“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
In June of this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Eastern Europe as part of a media team gathering stories from Ukrainian war refugees. I was supposed to craft stories that would grow awareness of those impacted by the war so that faith communities could support relief efforts with prayer and generous giving. This was meaningful work and I am grateful to God for the blessing of being able to do it.
Even so, I felt conflicted about asking victims of unspeakable violence to recount their harrowing experiences so they could be captured on camera. The Spirit ultimately fills me with peace as I encounter people put in my story-gathering path. All the narratives I discovered while on this assignment were compelling and moving, but there was one that lifted my spirit more than any other: a story about a preacher’s voice that was lost and yet continues to proclaim God’s word.
Several faith-based relief agencies in Hungary have helped house hundreds of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, many of whom belong to the Roma community — a historically marginalized ethnic minority in Europe. Robie was a Baptist lay preacher in the Transcarpathia region of southwestern Ukraine. A church retreat center turned refugee camp in Debrecen, Hungary, is now Robie and his family’s temporary home.
Unfortunately, three years ago, Robie lost most of his speaking ability because of an accident. He cannot speak clearly now, but his wife Renatta translates for him when the Spirit leads them to offer God’s words of comfort and hope to other Roma families in the refugee camp. Despite their dire situation, Robie and Renatta team up to bring light to a world often consumed with despair and darkness.
Robie and Renatta have four children: Robie Jr., Manuel, Moses, and their baby sister Renatta. All six live in one of the camp cabins, a space no bigger than a typical one-car garage here in the United States. Their living space is cramped, but they are happy to be together in this temporary home after escaping the war. Robie and Renatta continue to pray for a more permanent housing solution. They do not just want to survive. They would like to find a job and an apartment to rent to stand on their own feet.
I pray that God continues to bless Robie, Renatta, and their precious children. I pray they remain hopeful and courageous and continue to make others aware that they are part of God’s family. During this Advent season and in the coming days, I will continue to be encouraged by this story of perseverance and faith. As you encounter people struggling in your communities, may you feel led by the Spirit to provide restoration and peace.
Francisco Miguel Litardo is community engagement educator and government liaison at Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. He is also the owner and creative director of On the Way Media, a visual communications and live event production company in Kansas City.
NOTE: This is part of our Unsettling Advent devotionals running Nov. 27-Dec. 24. You can subscribe for free to receive them each morning in your inbox.