Craig Hamlin was unable to get the needs of the Roma people in Munkacs, Ukraine, out of his mind.
For Hamlin, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, the poverty, lack of education, and ongoing struggles of the Roma people – or the “Gypsy people” as many know them – weighed on his heart.
This particular group lived on a trash dump in the slums of Munkacs. Reports of ongoing theft, prostitution and drug use among them has only strengthened negative stereotypes.
“God really began to move in my heart,” said Hamlin, who described his passion to help the Roma as a “personal calling.” It was one he developed during mission trips to Ukraine in recent years to assist with North Carolina Baptist Men’s work that began there in 2007.
“I knew I couldn’t go somewhere else – I had to invest in them. These are the people that Jesus called us to touch.”
Through help from N.C. Baptist Men and their ongoing partnership with the Roma of Ukraine and with Hungarian Baptist Aid – an arm of the Hungarian Baptist Convention – Hamlin is leading an effort to provide sound theological training for the Roma by starting the Roma Bible Institute.
“He really saw a need for the gypsies,” said Richard Brunson, executive director-treasurer for N.C. Baptist Men.
BSC file photo by K Brown
N.C. Baptists work frequently with gypsies. Craig Hamlin, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, is recruiting help to train 30 Roma pastors from Hungary, Ukraine and Romania.
“[And] we take it seriously when [people] come back [from mission trips] and say, ‘I’m really seeing God’s leading, and this is a great need.”
“We want to help make that happen,” Brunson added.
“What we’re good at is sending volunteer teams and helping with logistics, and … people can give [through N.C. Baptists on Mission], and 100 percent goes to that project.”
Through this partnership, Hungarian Baptist Relief has provided a facility in Debrecen, Hungary.
Hungarian Baptist relief has also utilized their network to draw other Roma from Romania and Hungaria who will participate in the training.
If all goes as planned, 30 Roma pastors and church leaders from Hungary, Ukraine and Romania will travel to Debrecen, Hungary to attend the school.
The cost of the training – which will need to be raised – will run each student $2,000 per year.
The expense covers the cost of transportation, Visas, passports, translators, translation of materials, housing and food for the students.
Seminars would be scheduled for three times a year for a one-week period of training. During each week, two courses would be taught. At the end of three years, students would earn a Certificate in Christian Ministry.
Hamlin plans for the first team of instructors – made up of pastors and professors from N.C. and abroad – to lead classes as early as September. Right now, at least three instructors from the state are committed to helping with the project on the first trip. Additional trips could follow in January and April of 2013.
The need for theological education among the Roma is significant, Hamlin said. Most do not have access or money for that type of training.
“It would give them a tremendous amount of confidence,” he said.
“It would give them credibility among the people in their camps … just a sense of ‘Hey, there are some Americans that are willing to come over here and teach us.’”
The Roma also need the gospel.
According to IMB (International Mission Board) research, the Roma are the largest minority group in Europe. An estimated 6 million can be found throughout the continent, and few of them have put their trust in Jesus.
But lives are changing, said Hamlin, who has seen much progress in Munkacs through various N.C. Baptist mission projects.
“There’s this huge transformation that takes place in these believers,” he said. “You see a joy in the midst of their suffering. You see them taking better care of their homes, better care of their children. The relationships between husbands and wives are changed … they’re different.”
For now, Hamlin continues to look for more N.C. pastors and supporters who would be willing to partner with the school.
“I’m looking for guys who when they hear about it, God just puts it on their hearts to say, ‘I want to give back what I’ve learned and invest in a people that can’t get this any other way,’” he said.
For more information about the Roma and the project and how you can help, go to romabibleinstitute.org.