Pray for the Roma

Watch this message explaining how you can pray for Roma Bible translation. The script of the message, with pictures, is below.

First of all, who are the Roma?

Roma are often mistakenly called Gypsies, partially due to the incorrect assumption that they came from Egypt. Actually, the Roma are originally from India and the word “rom” is their term for “man” or “person” (and “roma” means “people). They migrated west from northern India beginning around 1000 AD. They made their way through Persia, the Middle East and Turkey, and some did travel down to Egypt, but the majority traveled up through Greece and into other parts of Europe. Today there are 12-16 million Roma in Europe and western Eurasia, scattered throughout 26 countries (including 40 regions or semi-autonomous regions), speaking 90+ languages. Unfortunately, only about a dozen of these Roma languages have the Bible translated into their language.

We do Bible translation in five languages spoken by Roma in former Yugoslavia, specifically in the countries of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

Above are a couple pictures and below a short video clip of Bible clubs in a Roma village.

Have you ever wondered what to pray for missionaries?

In this post I would like to share with you two brief passages of Scripture and show you how you can practically apply them in specific ways by praying for the ministry of Bible translation among the Roma.

There are thousands of Roma in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We are asking you to pray for them what Paul asked the Colossians and Thessalonians to pray for him.

Colossians 4:2-4

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.

From this passage I find three prayer requests when I think of applying these verses to Bible translation among the Roma:

  1. that God will open up to us a door for the word

Pray to get God’s Word, the Bible, to the people in their language.

2. that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ

Pray that we will do this clearly, doing all we can to make sure that they understand who Christ is.

3. that [we] may make it clear in the way [we] ought to speak

Pray that we will not just tell them, but tell them in a way that they can understand.

And then 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5:

1 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.

From these verses I see that we can pray that following three requests:

  1. Pray that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly. In other words, pray for God’s Word to get to all Roma quickly.
  2. [that the word of the Lord] be glorified. In other words, pray that they will accept it as God’s Word, by honoring and obeying it.
  3. that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men. In other words, that God will stop people who try to prevent God’s Word from spreading among the Roma.

So pray for the Roma translators, that they may make the message clear.

I mentioned that there are five languages we are translating.

Arli, Chergash are Gurbet are three of them. This picture is of a translation workshop when we worked on translating these three languages. In this instance we were meeting at the church (L to R: Djena, Biljana, Sasha, Kada, Naki, Goran).

This is a workshop checking in the Bayash language. We are meeting in the apartment of one of the translators. (L to R: Sergej, Renata, Natasha)

Ludari is the fifth language. Here we are meeting in the home of one of the translators to check the Ludari translation.

The translators translate from Croatian or Serbian, working at home. (On the left is Zoki, and on the right is Stanoja).

Then I look at it and research Greek and commentaries to evaluate the translation and make suggestions. Then we meet in person to discuss it. Then we bring over a consultant, someone who has a lot of experience in translating and he will ask questions to help us think through the translation choices and give suggestions on corrections and improvements.

These days, most of our checking sessions are over Zoom.

Translating is not always easy. Let’s look at some examples:

Luke 6:36–38  — 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

We want, like Paul said, to make it clear to the people, but there are often considerable translation challenges.

Look at v. 36:

Luke 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Some Roma languages do not have a word for mercy or merciful

So in our case we had to make some decisions. One of the Roma translations decided to use the Serbian word “merciful”. Two of them used a Romanian word meaning “mercy”, but since mercy is a noun, not an adjective, they had to say “full of mercy.” One translation felt it was best to use an idiom to try to explain it so they put “of a big heart.” One of the translations originally had the term “soft”, but “be soft” could be misunderstood, so they decided to use the Serbian word for mercy and to add a footnote to explain what mercy is. The footnote says, “God gives mercy in that he does not punish those who deserve it.” That is a very good footnote and will make it clear to those who read the footnote. But for those who listen to an audio recording, they won’t hear that.

It could also cause some confusion for those hearing this for the first time. “As your Father is merciful”.

What if my dad was not merciful. What if he was mean or spiteful or unforgiving.

What if he was like some Roma fathers who are absent, abandoning or ignoring their kids. Or perhaps he gets drunk and beats them up. Or maybe their Roma father always yell at them and hits them.

Since Jesus was speaking of God the Father, four of our translations specified by saying “Father in heaven” or “heavenly Father”. You might think that by capitalizing “Father” you would avoid this issue. But again, since most Roma will hear this, not read it, that would not get communicated.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

In this verse there are challenges when we try to put it in the Roma languages:

Four of the Roma translation use the Croatian and Serbian words “judge” and “condemn”. The problem is that these are Serbo-Croatian words, not Roma. Also, there is only one letter difference in the words so some Roma might not even catch the distinction between “judge” and “condemn”, suditi and osuditi. So one of our Roma translations was more explicit and translated “Do not judge” for the first one, but “do not punish” for the second, since the difference is that the first means to find someone guilty of something and the second means to determine that they should be punished.

The next issue is that some of these are passive verbs, e.g., “you will not be judged.” Some languages don’t use as many passive verbs (and your college English teacher will tell you that passives are often unclear and at times unnatural), so one of the translations said, “and no one will judge you.” Some suggest even making it explicit that “God will not judge you.”

Now v. 38 is very complicated and can easily be misunderstood.

Luke 6:38, word for word is: “Give, and it will be given to you, a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over they will put into your lap. For by the measure you measure out, it will be measured back to you.”

If an unchurched Roma only heard the word-for-word translation, I don’t think it would be clear to them what was being said.

Have you ever raked up leaves and bagged them? The bags get filled really quickly, but if you shake the bag and push the leaves down, you can get a lot more in.

The idea is of a merchant who sells grain. You go to the open market and ask for a basket full of grain and you hold out your bag or basket. But the seller is so generous that after he fills your basket, he stops, shakes the basket so more can fit it, pushes it down so even more goes in, and then keeps pouring so much that it overflows and you have to catch it in the folds of your tunic. That is how generous God is! You expect to get a bushel full, but you get a bushel and a half! He gives to you, then he shakes it so more can fit, pushes it down so even more can fit, and even then it overflows into your lap.

In order to get that message across to the Roma Bible reader, it would be necessary to explain this in a footnote and probably also have a picture, or else you could put some of that implied information in the translation. One of our Roma translations says: “a good amount poured into the lap, like a good man who stuffs the wheat down and pours so much that it overflows because there is so much!”

So pray for the translators that we will all have wisdom to make good, clear translations into the Roma languages. In line with Colossians 4:4, please pray for the Roma translators “that [we] may make [the message] clear in the way [we] ought to speak.”

After making drafts of the translation, we then test it out with people to see how well they understand it. Because even if we, the translators, know what it means, that doesn’t guarantee that other Roma will understand it correctly.

We are not translating for ourselves. We are translating this so Roma living in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina, will understand it. We are translating for the normal, average Roma, for example a teenage girl, who has not had more than elementary school, who does not read much and has not been taught the Bible.

Let me give you an example. If we translate Luke 16:16–17 woodenly, word for word, it says: “16 The Law and the Prophets  until John; from then the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is pressing into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one horn/serif of the Law to be lost.

But I don’t think the Roma in the previous picture would understand what it means.

For the first part, where it says, “the Law and the Prophets until John”, this means that the “Law and the Prophets are what were being preached, up until the time when John the Baptist came”. So one of our Roma translations has “Then Jesus said, ‘The Law of Moses and the books of the old prophets were being taught to people until the coming of John.’”

This helps clarify several things. When it says “the law”, an average Roma, who has had only several years of elementary school and has not grown up in church, would think that “law” means law in the sense of a law code, like the speed limit, or the laws for paying taxes, etc. But the Jews in the first century to whom Jesus was talking, knew that “the law” means “the law of Moses”. But for the Roma, we have to spell this out.

What about “prophets”. They were not teaching  “the prophets” literally, but the content of what the prophets wrote down.

And it wasn’t just any prophets. It was those who wrote part of the Old Testament, which was written a long time ago, which is why in this Roma translation we have “the books of the old prophets”.

Then “John”. Who is John? John is a common name in Croatian and Serbian (Ivan and Jovan). Some Roma themselves have neighbors named “John”, but that is not who Jesus was speaking about. (Until my neighbor John came over? No!) He was talking about John the Baptist, so some of our Roma translations specify that as “John who baptizes.”

For the phrase “the Gospel is preached”, we have a few challenges. There is not a word for “gospel” in the Roma languages, or a word for “preach”. Also, some languages don’t use passives very often. It is more natural, instead of “is spoken”, to say “they speak”. So three of the  Roma translation say, instead of “is preached”,  “they speak” and instead of “Gospel”, “the good word”.

Verse 17 speaks of a “horn” or a “serif”, such as the difference between certain letters in Hebrew. I’m not sure Džemia would understand that. This refers to a mark or a hook or a line that distinguishes one Hebrew letter from another, so it would be more clear for Džemila if we translated “not one letter” or “not one dot or period or dash”.

So you see that our goal is to make sure that the average Roma person can understand the point of what Jesus is saying.

In verse 17, when it says that one letter will be lost, it does not mean that it will get misplaced, or will fall out of a book. It means perish in the sense of go away and lose it’s authority. So in one of the translations, we spelled that out: “not one letter will lose its authority”.

We want to do what Paul said in Colossians 4:4: we want to make the message clear. Here in these video clips, we are testing out the Gospel of Luke with two Roma who have never heard this translation to see if they understand it, and to see if we have made it clear to them.

In these pictures they are discussing the meaning of one of the words.

When translating we need to be aware that there are many cultural things that were very different in Bible times and if we translate the words very woodenly it came give the wrong impression, or the reader can simply miss what is being said.

The first part of Luke 16:22, very woodenly says: “And it happened that the poor man died and he was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”

But what does “bosom” mean? It means something different in the 21st century than it did, for example, in the 19th century.

Some translate “on his lap” or “in his arms”, but that conjures up a strange picture of a grown man sitting on the lap or in the arms of another grown man.

But we have to go back to first century culture in Palestine.

The poor man, Lazarus, was carried to heaven, and heaven is pictured as a great feast. Abraham, as the father of the Jewish nation, was the host of the feast. And Lazarus, even though he had been poor in his earthly life, was now like a guest of honor at the heavenly banquet. At a Roman-style feast, they would lay on couches next to each other and eat from a low table. They would be so close they could lean over to talk, leaning back on the other person’s chest. It was as if you were in their arms or on their lap when you leaned over.

And if you were right next to Abraham, you were the guest of honor. So “in the bosom of Abraham” is a picturesque way of saying a guest of honor in the heavenly banquet. This is the joy of heaven that the poor man was experiencing.

These things are not easily understood and they either need to be explained in the translation or put in a footnote that gives this background information in a way that the Roma can understand it.

After we have translated the text, we then try it out with other people who have not been involved in the translation. This is a way to make sure that what we have translated is properly understood. We may think we have succeeded in communicating the verses correctly, but we need to make sure that the people who will eventually read or listen to it, understand our translation in the way we intended. In this picture we have 3 speakers of the Gurbet language who are listening to and reading the translation and we are asking them questions to see what they understand from it.

This pictures shows what is called “community testing” or “field testing”.

When we do testing, we try to have a representative sample, in that we try to have male and female, young and old, and believer and unbeliever, so we can get feedback from all their perspectives.

In this picture we were checking a few chapters in Luke. In one passage, it uses the word “hypocrite”. “Hypocrite” is not even a translation. It is a transliteration, which means that someone just took the Greek sounds and put them in English letters so the English reader could pronounce it. Now, for us, who have read the Bible a lot and for us as English speakers where the word “hypocrite” is now part of normal speech, this does not present a problem for understanding.

But we have a challenge with the Roma languages. They can use the Croatian or Serbian word for “hypocrite”, but it may not be understood correctly. In this instance, we asked this woman how she understood it. She replied that it means wanting something that someone else has, and we quickly realized that she had misunderstood it and thought it was something like “envy”.

We knew that wasn’t correct so we tried to find out a natural way in her language that she would use to express the idea of hypocrite. We asked her what she called a person who says they are doing one thing, but in reality they do the opposite. She thought for awhile and then said, “politician”.

Well, we couldn’t rightly put that in the Bible, but we ended up using a term for “two faced”, which captures the idea. It is an idiom and it captures the idea of showing one face to some people, but a different face in reality.

Most Roma don’t read, or if they read, it will be in the national languages. But the vast majority of them prefer to listen, so a big part of what we need to do is record the audio. In this video clip, one of the Roma is preparing to read from the Gospel of Luke.

We made a makeshift studio in the office of one of our Roma translators and put up blankets to muffle the echo so the recording would be better.

In this video clip, one of our translators has read part of a Bible story, and now they are listening to the playback to see if there were any mistakes and to clean up the recording.

When we have checked the translation sufficiently, we print it out. In this picture I am entering corrections to the layout for a Bible story book that has 50 stories from Creation to the return of Christ.

This book is over 600 pages, with a picture on every page. It has two languages on each page, the Roma language and the national language. In this one it is Bayash and Croatian.

We also printed Luke chapters 1-2, the story of the birth of Christ, which we did so we could distribute it at Christmas.

It was an exciting time for the translators to see their work in print. After three years of hard work, they could hold it in their hands. These are the Bayash translators, left to right, Natasha, her dad, Nedeljko, and her younger sister, Renata,

Here is a Christmas outreach where some Roma youth are reading the Christmas story in their language for the first time.

This is Goran, holding the first booklets of Luke chapters 1-2 in three other languages, Arli, Chergash and Gurbet.

This is a picture of the distribution of the Bible story book and Luke 1-2 in the Arli and Gurbet languages at one of the Roma churches.

It is always a thrill to introduce someone for the first time to the Bible in their mother tongue. This is a Roma home in the village near where we lived. We went to their house and I began reading the story of Creation in the Ludari language. The man immediately sat up straight and listened and was astounded to hear a foreigner reading in his language. He called his daughter over and she came and listened. I encouraged her to try to read. Even though she had not read in her language before, after watching me sound it out for awhile, she began to read it.

In this picture, we are at a tween and teen day camp for Roma children and I was trying out a new story in Ludari, reading it to the children who had not heard a Bible story in their language before.

Here is a picture of one of the vacation Bible schools in a Roma village. In this picture they are singing praise songs.

In this picture they are making bracelets for their craft.

Here this boy is showing us the activity sheet he colored. This is Gabi and the story of the unforgiving servant.

In this picture the Roma kids are getting ready to play a game and here is Pam with the son of one of our translators, helping him with his activity sheet.

So, in closing we ask you to pray for us and to pray for the Roma.

And pray for the Bible translations we are doing for the Roma. For whom are we translating?

We are translating so that the average Roma can clearly understand the Bible in their language.

For Roma:

with an average education (perhaps just elementary school)

who are not used to reading

who have not been exposed to much literature

who did not grow up in the church.

We have given them nicknames, Džemila and Štefica, to remind ourselves to make sure that when we translate, we are thinking of them and asking how they will understand it.

Pray for me and for the Roma translators

Biljana & Djena translating into the Chergash language. They are a husband and wife team. (We have at least two translators for each language.)

Sasha translating into Arli.

Alen translating into Arli. He is Sasha’s younger brother.

Kada translating into Arli.

Her husband, Goran, translates into the Gurbet language. They are a married couple, from two different Roma groups. She is Arli and he is Gurbet.

Their daughter Naki, a mother of three, is the other translator for the Gurbet language.

Natasha and her sister Renata, as I mentioned, translate into Bayash.

Zoki translates into Ludari. He lives in the village just 10 minutes from where we lived.

His younger brother, Stanoja, also translates into Ludari.

These days are meetings take place by Zoom rather than face-to-face.

In closing, let me ask you to pray for us and for the Bible translators.

Pray for them and us, as Paul asked the Colossians in Col. 4, to pray.

Pray that

  1. God will open doors for the spread of His Word, the Bible
  2. We will proclaim the message of Christ
  3. We will make it clear in the way we ought to speak

Pray, as Paul asked the Thessalonians in 2 Thess. 3, to pray.

Pray that

  1. The word of the Lord will spread rapidly [to all Roma in all places].
  2. The word of the Lord will be glorified [i.e., accepted and honored by the Roma, and believed and obeyed by them].
  3. Those spreading God’s Word would be rescued from evil people [so that nothing would hinder the spread of God’s Word].

Please take our prayer card and pray for us. Please sign up for our prayer updates.

Thank you!

Please pray for:

  • The Bible to be translated into all the Roma languages which need it
  • These translation projects to be started by 2025
  • For Roma to be raised up & trained to translate the Bible into their mother tongues
  • Funding needed to accomplish these translations

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