Daniel Osu felt discouraged. Sitting under a tree in his front yard in Craiova, Romania, he prayed, “Lord, I feel like You have nothing for me. I have no place in the church.” He considered returning to his former life of drinking and gambling. And then he fell asleep.
Daniel, a Gypsy, as many in the Romani people group call themselves, and a new Christian, had recently told his pastor about Magdalena, a film about Christ’s life told from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Daniel wanted to show the film in nearby villages and then invite people to become Christians.
Daniel Osu and Zana, his wife, have planted 11 churches in the past six years. They taught themselves to read and write and study the Bible by listening to it on MP3 players.
Villagers watch Magdalena, a version of the JESUS film. At the end of the film, Daniel and Zana invite people to place their faith in Christ. They hope to plant a church in the village in the future.
His pastor said Daniel was too young in his faith to do evangelism. The pastor told Daniel to bring people to the church instead.
While a frustrated Daniel slept, God answered his prayer. Daniel heard an audible voice say, “Wake up and get going.” He woke up, looked around and saw no one, so he went back to sleep. Again, he heard the voice.
“Wake up, get going, and go to your sister’s neighborhood. Gather people around the Word.”
So Daniel and his wife, Zana, drove across town to his sister’s house. When they told their story, Daniel’s sister and brother-in-law agreed to gather their neighbors so Daniel could tell them about Jesus.
Children gather in Podari, a village outside of Craiova, Romania. Most Gypsy children don’t have birth certificates and can’t register to attend school.
Children ride on their family’s horse-drawn cart.
Women harvesting corn peel ears so they can be sold at the market and then roasted or boiled.
Having listened daily to the Bible on his MP3 player, Daniel felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to preach about the apostle Paul’s conversion. When he finished, the neighbors asked Daniel to start a church and become their pastor.
“The voice I heard was God’s voice,” Daniel said. “He was interested in their lives.”
That’s when Daniel and Zana launched a six-year adventure of trusting God to plant churches. Eleven churches later, whole communities have witnessed the freedom Christ gives when their sins are forgiven.
A wife’s prayer
Daniel first experienced this freedom one day after he lost money gambling with his friends. Convinced that God was angry with him, Daniel marched off to the church, where his wife Zana was praying with other women for their families. He intended to force her to come home.
One of the relatively few Gypsy women who can read shares a lesson from Scripture during a church service.
Women pray aloud during a church service, lifting their voices at once to heaven.
As he arrived, he heard women singing, “Now is the time to come back to your God.” Their song became his invitation. For two hours, he confessed his sins to the pastor while the group prayed for him. Daniel placed his faith in Christ.
A short time later, Ionel and Gina Teodorescu — Romanian missionaries with Alege Viata, which translates to Choose Life, as Cru® is known in Romania — visited Daniel and Zana’s church. The Teodorescus helped leaders build their churches, and Ionel’s words encouraged church members.
Daniel urges church members to trust Christ to solve their problems and forgive their sins in the first church he and Zana planted.
A congregation worships the Lord during a Sunday morning church service.
“Be our pastor,” the church members urged him. Ionel turned them down. But he promised to help. Just two weeks after the church service, he passed away from tongue cancer.
Overcoming a long-standing prejudice
After Ionel’s death, Gina spent hours praying about her future. Did God want her to fulfill Ionel’s promise to help the Gypsies? How would she overcome her prejudice against this people group that began when she was a 4-year-old child?
Long before church planter Daniel Osu was born, his mother was one of the many Romani people — often known as Gypsies — sent by Nazis to prison camps during World War II. When Daniel’s mother was 9, her family packed everything they owned into wagons and, along with thousands of other Gypsies, rode 600 miles from Romania to what is now Moldova.
After they arrived, the Nazis took everything from them and left them in an open field. The Gypsies dug holes in the ground for shelter and foraged for food.
During the war, an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 Gypsies died, many in concentration camps. When the war ended, Daniel’s mother and her relatives walked 600 miles to their neighborhood in Romania.
Originally, Gypsies migrated from India about 1,500 years ago. Persecuted and enslaved for centuries, they often earned their living as performers, fortunetellers or tradespeople, occupations that allowed them to move from place to place.
Today, most Gypsies live in one place for life and forge close family ties. However, still living on the outskirts of society, they often lack proper paperwork, such as birth certificates, drivers’ licenses and other identification papers. Very few of the children attend schools. Generations have grown up with limited education.
Finding accurate statistics about Gypsies is difficult. Approximately 630,000 Gypsies are registered as living in Romania and about 12 million live around the world. About 40 countries have significant Gypsy populations.
When her parents built a mud-brick house in a poor village near Craiova, they stacked the homemade bricks into a tall pile and stored their belongings on top. Whenever they left to get more supplies, Gina climbed a ladder and sat on top of the pile, protecting their possessions.
Naked Gypsy children surrounded the pile, looking for ways to reach the top. Mostly they felt hungry and wanted food, but Gina’s family could barely feed themselves. Gina cried and called for help until her parents returned.
Gina Teodorescu (left), prepares for a film showing with Zana; Catalin, who is Daniel and Zana’s son (center); and Daniel. They’ll set up the screen and projector, lead music for the crowd and Daniel will explain the gospel. Finally, as dusk falls, they will show the film.
Zana and a friend grill chicken, fish and lamb for a crowd of family members, neighbors and friends.
As Gina grew up, the culture instilled in her a fear of Gypsies. Be careful, people warned. They will pick your pocket and steal your wallet. Those warnings brought back those unpleasant memories as Gina considered whether to help the Gypsies plant churches.
As she prayed, she realized Gypsies are created in God’s image. She believed God could empower her to show them His love. Then she received a message from Daniel: Would she help them tell others about Jesus? She said yes.
When Gypsies marry young
Using material from FamilyLife®, an international division of Cru, Gina taught Gypsies about the Christian life, including God’s plan for marriage.
Gypsies marry when they are children to spouses their parents pick for them. Married children live together in the home of the husband’s parents until they are old enough to live on their own. Daniel was 13 and Zana was 10 when they were married. They had a son the following year.
A young Gypsy mother who helps Daniel and Zana do outreaches in nearby villages holds her baby.
Daniel’s mother, “Mamma” (right), and another Gypsy woman sit on the front step and wait for dinner. The family eats outside under a pavilion.
The day Gina taught Gypsies about God’s plan for the family, Daniel peppered her with questions about marriage. Gypsy culture said he was married at 13 when he and Zana started living together. Wasn’t that good enough? Did he need a ceremony and a piece of paper to prove it?
Gina patiently explained how God created marriage to show Christ’s relationship with the church. Just as a husband loves his wife and makes sacrifices for her, Christ loves His church and gave His life to save her, promising to return for her someday. Daniel and Zana could honor God’s intention of two people entering into a covenant of commitment, which includes the visible expression of a ceremony and a license.
When Narcisa was 6 years old, her parents arranged her first marriage. A year later, she was accused of adultery, and her mother-in-law set fire to her possessions and threw her out. Her grandfather came and took her home.
When she was 11, her parents arranged another marriage. Again, she was traumatized and became depressed. She begged her grandfather to take her home, and again, he rescued her.
Finally, Narcisa’s parents and grandparents, knowing she needed emotional and spiritual help, drove an hour to meet with church planters Daniel and Zana Osu.
When they arrived, Narcisa refused to get out of the car, convinced her parents had arranged yet another marriage. The others told Narcisa’s story to Daniel and Zana. Eventually, Zana walked to the car and gently persuaded Narcisa to come inside and pray with them, promising no husband waited.
After they prayed together, Zana asked Narcisa if she wanted to see Magdalena. They arranged a showing of the film about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in Narcisa’s village. After watching the film, Narcisa, her mother and grandparents trusted Christ to forgive their sins. Later, they were baptized.
Since the church in her village had just started, Narcisa, now 16, lives with Daniel and Zana so they can help her grow in her faith. On Sundays, she leads worship with them during church.
“We are very pleased that she is with Daniel and Zana,” her grandfather said. “We can see her life has changed radically. Now we are looking for what God has next for her.”
“Stop,” Daniel finally said. “I understand. I want to get married. But can you help us?” Like many Gypsies, Daniel and Zana didn’t have birth certificates. They couldn’t get a marriage license without them, and they didn’t have the money to pay for the certificates or the license.
A Romanian woman waits at a bus station in Craiova.
A concrete apartment building in Craiova brings to mind Romania’s Communist era, when many buildings were built to look the same.
Gina and a friend paid for the documents and participated as witnesses at Daniel and Zana’s ceremony. Zana called it the day their marriage truly began.
The power of film among illiterate people
About this time, Jesus Film Project® translated Magdalena into Romani, the language of the Gypsies. Gina traveled with Daniel and Zana to a nearby village and showed the film, inviting people to receive Christ’s forgiveness. Afterward, 50 people surrendered their lives to Christ. Two weeks later, 100 people came to the first church service.
Catalin, Daniel, Zana and Narcisa (from left) assemble the screen for a Magdalena showing. They’re placing the screen in the front yard of a Christian in the village. Approximately 100 people soon come to watch the film.
Hundreds of Gypsies in Craiova, in groups similar to this one, have come to Christ by watching Magdalena.
Soon afterward, Daniel trained leaders to care for church members and then chose a pastor. A group of church members planted another church in a nearby village.
Daniel faced criticism from some Christians about showing the film in neighborhoods where there were no churches. Gina countered by encouraging Daniel to show the film in many villages so Gypsies could become Christians and create communities in their own neighborhoods.
Daniel didn’t know what to do. Listen to his critics? Listen to Gina? Most of all, he wanted to hear and obey God’s voice. That’s when he had the dream under the tree and began showing Magdalena to fellow Gypsies.
The skeptical police chief
In the village of Podari, Daniel and Zana showed the film, resulting in their fifth new church. A week later, Daniel preached at a follow-up meeting. When the local chief of police, a Romanian, heard about their meeting, he and four officers came.
Children, parents and grandparents listen to singing and assemble for a follow-up meeting after a Magdalena showing.
Catalin’s wife, Sylvia, Zana and Daniel (left to right) lead singing for a follow-up meeting in Podari. The mayor and other city officials have thanked Daniel and Zana for planting a church in their village.
Knowing the policemen were present, Daniel urged the new Christians to trust God and live a changed life. “God sent us here,” Daniel said, “to teach you how to live a life that not only pleases God but also pleases the authorities. You should give up your evil ways, send your children to school and contribute to the well-being of the town.”
Afterward, one policeman thanked Daniel. Previously the village had a reputation for a high crime rate. Hearing Daniel encourage his fellow Gypsies — whom the police suspected of stealing from their neighbors — to respect local authorities moved the policeman to tears.
Daniel invited the policemen to the baptism ceremony later that week. Any new Christians who wanted to be baptized would wear white clothes and step into the river with Daniel. When they were immersed, they publicly identified themselves with Christ. Intrigued, the policemen attended. When they noticed a man wearing white, whom they suspected was one of the biggest criminals in town, they expressed incredulity. After the ceremony, the chief of police said to Daniel, “If the life of this man is changed, then our town will be at peace, and we will believe.” But in that moment, they doubted.
A few months later, the police chief confirmed no more robberies had taken place in their now peaceful town. He thanked Daniel for coming to Podari, and he told the other police officers to help Daniel and his friends whenever they could.
Daniel (foreground) and his relatives stand inside of the almost-completed new church building in Daniel’s brother’s front yard in Podari. The congregation could not buy a separate piece of land for the church building.
The church at Podari
Today more than 100 baptized Christians live in Podari, including Zana’s brother — who donated land in his front yard for a church building — and their mother. Daniel and his construction crew finished the building, and the mayor thanked them.
Seventy percent of the villages around Craiova contain Gypsy communities. Daniel and Zana plan to visit those villages and continue planting churches. Living and preaching among their own people, many of whom feel forgotten, Daniel and Zana know that God sees the Gypsies, and they show Gypsies that God loves them and provides freedom from sin.
A Gypsy young man in Podari on a typical horse cart. Most men his age are married and have children; some travel to other countries to help harvest crops.
Daniel leads a Wednesday evening church service at the church adjacent to his house. Daniel owns a construction company and hires new Gypsy believers to build church buildings like this one.
How have you seen God reach marginalized communities?
Guy isn’t much of a city person. Paddling down the Wda river in northern Poland with participants of a Cru® summer mission project describes a great place for him to photograph. He likes being outside, doing anything with water, and he enjoys making things with his hands. Guy serves as a photographer for Cru.