The Power of Film to Plant Churches Among Gypsies

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Daniel Osu felt discouraged. Sitting under a tree in his front yard in Craiova, Romania, he prayed, “Lord, I feel like You have nothing for me. I have no place in the church.” He considered returning to his former life of drinking and gambling. And then he fell asleep.

Daniel, a Gypsy, as many in the Romani people group call themselves, and a new Christian, had recently told his pastor about “Magdalena,” a film about Christ’s life told from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Daniel wanted to show the film in nearby villages and then invite people to become Christians.

His pastor said Daniel was too young in his faith to do evangelism. The pastor told Daniel to bring people to the church instead.

While a frustrated Daniel slept, God answered his prayer. Daniel heard an audible voice say, “Wake up and get going.” He woke up, looked around and saw no one, so he went back to sleep. Again, he heard the voice.

“Wake up, get going, and go to your sister’s neighborhood. Gather people around the World.”

So Daniel and his wife, Zana, drove across town to his sister’s house. When they told their story, Daniel’s sister and brother-in-law agreed to gather their neighbors so Daniel could tell them about Jesus.

Having listened daily to the Bible on his MP3 player, Daniel felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to preach about the apostle Paul’s conversion. When he finished, the neighbors asked Daniel to start a church and become their pastor.

“The voice I heard was God’s voice,” Daniel said. “He was interested in their lives.”

That’s when Daniel and Zana launched a six-year adventure of trusting God to plant churches. Eleven churches later, whole communities have witnessed the freedom Christ gives when their sins are forgiven.

Daniel first experienced this freedom one day after he lost money gambling with his friends. Convinced that God was angry with him, Daniel marched off to the church, where his wife Zana was praying with other women for their families. He intended to force her to come home.

As he arrived, he heard women singing, “Now is the time to come back to your God.” Their song became his invitation. For two hours, he confessed his sins to the pastor while the group prayed for him. Daniel placed his faith in Christ.

A short time later, Lonel and Gina Teodorescu – Romanian missionaries with Alege Viata, which translates to Choose Life, as Cru® is known in Romania – visited Daniel and Zana’s church. The Teodorescus helped leaders build their churches, and Lonel’s words encouraged church members.

“Be our pastor,” the church members urged him. Lonel turned them down. But he promised to help. Just two weeks after the church service, he passed away from tongue cancer.

After Lonel’s death, Gina spent hours praying about her future. Did God want her to fulfill Lonel’s promise to help the Gypsies? How would she overcome her prejudice against this people group that began when she was a four-year-old child?

Long before church planter Daniel Osu was born, his mother was one of the many Romani people-often known as Gypsies-sent by Nazis to prison camps during World War II. When Daniel’s mother was nine, her family packed everything they owned into wagons and, along with thousands of other Gypsies, rode 600 miles from Romania to what is now Moldova.

After they arrived, the Nazis took everything from them and left them in an open field. The Gypsies dug holes in the ground for shelter and foraged for food.

Today, most Gypsies live in one place for life and forge close family ties. However, still living on the outskirts of society, they often lack proper paperwork, such as birth certificates, drivers’ licenses and other identification papers. Very few of the children attend schools. Generations have grown up with limited education.

As Gina grew up, the culture instilled in her a fear of Gypsies. Be careful, people warned. They will pick your pocket and steal your wallet. Those warnings brought back those unpleasant memories as Gina considered whether to help the Gypsies plant churches.

As she prayed, she realized Gypsies are created in God’s image. She believed God could empower her to show them His love. Then she received a message from Daniel: Would she help them tell others about Jesus? She said yes.

Using material from FamilyLife®, an international division of Cru, Gina taught Gypsies about the Christian life, including God’s plan for marriage.

Gina patiently explained how God created marriage to show Christ’s relationship with the church. Just as a husband loves his wife and makes sacrifices for her, Christ loves His church and gave His life to save her, promising to return for her someday. Daniel and Zana could honor God’s intention of two people entering into a covenant of commitment, which includes the visible expression of a ceremony and a license.

About this time, Jesus Film Project® translated “Magdalena” into Romani, the language of the Gypsies. Gina traveled with Daniel and Zana to a nearby village and showed the film, inviting people to receive Christ’s forgiveness. Afterward, 50 people surrendered their lives to Christ. Two weeks later, 100 people came to the first church service.

Soon afterward, Daniel trained leaders to care for church members and then chose a pastor. A group of church members planted another church in a nearby village.

In the village of Podari, Daniel and Zana showed the film, resulting in their fifth new church. A week later, Daniel preached at a follow-up meeting. When the local chief of police, a Romanian, heard about their meeting, he and four officers came.

Knowing the policemen were present, Daniel urged the new Christians to trust God and live a changed life. “God sent us here,” Daniel said, “to teach you how to live a life that not only pleases God but also pleases the authorities. You should give up your evil ways, send your children to school and contribute to the well-being of the town.”

Afterward, one policeman thanked Daniel. Previously the village had a reputation for a high crime rate. Hearing Daniel encourage his fellow Gypsies-whom the police suspected of stealing from their neighbors-to respect local authorities moved the policeman to tears.

Today more than 100 baptized Christians live in Podari, including Zana’s brother-who donated land in his front yard for a church building-and their mother. Daniel and his construction crew finished the building, and the mayor thanked them.

Seventy percent of the villages around Craiova contain Gypsy communities. Daniel and Zana plan to visit those villages and continue planting churches. Living and preaching among their own people, many of whom feel forgotten, Daniel and Zana know that God sees the Gypsies, and they show Gypsies that God loves them and provides freedom from sin.

Check out the article, “Sharing the Gospel: What Do I Need to Know?” or consider donating towards a specific need.

Story provided by ANNE MARIE WINZ of