The Roma are a distinct people group with common language and history. Most commonly referred to as Gyspies, Roma are the largest minority group in Europe. There are estimated to be between 7 and 15 million in Europe today. They make up between 5 and 10 percent of the population of many European countries. Numbers are difficult to determine because they are not usually counted in official census statistics.
As a result of cultural and linguistic studies, scholars have determined that the Roma originated in India. They arrived in Europe in the 1300s and 1400s. Because of their darker skin color, inhabitants of Europe believed that they were from Egypt and called them Egyptians from which “Gypsies” originates.
When they arrived in Europe, they were despised, rejected, enslaved, and often imprisoned. Their lifestyle and sometimes job choices made them appear mysterious to the Europeans– circus performers, itinerant salesmen, fortune tellers and wandering nomads. During World War II, the Roma suffered brutally under Nazi Germany. Besides the Jews, they were the only people group singled out for extermination because of race. While it is difficult to estimate how many Roma were killed during the Holocaust, it is likely that the number was near 1 million.
Many Roma continue to suffer today. They are the most persecuted people group on the continent. Many suffer from gross unemployment, limited access to education, inadequate health care access, and discrimination. They remain on the margin of society and are frequently the target of neo-Nazi violence.
Roma have a love for life and a strong commitment to family. Many non-Roma have a stereotypical view of Roma as they have been portrayed in books and movies. While many enjoy travel and some work itinerant jobs, they do not live a nomadic lifestyle. Most are settled within Roma communities.
Receptivity to the Gospel
Roma people remain one of the most open people to the Gospel in all of Europe. The Roma consider themselves spiritual people and are open to discuss spiritual matters. They have seen the effects of sin, abuse, family dysfunction, and violence and are open to consider other alternatives. The Roma are very emotional people and share their opinions and thoughts with anyone who is close enough to listen.
In a few counties in Europe, there are a growing number of Romany churches led by Romany pastors. There is also a growing desire on the part of young people to become involved in missions, both locally and globally. Due to the faithful witness of many national Christian partners, new people are becoming saved, small group Bible studies are forming, and leaders are being trained to reach their own people.