I Don't Think I'm Ready For This

I know better than to give generic adjectives--”Awesome! Great! Beyond!”--as my answer. Yet somehow that single question sets off a flurry of images clicking at warp speed through my brain. As faces, music, and moments invade my memory, my emotions run the gamut: tears of joy at the privilege of that trip, longing to be back in Hungary, pressure to give dignity to what we experienced, fear that I will never taste that goodness again, and awe at who God is and what he is doing among the Roma. All I can manage to do is stare at my friend who is waiting for an answer to what she thought was a simple question.

“AMAZING!” I exhale, overcome by the enormous change God brought about in me during my time there.

The truth is, Ryan, Miranda, Dillon, and I each experienced significant spiritual paradigm shifts in our walks with the Lord as a result of our time at the Roma Conference in Hungary. A corner of the Kingdom curtain was lifted and we were given an all-access pass to witness and experience firsthand how great God’s love is for this “forgotten” people group. And we rediscovered that that love was not only for them, but for us as well! We didn’t know that once we were safely behind the curtain we would never again want to return to life as we once knew it. The crazy thing is, I've been all over the world experiencing so many cultures and people groups, ministering in amazing places the last 15 years, but this was a tipping point.

Was this trip hard? YES! Did it push, pull, demand, deplete, and require? YES! Would we all sign up to do it again? YES! Without hesitation!

I heard a phrase recently that made me stop dead in my tracks. “Ruined for the ordinary.” Those four words encapsulate completely what Hungary has done to me. Let me explain.

We knew going into this trip that being “flexible” was going to keep us from losing our minds. We had a general goal of making two films, a conference highlight video and a documentary. The how, when, where, and what was a complete mystery. We learned the Roma always have a plan, but it’s not detailed and defined in the way that a type-A American like me needs in order to work. I like schedules and lists, predictability, and a healthy level of control when I travel. Curveballs don’t sit well with me and open-ended itineraries give me a twitchy eye.

"It’s not safe; it’s fast and unpredictable, it’s hard, and it requires all of you. But it is the only way to feel truly alive."

When we arrived at the conference in Bekeś, Hungary, I was functioning, if you could call it that, on 30 hours without sleep. Not ideal, to say the least. We needed to push through another seven hours before we could go to bed.  With the mysterious loss of Ryan’s lighting bag in transit from the airport to the venue, “flexibility” was forced upon us as we had to figure out on the fly how to shoot with no light stands or umbrellas. After a stroke of genius (from the Lord) struck Ryan, he rigged some lighting using a cymbal stand and used a pull down screen on the wall to fashion a mock umbrella to diffuse light. We were back in business!

In the lobby, a teddy bear of a man from Bulgaria nicknamed “Mita” showed us a list of our interviewees that he had scratched on a piece of paper. Mind you, we were shown, not given, this list. His kind eyes and jovial voice assured me with phrases like, “Don’t worry, sister,” “I’ll help you,” and my personal favorite, “It’s no problem.”  Somehow I believed him that we would figure this whole thing out over the next four days.  

He showed us our room where we cobbled together our “set” while we waited for the first interviewee to arrive.  

“My name is Radko,” a kind eyed, stocky man said, shaking my hand.

Sometime during our planning for this trip we agreed that I would be the one to interview each person. Miranda would take notes, Dillon would film, and Ryan would take portraits of each person afterwards. This meant that each person would talk to me, would maintain eye contact with me, while I asked our questions. I needed to sit motionless while they formed their answers.  It nearly killed me not to give verbal feedback--”Uh huh, amazing,” “Yes, that’s good”--or other cues as they spoke. I had to be perfectly silent so I didn’t taint the audio.  All I could do is use my eyes and nod my head to reassure them.

Mic check. Light check. Mic check again.  We are ready to begin.

No background information was provided for me to work with as I sat across from this complete stranger, his eyebrows raised in the universal sign of, “I’m ready; go ahead and ask.” I decide to start with an open-ended question to break the ice and show me which way to proceed.  

“How did you come to know Jesus?” A surge of adrenaline extinguished my nerves and exhaustion as my eyes locked with his.

I asked Dillon to pull the raw clip of Radko’s response. For you to even begin to understand what our time was like, to peek under that same Kingdom curtain and catch a glimpse of what Jesus is doing with the Roma in Europe, you need to hear his answer and see his face.  I will never do it justice with a written summary.

That was my FIRST interview, my FIRST question.

He sat five feet in front of me and the joy of his profoundly powerful, personal encounter with Jesus leapt from his lips into my soul.  Tears streamed down my face as I listened to him share about my Jesus. When he finished, I turned to my right and looked at Miranda and all I could muster was, “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”

It had nothing to do with being overtired, unprepared, or ill-equipped as an interviewer.  What I KNEW in the depths of my spirit at that moment was that this trip was going to ruin me, in the best way, forever. I would not return the same person that left. I would never again be satisfied with an ordinary way of life. And I wasn’t the only one. We all now knew too much, had experienced too much. We stood shoulder to shoulder with 190 Roma pastors and leaders from 28 countries. We prayed, worshipped, trained, and ate with them. We laughed, oh how we laughed with them. JOY surged from that conference center like a tidal wave.

No, I can’t go back to ordinary. I won’t go back to ordinary. This new way of experiencing God is what is real, true, right, noble, and good. This is what stepping into the current of the Kingdom looks like, feels like, IS. It’s not safe; it’s fast and unpredictable, it’s hard, and it requires all of you. But it is the only way to feel truly alive.

Over the next six weeks, we hope to complete this documentary.  It is an enormous task and most of it rests upon Dillon’s shoulders.  Will you join us in praying for God to anoint him with creativity, perseverance, and inspiration?  Remember, like all our Ambassadors, Dillon is a volunteer with a full-time job in videography. This is a true Kingdom labor he is doing gladly.

This film is vitally important for the Roma. It needs to capture the incredible movement of the Gospel among this unreached people group in Europe. For those who have been told for over 2000 years that they belong nowhere and are nothing, Jesus has broken through all that bondage and oppression and is saying, “Oh, my dear children, you belong at MY table and to ME. You are sons and daughters of the Most High, a royal priesthood and my beloved.” That’s the Gospel. That’s the good news the Roma have been waiting for. We hope to give voice to this silent, misunderstood, oppressed, and unknown people. They need the Church behind them championing their cause, holding them in prayer, and getting involved in a more tangible way.

Thank you for your support of this ministry.  This trip, this film, these relationships we are building with Roma Networks would not be possible without your prayer and financial provision. As the year draws to a close, we ask you to consider supporting us and The Good Story with your year-end giving. Your donation will help those who are giving their lives to impact the world for Christ.

News, Roma, VideosRyan Portnoy