hundred people comprising about sixty singers and their committed orchestra, and all their instruments.
We have come to a gypsy village to give a concert. Gypsies in Romania are considered evil and unclean. Dishonest thieves. Shady characters who steal babies, live in camps, are dangerous people. They steal, indeed. That’s because they are not permitted to work, and who would hire them anyway? They are essentially outlawed. We knew this as we made our way to their village.
As the buses were slowing to a crawl, dozens of scruffy little kids, barefoot and dusty, ran along side, pounding on the bus flanks as they laughed and called to us. When stopped, we wormed our way down the aisles and out of the buses, lifting waiting children into our arms, away from the doorway. Suddenly shy, they just stared. Our guide shouted that no one touches gypsies. So we just held them tighter, cuddling them close. Their curly dark heads tilted back to gaze into our eyes, grins crossing apprehensive faces as we carried them up the path past tiny houses to the church. The adults along the way stopped dead in their tracks, mouths open, eyes staring. Nobody touches gypsies.
We heard the singing before we opened the doors. The little church was packed. We could barely enter. There were no empty seats, so we lifted sitting children and sat in their places, putting them into our laps. The adults stared as if we were aliens from off-planet.
Many of us had no place to sit, so we began to encircle the congregation as we lined the walls, pulling adults by the hand to come with us. They stared, pulling their hands away, so we insisted. When they understood we were serious, they too, with us, lined the walls.
The tiny stage held two women, a small boy, and their gypsy band. A tambourine, a trumpet, and a bass fiddle were cranking out lively music as the boy sang his solo with backup. The bass fiddle had only two strings. But we had a PhD musician who had brought her bass fiddle with her. She opened her kit and pulled out new strings, walked up front and showed them to the player. She thought his remaining, frayed strings were likely the gut of a goat. She proceeded to restring his fiddle while he watched, his mouth agape, his mind hardly comprehending. When he realized, he began to weep with joy and thanksgiving. Now we all lost it, and before we knew it, there were no dry eyes in the building. We lifted our voices to God along with these people slowly melting into our presence, finally understanding that we saw no difference in them as God’s kids just like us. Together we rocked the little church.
The gypsy pastor told his story of salvation. He’d been the town hellion, sharp knives his weapons, fast with his fists, a tough guy of gigantic proportions. And then God grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and stood him up straight. So here he was, leading his flock in the Way. He said here gypsies are the very last but in heaven they will be first, sons of Jesus and His Father.
We were unhappy to leave, wanting this experience to continue. Hearts entwined and pointed toward heaven, a rejected people saw that the love of God says that is not true. That brothers and sisters from the other side of the world said gypsies were equal in God’s eyes and here was the proof. In Him we were united.
As we slowly emptied the church, the dusty path was lined with the babushkas, many of a great age, holding trays of hot, fresh baked, sugar dusted doughnuts. This people of poverty were sharing what they had. While we were singing, they were baking. Many of us recognized these baked treats as the same as those emanating from the kitchens of many of our own grandmothers.
Small, shy children followed us to the buses, understanding that we were leaving. They were unhappy, as were we. The good byes were very difficult. There were tears inside and outside the bus.
Years later, this experience lives bright and clear in our hearts. We hear that things are better there for gypsies and are thankful for it.