We walked up a long path to reach the church building in the gypsy village. There were kids everywhere, all full of energy and wanting to be near our group. We all packed into the small one-room building to begin our Gospel presentation, filling in pew benches with the kids.
This ministry site was different than the others, more challenging. The children seemed love-starved, just like at Tinca, but they also seemed to have more behavioral issues. Our time there became a little wild. There were a lot of boys there who preferred shouting out and hand-slap games to listening to anything we wanted to say. They got a little grabby, too. One of the young boys, maybe seven years old, started lifting up my shirt at one point. I was thankful that stern looks and the word “no” are easily understood no matter what language you speak. I was also thankful that I’d thought to wear a cami under my top.
There was one little boy, though, who crept his way into my heart. He was shirtless and wore old jeans. His hair was sandy-blonde and dirty. I later learned he had lice. Having already dealt with the shirt-lifter, I was a little wary of interacting with this boy. He seemed a little pushy, the type to demand you hold him rather than ask to be lifted into your arms or seated on your lap. He made his way to where I was sitting, on a bench at the front of the room, and proceeded to climb into my lap. He’d play with my hands, look around the room, and then hop off to go play a short game with someone else, all while the presentation was going on. But he kept coming back to me, wanting to be held.
Even when we were finished with our presentation and moved outside to play with the kids, he would find me. I had picked up a little girl and was holding her at one point when he approached me. He held up his hands, brow furrowed and lip pouted. I tried to tell him I couldn’t hold them both, that he needed to wait, but I think all he understood was that I was denying his desire to be in my arms. He cried out at me in protest, his pout becoming more pronounced, and he went away.
There was something about him, though… something that, although I was initially uncomfortable around him, I found myself drawn to. And he seemed drawn to me, even more so and more quickly than I was to him. My only explanation for any of it is the Holy Spirit at work.
We ended up having to leave the village earlier than we’d planned to. Things had gotten out of hand– kids were throwing water at us, girls on our team were being inappropriately touched, and there wasn’t really a sense of control anymore. So we were told we were leaving, grabbed our things and started to walk back down the hill.
I was near Taylor, one of the guys in my ministry group, when a little hand reached for mine. It was my little boy.
“You’re back!” I said, smiling at him. “You keep finding me.”
I turned back to the road, walking alongside the little guy. Then Taylor started laughing. Apparently my little guy had started imitating me. I’m sorry I missed it, because it was apparently highly amusing. The thought alone amused me, though, and endeared me even more to my little guy. He walked with me all the way to where we were to meet our bus. He wasn’t the only one who ventured down the hill; a few older gypsy boys and a woman came with us, too.
We were all waiting under some trees, and my little guy and I were separated. I turned around, though, just in time to see the older gypsy boys kicking him in the stomach and the older woman trying to smack him with a towel. Their faces were drawn in anger and I could tell they weren’t playing with him. I could tell it was serious.
My little guy ended up closer to me, and once again the group tried to kick and hit him, telling him to go away. By this point, I was angry. Very angry. I gently pushed him behind me, looked to the gypsy group and told them to stop. They responded to me in Romanian, but I didn’t understand and there wasn’t a translator around. They added hand motions, and the gist of what they were saying was that my little boy was crazy or stupid. I think maybe he had some sort of special needs based on his interactions with me, so I got the idea of what they were trying to say– that he was stupid and didn’t belong near us. And it made me even more upset and sad for my little boy.
“No,” I told them, shaking my head. “No.”
Sometime during my confrontation with the group, my little guy ran away, back up to the village. I never caught his name, but he was the one child I specifically felt a desire to bring home with me. My prayer for him is for people who know and love Christ to come into his life and change it. That he would come to know Jesus and be free from sin, death and darkness.
This little boy had only been in my life for about two hours, if that. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know his story. All I knew was that he was hungry for love; that he wanted to be held; that he wasn’t getting either of those things from the native people around me.
He’d only been in my life for two hours and I was standing up for him. In a foreign country. When I couldn’t communicate beyond two words on my own. To a group of people, including young men.
I think back to it, and my heart is awed. Not because I did anything special on my own, but because I never would have done that before. It’s not my first instinct; I’ve never been that person. I’ve never been the brave soul who steps in front of a small group on behalf of another to demand something stop. I’ve never been the confident person who confronts people in the exact moment she sees something wrong.
So what had gotten into me?
The Holy Spirit. It started early on, His moving and stirring in me on this trip. It didn’t take long at all before I started understanding what it meant in the Gospel when Jesus was before the multitudes and moved with compassion for them. He had compassion for people– a bold love that required action. A bold love that He was instilling into me in Romania. A bold love that manifested when I stepped in front of that little boy.
A bolder love that was still growing.
*For the record, the short confrontation with the small group wasn’t a dangerous one.
I was near a large group of my teammates and the people I spoke to seemed respectful of our group.
Didn’t want anyone to think I was being completely unsafe.
Though sometimes we must risk being “unsafe” to do what’s right.