National Reformed Roma Ministry Prayer Day and Meeting

On 13 April, the Reformed Church of Káposztámegyer, Budapest, and its surroundings bustled with community life early in the morning. Roma and non-Roma people from all over the country came for the tenth edition of the prayer day. All had come for an exceptional opportunity to give themselves freely to the Word of God, the joy of encounter and their often challenging identity, the Roma culture.


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Photo: Levente Váradi

Even before the day of prayer officially began the joy of singing, praising, and meeting already vibrated around the church. The sound of the orchestra and choir assembled for the occasion could be heard far and wide. It was not lost on the congregation that some had risen at the crack of dawn, traveling hundreds of kilometers to arrive on time. The venue was the church of the Káposztásmegyer Reformed Parish in Budapest, just like the first Roma Mission Prayer Day ten years ago, and the local pastor, András Zámbó, welcomed the event with open doors and an open heart.

When choosing the location, the organizers tried to be considerate of everyone: we were about equal distance from Mátészalka, Barta, or Kecskemét, from which all the believers came. Although they live in different parts of the country, many of them already know each other from the charity's programmes. Many of them recognised themselves in the pictures in the hallway, and familiar faces appeared in the montage video of last year's prayer day. Some of them could almost be advertisement faces for the national Roma Ministry, as they are happy to join the community-building and awareness-raising programmes on a regular basis.

For example, Krisztián, a singer in the occasional choir, who sings with his whole heart, told us on the prayer day that when he was young he would have liked to "tear his skin off" because of his dual identity. But one of the Starpoint festivals was a turning point for him, and he has since come to terms with his Roma identity and is proud of it. László from Lak, who confesses that since losing his sight in an accident, he has lived in the light of faith, for which he is infinitely grateful. But another example is Ricsi from Edelény, who returned only a few years ago, yet was the first to try on the symbolic cloak at the Day of Prayer, which symbolised the shared experience of Hungarian and Roma identity and equality. Together with them, some two hundred and fifty Roma and non-Roma gathered to celebrate Roma identity, Hungarianism, Christianity and each other.


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Photo: Levente Váradi

At the beginning of the prayer day, cockades in red, green and blue were distributed in commemoration of the International Roma Day on 8 April. These are the colours of the Roma flag. After the cockades were pinned up, the official part of the event began.

“The purpose of Roma Day and, linked to it, of this day of prayer, is to see how many places you are from, how much service you have done, and so to be strengthened in your faith. And you can pass on this strengthening at home," said Szabina Pena-Sztojka, head of the National Roma Ministry of the Reformed Church of Hungary. The Reformed pastor also spoke about the message of Christ, which was one of the most important themes of the Day of Prayer. “That's why we are wearing this cockade, to testify that we are not lost, we are children of God," she said.

The next speaker was the pastor of the host Reformed Parish of Káposztásmegyer. “You have already heard that you are priests. But what if everyone looked the person sitting next to them in the eye and said: You are a royal priest of God!” András Zámbó began his greeting, and then went on to talk about how, despite our differences, we are all members of the body of Christ, of Christianity.

Károly Czibere, the Director General of the Diaconia of the Reformed Church in Hungary, in his welcome speech, quoted the Apostle Paul: "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be, has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). It is this last sentence that Károly Czibere put first and foremost in the heart of the congregation: to see Him as He really is behind our false images - all this can mean becoming Christ-like, a transformation in our lives.


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Photo: Levente Váradi

János Daróczi, Director General of the Directorate General for Social Opportunities, spoke about how Hungarian and Roma culture have been intertwined in history. He stressed that the Roma came with craftsmanship, singing and peace, and have been part of Hungarian society for more than six hundred years. He referred to the 1848 War of Independence when Hungarian troops were encouraged by Roma bands. He highlighted the famous Roma artists of history and the everyday working people who work hard to make this country a better place. He said that he grew up in Bedő, a border village, where everyone spoke each other's language and Roma, Hungarians, and Romanians accepted each other because they needed each other. Later, the settlement became home to an exceptionally large number of Roma graduates. “It would be important to reconcile this in a way that would fit in our hearts and souls. With our dual identity, we are only more," said Daróczi, adding that change can be achieved with faith.

Zoltán Balog, Bishop of the Danubian Reformed Church District, gave a sermon on the prayer day. He based his sermon on verses 17-19 of Ephesians chapter 3: "...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." In his homily, the bishop explained that to know belonging, one does not need academic degrees, but only the experience of divine love.

“Our ancestors were involved in this, our descendants will be involved in this, it is essentially the whole globe. And it can sustain the lives of the people at the very bottom. I have thought a lot about the biblical phrase that Jesus ‘descended into hell.’ Jesus went to hell? Why did he go there? To lift up the lowest man," the Bishop stressed, while also pointing out that love is a prerequisite for knowing one another, not a consequence. This is the secret of the Christian faith and the threshold beyond which we can be together in what is most important in the world," he added. “I wish you to be able to know the breadth, length, height and depth of God's love," said Zoltán Balog.

Bake-off contest, freestyle rap performancies, and testimonies

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Photo: Levente Váradi

The band wove elements of Roma music into the songs of praise between the greetings, which were of course, supported by the enthusiastic singing of the assembled. In the meantime, the nine congregations from different parts of the country introduced themselves with a verse each, and there were also small group prayers and testimonies.

After lunch, the "production" began. Within moments, a huge atmosphere was created in front of the church, where the more daring could dance, with freestyle rap and guitar performances. And there was no lack of courage: the devotional singing, the opening up to one another, the heartfelt personal testimonies, the lived Word set the community free.

This spring day will be an important and deep memory for many. The flushed faces and clear eyes were a testimony to the fact that the majority could be themselves. The speeches, the singing together, the testimonies, all had the common message that faith can make a real difference in everyday life. The congregation was certainly strengthened in this after the day of prayer.