From fortune-telling to faith in Christ. All over the world Gypsies are turning to Christ.

All around the world Gypsies, also known as Travellers or Romani, are turning to Christ. The BBC reports:

At a time when large numbers of people are drifting away from formal religion, one church is bucking the trend. Huge numbers of Gypsies and travellers in England now say they've joined a new movement called Light and Life. Those who join have given up drinking alcohol and fortune-telling, and many have even abandoned their traditional Catholic faith.

The Pentecostal movement, which is Gypsy-led, has grown rapidly in the past 30 years - it says up to 40% of British Gypsies belong to it. There's no way to prove that claim, but most Gypsies and travellers will agree that there is a surge in people joining.

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Gypsy faith

The Gypsy revival can be traced back to 1950 in Normandy, France in the town of Liseuz. A gypsy lady named Duvil-Reinhart. A member of the local Assemblies of God gave her a tract at market.

She forgot about it until a few months later when one of her sons became desperately ill. She visited the church and asked the pastor to pray for her dying son. He went with her to the hospital, laid hands on her son and prayed. The boy was completely healed.

As a result the whole family surrendered to Christ and began sharing their story with their extended family.

Mandz, one of Madame Duvil’s sons became the first gypsy preacher after an AOG pastor helped him legalize his marriage.

The gospel spread rapidly from family to family and clan to clan. By 1958 three thousand had been baptized, ten thousand by 1964.

Clement LeCossec, an AOG pastor emerged as a key figure, although not a gypsy. He gave himself to working among the gypsies living by faith with no fixed income. He soon began training gypsie pastors and church palnters. About 95% of the new Christian were illiterate.

A council was set up to direct the missionary effort as preachers were sent all over Europe.

The first Spanish gypies were converted in 1960 while working in France. In 1965, seven of the Spanish converts returned as missionaries. They were not educated. Some could not even write. They had no financial support. They left their jobs behind in France and returned to Spain to preach and plant churches. All they had were the stories of how God had changed their lives.

The seven fanned out across Spain, mostly to where they had family. They became apostles to the Spanish gypsies.

They travelled around the country preaching and starting churches. In each group of new Christians they would train a spiritual leader who would remain in charge of the congregation while the missionary moved on.

There were many accounts of people coming to faith through dramatic experiences of healing.

The first church was planted in Catalonia by Jaime Diaz. He was illiterate so his wife read for him when he preached. He survived by gathering and selling scrap-iron. Soon other churches sprung up throughout Spain. Many of the pastors came from new converts. They were often arrested or fined for preaching in a country that lacked religious freedom and was deeply suspicious of gypsies.

By 1979 the Gypsie Evangelical church had 30-40,000 baptized members and 150,000 people in regular attendance. Twenty thousand members in France and ten thousand in Spain.

By 1981 there were churches in a dozen countries from Portugal to Finland, from England to India, from Romania to the United States.

This movement continued to experience strong growth in the 80s and 90s. In Spain gypsies represent only 2% of the population but they have by far the largest evangelical movement with over 600 churches and 60,000 adherents. Throughout Europe there are over half a million gypsie believers: Revival among Gypsies

All this because in a small French town in 1950, someone reached out to Duvil-Reinhart and prayed for her dying son. Because pastors like Clement LeCossec gave his life to ministering among gypsy outcasts. Because ordinary people like the illiterate, impoverished Jaime Diaz and his six companions decided God had called them to reach their people.

For centuries the gypsies have been a despised people. Millions perished under the Nazis. I wonder what Paul would say to the Gypsie church today?

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:26-29)

Source: “The Evangelical Movement Among Spanish Gypsies” by Stephanie P. Crider. Senior Honors Thesis 1989, Jenkins Research Library, International Mission Board.

Link: James Howell's encounter with a Gypsie believer on a London train.