Seeing Croatians, Roma, and Americans come together for a week of summer camp fun, Bible teaching, and worship is a testimony to Jesus’ love and the power of the gospel for reconciliation in relationships. The Roma are a marginalized ethnic minority throughout Europe (pejoratively called Gypsies), so they are not used to being treated with love and respect.
This camp experience for Roma youth came out of the vision and hard work of Croatian Christians who have ongoing relationships and Bible studies in Roma villages. Several years ago, Tomislav Tuškan, who was discipled by several Christians including Dick Fischer (longtime Navigators missionary in Croatia), asked if The Navigators would help with a summer camp for Roma. Tomislav recruits the Croatian leaders and Roma youth. Diana Colić, a Croatian who ministers among the Roma, also refers their youth to the camp. Because of her involvement with Roma, she has been looked down upon by Croatians.
Navigators Collegiate in the Northeast pair up with Croatian young adults to serve as counselors for the camp each summer. Craig Parker (Navigators Collegiate) and Stephanie Hobold (Navigators I:58) planned the intentional partnership model, starting in 2013. Mary Campbell (Navigators Collegiate) describes the experience: “The early camps were a bit chaotic, because the children weren’t used to the structure. Now the children look forward to the camp experience—building bonds between cultures and learning more about Jesus’ love.”
Marina, a Roma youth, shares the impact of camp: “At camp we hear the truth about life. We encourage each other and pray. We are accepted without prejudice. We all become one no matter how different we are.”
From the very start, the goal has been shared leadership. This year Abby Lord (Navigators Collegiate student at University of Southern Maine) is working together with Marta, a Croatian, to plan the program for the week. The whole team meets together on video calls to plan, pray, and bond.
The camp experience shows the power of the gospel to transform and provide reconciliation, even in hard situations. Last summer there was discord between two campers, which threatened to undermine the camp. In addressing the issue, the leaders showed both truth and love, and modeled reconciliation. As a result, one of the teens involved in the discord prayed to receive Christ. One of the leaders shared with her, “We’re all a family—the family of God—American, Croatian, and Roma.”
While the week at camp is a highlight for the Roma youth, there are ongoing Bibles studies to nurture growth. Stjepan attends a Bible study that Zvonko Kovačić leads. Recently Stjepan approached Zvonko to share that he wanted to make a step toward Jesus. He knows that Jesus loves him and he wants new life through Jesus.
Jesus came to bring wholeness in relationships—between us and God and also between people. This vision of relational wholeness is springing up in Croatia.
PRAY for “Hope Without Borders” camp during August, for the power of the gospel to be evident in all the participants. Also pray for generations of disciples among the Roma people.