Vicki Hardesty is concerned about the stereotypes perpetuated by the TV show, “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.” After attending a United Methodist Women class on “The Roma of Europe,” she is more informed now about the injustices heaped upon the single largest minority group in Europe.
“The persecution they have suffered is unbelievable,” says Hardesty, a member at Soddy United Methodist Church in Cleveland District. She plans to have her teacher, the Rev. Barry Kidwell, come speak about the Roma at her church.
Hardesty was one of about 100 participants at “Mission U,” a Holston Conference United Methodist Women’s event held July 18-20 at State Street United Methodist Church in Bristol, Va.
Formerly known as the “School of Christian Mission,” the annual summer event prepares participants for faithful living and action through geographical, topical, and spiritual growth study.
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This year, the geographical study on the Roma was led by Kidwell and Michael Feely.
Kidwell has traveled to Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria six times within the last four years to help establish ministries within Roma communities, he said. Over the years, the Roma have been enslaved, shut out, shunned, and even suffered forced sterilization, he said.
“I thought they were just gypsies until I had a chance to go over there,” Kidwell said. “They were very hospitable people, and I have been welcomed into many of the homes and villages we are working in.”
Learning about different people and cultures can erase some of the fears that cause so much trouble, Kidwell said. He referred to the recent death of teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman.
“Fear motivated much of that death. They were two men who were afraid of each other,” Kidwell said. “If we could really put our fears aside and accept each other for what we are, then a lot of the problems we have socially across the world might just go away.”
Another class, “Living Sacramentally, Walking Justly,” was led by Becky Hall, Rev. Gordon Goodgame, and Brenda Brown.
“We’re exploring ways that our sacraments say to us that we are beloved,” said Goodgame, who has taught in more than 20 conference and regional schools of Christian mission. “There’s something about remembering we are beloved that hardwires us to share that with other people.”
The Rev. Doug Wingeier led a class on "Poverty." A children’s study on "Migration" was led by Carol Alley. This year’s dean was Nyoka Holder.
The 2014 Mission U event will again focus on the “Roma of Europe” as well as “How Is It With Your Soul?” and “The Church and People with Disabilities.” The gathering will be held at Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City, Tenn. For more information, contact Lynice Broyles.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.