By Joel Hall
Years after the fall of communist Russia, the Gypsy people of Romania have continued to face discrimination on many levels, many times being denied entry into Romanian Orthodox churches.
Over the last 10 years, Hampton First Baptist Church has helped Gypsies build their own churches and spread the gospel through vacation bible school classes for children in the Crisana region of northwest Romania.
In June, Hampton First Baptist, and Valley Grove Baptist Church in Thomaston, will host a 5-kilometer race, and one-mile 'fun run,' to raise money for a handful of its members to make it's eighth trip.
The churches will host "Run for Romania" on Saturday, June 21, starting at 8 a.m., on the grounds of Hampton First Baptist Church, located at 85 McDonough Street in Hampton. The race will start at the church, and travel throughout the city.
In conjunction with the race, Hampton First Baptist will host a yard sale on the church grounds on Friday, June 20, from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., and on Saturday from 8 a.m., to 2 p.m. Furniture, games, household items, food, and sporting good vendors will be available, as well moonwalks for children.
"We have 23 members that are going this year," said Lisa Harden, church secretary at Hampton First Baptist. "Their plane tickets are almost $900 a piece. Everything that we earn will go toward the Romanian team members' transportation costs."
The Rev. Eric Trawick, head pastor of Valley Grove Baptist Church in Thomaston, once was a member of Hampton First Baptist, and has made the trip to Romania seven times. He compared the suffering of the Gypsies -- a migratory people with origins in India -- to the suffering of African Americans in this country in the days of segregation.
"Within the last five years ... most Gypsies, if they took in part of a sermon, they had to stand outside of a church in order to hear about Jesus," said Trawick. "They were never allowed to come into a church ... they were never allowed to have their own worship services.
"Our primary goal has been to reach out to the Gypsy race and help share with them the love that God has for them," Trawick continued. "The joy for me is being able to be used as a vessel for God's gospel and see that the love of Jesus transfers and transforms people of all nationalities."
"Even though Romania is no longer under communist rule, they are still trying to dig themselves out of that," said Harden. She said that in communist countries, "you live where you are told to live," thus Gypsies have traditionally been ghettoized, and denied opportunities afforded to other Romanians.
For the last several years, Harden said the church's focus has been organizing vacation bible schools for two rural churches in Romania, outside of the city of Oradea. She believes that by "reaching the children, you reach the families."
"The kids are drawn to activity," said Harden. "With vacation bible school, you are doing lots of stuff the whole week. We are able to share the gospel with them and then they are able to go into their homes and share what they have learned with their families."
The mission trip to Romania this year will take place Sept. 12-22. For more information about "Run for Romania" or to donate, call (770) 946-4804.