Romani Evangelical Theology

The Role of Evangelical Theology among Roma Communities in Bulgaria

The Roma (Gypsy) ethnic group, which abides on the territory of virtually every country of the world, has found prolific context of existence within the borders of Bulgaria – a postcommunist, Eastern European country expecting its immediate merge within the European Union.

Despite the racial and religious tensions, quite typical for the Balkan region, the Roma ethnic group has historically flourished in Bulgaria. After the liberation of the country from the Ottoman oppression, Roma communities were freely established throughout the territory of the new Bulgarian Republic. During the brief nationalistic waves that followed, the Bulgarian state generally protected its ethnic minorities including Armenians, Jews and Romanies. The Communist Regime in the country presented a dilemma for ethnic minorities, especially when the infamous “Vazrozhdenski” (revival, renovation) process took place in its latter period attempting to assimilate cultural minorities within the Bulgarian nation.

Today, the Roma culture is an undividable part of the Bulgarian reality forming the third largest ethnic and cultural group in the country. Every Bulgarian city has a Roma suburb and every small village has Roma inhabitants. The last census shows their number is 313,396, but analysts insist that these figures should be handled carefully because many of the Romani prefer to declare external ethnic self-identification.

Most Romani are from the Muslim Roma circles that present themselves as Turks. A portion of the Christian Romani identifies themselves as Bulgarians, and a third as Wallachs or Romanian in origin. Most Romani speak more than one language at home. The most used language among them is, of course, the Roma language (67%), followed by Bulgarian (51%), and Turkish (34%).

The living conditions of the Roma communities are often dire. Many are still living in poor quarters resembling ghettos. The Roma child mortality rate is much higher than that of the Bulgarians: 240 per 1,000 versus 40 per 1,000.

The Roma community is characterized by lower levels of education. Consequently, its representatives are less competitive. Less than 1% of the Roma women in Bulgaria have higher education. The number of high school-educated among them is 4 percent.

A great deal of opportunities have been introduced for the Roma minorities in Bulgaria by the European Union. The integration of Bulgaria within the European Union has concurred with a general self-realization among Roma communities with political, economical and religious implications.

Much of the current revitalization of Roma communities is owed to the transforming power of evangelical theology actively present among them. Today, nearly a quarter of Bulgarian evangelicals claim to be of Roma origin and the number continues to grow.