"Although the steeple is in the village, the church
is up there on the hill." Kristof Lenghel laughs and shakes his head. "In
Weilau most things are a bit different." Presbyter Lenghel was not just
referring to the architectural peculiarity which surprises visitors to
the Transylvanian village with the Rumanian name of Uila. A minority hardly
known outside Transylvania lives in Uila: the Lutheran Roma. A peculiarity
which fills Lenghel with pride and which, as a presbyter, he wants to preserve
for his children and grandchildren.
The history of the Roma in Uila is closely linked
to the Transylvanian "Saxons". Since the middle of the 19th century the
Roma have worked on German farms as so-called "domestic Gypsies". Their
children were baptized in local Lutheran churches. They were confirmed,
married and buried as Protestants. Lenghel reminisces: "I had German playmates
and went to the German school." So the Uila presbyter speaks not only Romani
and Rumanian, but also German and the Transylvanian German dialect.
The close working and living community created friendships which stood
the test of even hard times, during the Second World War, for instance,
when the ethnic German population of Uila was deported. "At that time we
Gypsies helped the Germans," Lenghel relates. "We kept watch over their
empty houses so that no-one could plunder them. And when the Germans returned,
we put them up in our houses until they could move back into their own
Now the Weilau Saxons have gone again, but this time probably for good.
After the political changes in Rumania in December 1989 they left the village
and a large majority emigrated to Germany. "We miss the Saxons very much,"
says Lenghel sadly, "we always helped one another."
No matter how painful the departure, it was at the same time a new beginning
for the Uila Roma. What for example was to happen to the Lutheran church
in Weilau? Although the Roma had always attended the Protestant worship
services, they had never been registered members of the congregation. The
solution was easy: without a moment's hesitation all the Roma families
of Weilau registered as members of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg
Confession in Rumania.
This was not just a formality for Lenghel nor for the treasurer of the
congregation, Béla Farkas. "We want to take good care of what we
have inherited from the Saxons," they unanimously stated. For this, the
Uila Roma have spared no effort. The renovation of the church was finished
only in July of last year. As there was a lot of damage, but not much money,
they had to do a lot themselves. After heavy agricultural work during the
day, women and men then helped each evening, from 5 to 10 p.m., with the
church construction work.
Another project initiated by Lenghel together with
Pastor Wolfgang Rehner, the Uila congregation's pastor, that requires much
discipline and follow-up is the translation of prayers, hymns and texts
into the Uila Roma's own language. During laborious nights, after his work
in the orchards, Lenghel already has translated the Creed, Ten Commandments
and the "Amaro Dad", the Lord's Prayer. The first stanza alone of "Macht
hoch die Tür, die Tor macht weit" ("Fling wide the door, unbar
the gate") took him seven hours to translate. Sometimes the words do not
exist in Roma. How, for instance, do you translate "spirit" or "sin"? There
is no way of doing so without substituting Rumanian words.
The young Roma congregation is still faced with many tasks which cannot
be tackled without external help. For example, there exists no translation
of the Bible into the language spoken by the Weilau Roma. Lenghel has got
in touch with non-Christian Roma in the area, he would like to occupy himself
entirely with missionary activities among the Roma and be trained as a
preacher: "But who will support the family in the meantime?"