Granny Anna clutched her young grandson’s hand as she hurried down the rain-slickened road. She walked as fast as her stiff legs could move.
Granny and little Roman reached the corner and turned into a muddy courtyard. She heard people inside the building singing joyfully, but instead of gladness, Granny Anna’s heart sank. She was late.
Her pace slowed as she and little Roman made their way toward the door. A cluster of children hovered near the door. Granny Anna knew without asking that the seats inside the house church were taken. She stood by the door for a few minutes, then turned and started toward home. She and Roman would miss church today. There was no room inside. Tomorrow, she thought, tomorrow we will try again.
Granny Anna lives in southwestern Bulgaria. She is a Romani, a Gypsy. The city has a large population of Romani people, and several years ago a few Romani joined the Bulgarian Adventist Church there. The Romani membership grew, and before long they expressed their desire to form their own congregation. With the help of the mission, they rented the first-floor apartment in the house and renovated it to serve as a church.
The Romani congregation continued to grow and now numbers more than 70. That number would crowd any house church, but the nonmembers far outnumber the members, and seats are at a premium for every service. Today some 160 members and friends come, seeking God’s blessing and offering their worship on Sabbaths and nearly every day throughout the week.
Today every possible wall has been removed to make room for worshippers. Chairs stand in tight rows with barely room for feet between them. When the sanctuary fills, more chairs are added to the narrow hallway, and when weather permits, the children meet outside so more adults can hear the sermon by closed-circuit TV in the children’s room. Still some must stand outside, catching snippets of the worship service through an open door or window.
Sometimes the upstairs neighbors complain when the believers’ singing at 9:00 on Sabbath morning awakens them or when the Friday and Sabbath vespers disturb their television watching. So the group sings more softly.
Many of the children don’t come to church simply because there’s no room for them. Or if they come and find their room full of adults, they must return home. The adults don’t like the situation, for they realize that children are important to God’s family.
The Romani congregation is eager to share its faith with fellow Romani. They want to find a larger place to worship. But because they don’t earn much as seamstresses, street sweepers, and construction workers, and because many have no jobs at all due to the sagging economy, they struggle to simply pay the rent on the building they now occupy.
“The Romani have a close-knit community,” Pastor Stefan says. “When they find faith in Jesus, they tell others, and the number of people coming to worship literally explodes.
“Many visitors come to worship with us, but even when members stay away so visitors can have a seat, we’re crowded,” Pastor Stefan adds. “If we had a church, the membership would explode. And we could have room for them. They are our future.
“We’d love to hold evangelistic meetings, but we simply don’t have room to accommodate the people,” he says. “For now, we must focus on those who are already coming.”
The church has organized small groups that meet on Sabbath afternoon to study the Bible and reach out to the community. “We would love to have two services, but the Romani people are so intent on being in the church that they would stay for the second service, even if it was exactly like the first service.
“There’s no turning people away,” Pastor Stefan adds. “These people can’t get enough of God’s Word. Whenever there’s a meeting, people come. In the winter we have meetings every evening of the week.”
This community of believers is just one of dozens of Romani communities in Bulgaria. They fill the churches, and often stand outside to hear God’s Word. We can help grow the church in Bulgaria this Thirteenth Sabbath. Part of the offering will help build a simple church for the Romani community in this city. Thank you for helping advance God’s work in a fruitful region of His vineyard.