Iren Ignat, known as “Mo-ma,” is a beloved grandma in one Roma village outside the rural town of Polgárdi, Hungary. Like many Roma settlements around the country, existing just beyond of city limits, Iren’s village is made up of small, A-frame homes of plaster and wood. Separated by dirt roads, it’s not difficult to imagine the area forty years ago, when the poverty was even more pronounced and these rows of homes were still shacks, crudely crafted from tree branches and scrap metal.
In 2016, a team from In Touch visited Iren’s village and gave her a Messenger. Her first reaction was one of joyful relief—“Finally,” she thought, “I can receive something from the Bible!” Iren came to know Christ in 1979 and has relied on Him through many trials—including the death of her husband and two sons. “If I did not have Jesus I could not have survived,” she says. Now 77 years of age, Iren continues to face many obstacles, including weak eyesight that has persisted after three unsuccessful surgeries.
“I don’t know how to read or write, so I have never had a Bible,” she says. “Now I’m very happy because I can listen.”
There are many worse off than Iren in other Roma villages, where more than a dozen family members can live under a single roof. Often unable to pay for utilities like electricity or running water, most Roma earn the equivalent of $80-100 per month and eat just once a day. Treated by many Hungarians as less intelligent and capable, about half of all Roma children drop out after primary school and follow the path of petty crime. But even for those who do stay in school, social stereotypes and the prejudiced thinking of would-be employers often limit their opportunities to find work and build a better life.
Besides the Jews, perhaps no other minority people group has been so perpetually vilified, rejected and mistreated throughout history. These roots of racism run deep, spreading far and wide across the European continent and beyond. Once commonly referred to as “Gypsies”—a term now thought to be derogatory and imprecise—it’s believed that the Roma emigrated from India in waves before the 11th century—and with the loss of a motherland, they became a nomadic people who learned how to operate, unwanted, in the margins of their host countries.
Recent strides have been taken by the Hungarian government to meet the needs of its estimated 2 million Roma residents—approaching the population of Budapest—but have yet to improve their overall livelihood. Social initiatives lack the hands and hearts devoted to creating long-term change—particularly for a people group that has been unequal in both resource and opportunity for centuries. Thankfully, there are many Hungarian Christians who have recognized their responsibility as Christ’s body to serve and welcome these strangers and sojourners.
This spring, when an In Touch team returned to Hungary, Iren was given a Torch in addition to her Messenger. And now she’s able to extend her love for listening to the Bible to the people in her household and others in the village. Sometimes on lonely days, when she’s missing her husband and sons, she sits in her chair watching the children run freely through the village, and finds companionship in the spoken Word of God. “It’s my friend, she says. “I feel like the Lord Jesus is next to me.”
Despite her earthly troubles, Iren rests daily in the hope found in Christ and encourages everyone around her to do the same. “If we have problems,” she says, the age lines around her mouth gathering into a smile, “we don’t have to give up. We go to Jesus.”
The Torch in Hungary
Roma culture is built on an oral tradition with no formal written language—and to this day, the Roma value and celebrate storytelling, poetry, and song. And so the most effective way to communicate the gospel in their communities is through the spoken word. Because of its unique features, the Torch is a particularly useful and effective tool within a Roma village, where community is central to daily life.
1. Solar-powered: When work is scarce, the Roma cannot afford to pay for basic utilities like electricity, so being able to recharge the Torch in sunlight is essential.
2. Charging station: Beyond addressing individual needs, the Torch also attracts others in the community to gather and listen while they come to plug into its ports and charge their phones.
3. Radio: Because the Roma live in the rural outskirts of the nation’s cities, listening to public radio provides them with a vital connection to Hungarian society.
4. Lantern:The Torch can fill an entire house with warm light, bringing both physical and spiritual comfort to a large Roma family long after the sun sets.
5. Large speaker:God’s Word can clearly be heard by many listeners at once, whether indoors or broadcast from the porch, easily reaching up to 20 people at once.
6. Language:The Roma have access to the Scriptures and over 60 of Dr. Stanley’s core discipleship messages in both Hungarian and English.
7. Lanyard: The lanyard hook allows the Torch to travel with the Roma, who often walk long distances on foot.