This time of year in my church is a special focus on the work of the Salvation Army in far-off places. In a few weeks will be the Self-denial appeal, where we are encouraged to give as much as we can to support this work. I always find it interesting, because foreign countries and cultures fascinate me, and it's good to see how the Kingdom of God is being extended in such exotic places; when I grow up, maybe I will be a Missionary!
Anyway, the Army has produced a short series of video spots (on DVD actually) to be played in the Sunday meetings to highlight the needs in various countries. Today's short episode came from Prerov in the Czech Republic. This was more than interesting because I have actually been there!
Scott Ellery, our video host, showed us around the Gypsy ghetto (where I spent some hours playing with the kids), and introduced us to the charismatic and energetic Captain Jana Coufalovi, of the local Salvos (who I had already met, back in 1999, Sunday July 11 to be exact!) (yep, checked my journal for that!). Really good stuff. Those gypsy kids were really just like kids anywhere - in fact they reminded me so much of the Jamaican kids I had met the year before with their natural rhythm and love of music. Leah, one of my team mates and a music student, was particularly impressed by this.
One thing stood out to me about those kids. Despite the dirty and run-down conditions in the ghetto the kids loved playing, like any other kids. But there was an underlying spirit there, hard to define. One small lad had done something good with a ball we where playing with, so, I thought it deserved a 'high five'. The boy cringed, thinking I was about to hit him.
My Czech and Romany language skills are quite limited, but I was able to convince him I meant no harm, tried again with the high five, and was rewarded with a huge grin.
I wonder how that boy is today. I didn't recognise him in the video, but he must have doubled his age by now. But that doesn't matter. God knows who he his and how he is. And God is working through the Army in Prerov, I am sure of it! There are programs to help the children with their education, and barriers of prejudice are slowly being broken down between the Romanies and the mainstream Czech population. The Nazis put them in concentration camps, the Communists stopped them travelling and put them in ghettos, the Salvation Army is showing them new hope and worth. It will take a long time, but transforming society is one of the core values of the Army wherever you go in the world.
Check out Vanessa's report on our visit to Prerov.