Introduction / History The Balkan Roma are located mainly in parts of southeastern Europe, including North Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria, but are not restricted to those countries. Many times, the population counts of Romani are inaccurate due to their nomadic lifestyle. Others do not possess identity cards because they fear discrimination or persecution.
Romani call themselves Roma, which in their language means "men." Rom is derived from the Indian word Dom, meaning "a man of low caste who gains his livelihood by singing and dancing." The Romani language, therefore, comes from the name the Romani call themselves.
Romani have their roots in India. They began spreading westward in the tenth century. By the fourteenth century, large Romani groups were established in the Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria. Some continued to live as nomads; others settled in permanent dwellings. Regardless of where they lived, though, to non-Romani, they remained mysterious and distinct. Curiosity about them eventually led to hatred and discrimination. In the twentieth century, many Romani were killed by Nazis. Today, they are still discriminated against.
What are their lives like? People often assume that all Romani have dark hair, complexion, and eyes; however, Balkan Romani sometimes have lighter skin and even blond hair and blue eyes. This is probably because their ancestors mixed with Europeans. Unlike the Romani who have remained in India, many of the Balkan Romani have become settled. They often live in villages or near towns and cities. Some still travel, though, by caravans of cars, trucks, and trailers.
In the past, Romani were not allowed to own land, so they began developing unique occupations which they still do today. These included such things as fortune-telling, horse trading, market vending, entertaining, acrobatics, and metal and wood working. They are especially known for their musical abilities and dancing. Many sing and play instruments at weddings, baptisms, and festivals. Unfortunately, they are also known as beggars and thieves. Petty theft (usually by children), begging, and black market peddling sometimes provide families with income. This reputation has caused much discrimination against them. In many countries, they are last in line for jobs. Some of the women work as domestic helpers, but are paid very low wages and given no health benefits. Many have insufficient housing and unsatisfactory medical attention.
Values such as justice, fidelity, and morality are included in the Romani code of ethics. The chief loyalty of a Romani is to his family members, who are extremely important to him. Extended family members usually live together, and those who live in separate homes often telephone or make daily visits to each other.
Marriages are sometimes arranged by the parents, and young couples usually marry while in their mid to late teens. Often, they prefer to elope rather than to have a wedding ceremony. Purity before marriage is something of great value to them.
Their uniqueness of lifestyle clearly separates them from non-Romani. For instance, it is the fascinating manner in which a Romani wears his clothes: as a costume or as a statement; the unusual ways he uses his automobile: as a home, a shop, or a shrine; the unique method in which he works: with great skill or eccentric style, that sets him apart. All of these things make Romani interesting, mystical, and sometimes misunderstood.
What are their beliefs? Many Romani have maintained their religious traditions and beliefs. They believe that ghosts, lizards, and snakes are capable of harming humans. They believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye." They also believe that some men have the power to heal the sick.
What are their needs? Although they may be more sanitary, more educated, and have more opportunities than Romani in the Middle East and India, they all have one thing in common: the need for Jesus. Prayer and evangelism efforts are needed in order to win them to Christ.
Prayer Points Pray that the people who have been rejected and discriminated against will find love and acceptance through Christ.
Ask the Lord to raise up people who are willing to share Christ with the Romani.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Romani towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Romani who have become Christians.
Pray that God will give the missions agencies strategies for reaching the Romani.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Balkan Romani.