COUPLE MINISTERS TO ROMA – Gayle and Bob Hill hand out Christmas presents in Romania as part of their ministry there. The couple has been working as missionaries the past 13 years. The presents are part of Samaritan’s Purse, a program operated nationwide by Franklin Graham to provide gifts to needy children throughout the world.
Dyer couple spends years with Romania’s gypsy population
by J.D. Pinkerton
Hristos a inviat, Adevarat, a inviat.
This is Romanian for “Christ arose, truly, he arose.” A husband and wife missionary team. Bob and Gayle Hill, spent the last 13 years living and preaching the gospel of the Lord in Romania to the Roma sect which some may call gypsies.
Their mission journey began in 2001 with Mike Camper, director of missions for the county. Mike had been a former missionary in Romania and his heart’s desire was to take people on short missionary trips to Romania. “While we were there we felt God’s call upon our life,” said Bob Hill. “And we decided we needed to spend more time with these impoverished people.”
They spent their first week in Bucharest which is the capitol city of Romania. The Hills mission base was right on the Danube River and not too far from the Black Sea.
Farantari was the gypsy neighborhood and that’s where they first began working. As they drove into the city after debarking the plane, they went through the major parts of the city until they reached the outskirts. There they noticed the children were scantily clothed and some wearing nothing.
Technically, Americans would know them as ‘gypsies’ but to be politically correct they are known as ‘Roma’. There is a lot of prejudice against them; people do not want them. They are mostly unemployed. They pick up metal and scraps during a day-to-day existence. They have learned over the years how to get by on practically nothing. Most of the Romanian people will not associate with the Roma.
Romania is a poor country; it was under Communist rule from end of WWII until December of 1989. The people overthrew the government and after a very short trial, the communist dictator and his wife were executed for crimes against humanity. They were executed on Christmas day on national television. Yet Bob Hill said he never felt threatened in any way over there. He said he felt more threatened in Memphis than in Romania.
Gayle said, “Crime is very different in Romania. The Mafia is very big over there. Human trafficking is a major source of income to the Mafia. We never feared for our lives. Pick-pocketing is very bad; we did have a camera and a cell phone stolen.”
“Most everyone in Romania carries a cell phone,” Bob said. “However they cannot afford to put minutes on it, its more of a status symbol than anything.”
Guns are not on the streets there at all. The government is still very corrupt: If you have money you can get out of anything from a traffic ticket to a major crime. They have six major political parties; none work together. If you are sick, they have a national healthcare but you will get nothing done unless you pay the doctors under the table. They are government employees but they are very poorly paid.
On the second night of the first week there, Gail woke up crying, wondering what they were doing there. That first week though, they worked with the children telling Bible stories and having camps for the kids. They went house to house talking with people and inviting people to come see the Jesus film they were showing every night.
Bob said that Romania is a Christian country but its Orthodox. The people say they are Christians because they are born into it because Romania is a Christian country. The people believe in God; they believe in Jesus.
They have priests. Supposing you had a problem, you would go to your priest and he would pray on your behalf but only if you paid him. If you don’t have money you might give the priest food like chickens and goats. The priest did not like the missionaries. They took away from his income. He would go as far as telling the people not to eat the Americans’ food because it was poison!
Education is very important in a Romanian household; you can’t get a job without a high school or college education. You must have a college degree just to sell phones over there. If you ask the average teenager there what their goal in life would be, they would say to get out of Romania because the economic situation is so bad there.
Americans there are known to be very generous in Romania. If someone is sick in the house and needs a doctor and an American gives them a little money, the neighbors get very jealous and will often shun that family. Keep in mind that under communist rule, everyone had the same, so being generous made for bad feelings to some degree.
In the villages, there is no running water, no indoor toilets and no paved streets. People take baths in little tubs. A horse and buggy is their main conveyance.
Imagine America 70 years ago. There are no high schools in villages; schools only go to the 8th grade. To go to school, one must have enough money for daily transportation or a small apartment in the city. Romanians will do anything to make that happen but for the Roma they don’t even have bread for their tables.
For many Roma families with kids, they don’t even know where there food is coming from every day. There are no good jobs. From the time they are 14 years old, they need a job or will have to pick up scraps just to survive. It’s a vicious cycle, the Hills explain.
Bob said, “Our first assignment there would be for a duration of three years. We told the Roma we would be there that long. They didn’t believe us; they said no one comes and stays. At the end of the three years, we had the opportunity to stay three more with a six-month break back in Dyer. We told them we would be gone for six months and then we’d come back so when we did, that’s when they really started accepting us. Gayle was ‘Mama Gayle’ to the people.”
Initially there was a language barrier, but they found some high school students that were being taught rudimentary English.
“They helped us with our Romanian and we helped them with their English,” said Bob.
Dyer First Baptist Church, along with other Baptist Churches, are members of a cooperative program and a portion of the money goes to an international mission board. Money received from the churches is divided and goes to pay for missionary rent and basic living expenses.
It doesn’t make you wealthy but its enough to get by, the Hills say.
Bob said they would like to go back, maybe to just assist another team. But for now, they have retired from their life of giving of themselves to others much less fortunate.
Author’s note: Such people as Bob and Gayle Hill tend to make you feel better about your fellow man. After speaking with them I wondered if I had been in the presence of angels.
RELATIONSHIPS – Gayle and Bob Hill are joined by a family with whom they spent lots of time during their ministry. Gayle Hill taught a basic skills English class there as a relationship-building class to meet people and get acquainted.