Count me among a miniscule minority who has never watched a single episode of the CBS reality show, “Survivor”. I have seen countless promos for the series, none of which have enticed me to give it a try. Through viewing the promos I get the gist of the show: a tropical location, bandanas, snacking on worms, and conniving plots to throw the competition off the island.
A few weeks ago I was part of an EI team that encountered real life survivors in a real life setting. We traveled to central Romania, crossed the mountains and arrived in Transylvania. Yes, it is a real place. The villages we visited are rarely frequented by Westerners. Our mission was to deliver hundreds of coats, shoes and bags of groceries to Roma (Gypsy) families to help them survive the rugged Romanian winter.
Through my years in missions, I have seen deplorable poverty in Asia, South America and many regions in eastern Europe, but I have never seen such appalling conditions as I saw on this trip. Everyone on our team left Romania with lumps in their throats; what we saw was so gut wrenching it is not easily forgotten.
The Roma people have next to nothing, except a will to live. Their lives are a daily battle for survival. Their one-room homes are bare bones, consisting of a worn out mattress, maybe a table and a wooden chair. For warmth, the fortunate ones burn wood in primitive stoves, but many are forced to burn old clothing, paper or trash. The village shanties have no plumbing and sometimes no electricity. No wonder many Roma succumb to alcohol, theft, and other ways to escape their never-ending misery.
Our goal was not just to help them survive by giving coats and food, but to “live” by giving them Jesus. Our team members spent hours each day in dozens of Roma homes, hearing their stories and sharing ours. By the end of our mission trip, more than 70 Roma had prayed to make Jesus the Lord of their lives!
The Roma people are true survivors. Their living conditions have not changed, but with their new-found faith, many are experiencing life for the first time coupled with hope. EI is committed to bring spiritual change throughout Europe, from the mega cities to the remote villages.