The story of Katrinne is one of caution. This delightful, intelligent woman is compelled to live a life of secrecy to protect her family from hostility toward the Rom, or Gypsy race. (On this webpage, the term "Gypsy" is used with the utmost respect.)
Out of concern and regard for her people, Katrinne won't reveal her identity to internet readers. You'll understand why, after reading her captivating article. Aside from the secrecy, Katrinne is just like you and me. She spends plenty of time with her family and friends. She also enjoys her dogs and cats who respond with lots of wiggly love, especially on their day of grooming and "cossetting." Katrinne is an avid crafter whose home is filled with lovely projects in various stages of completion. She enjoys knitting, crocheting and cross stitch. Her new cat stays busy sorting all of the yarn.
I've learned that Katrinne's heart is the most beautiful room in the house. In the midst of multiple daily challenges, she is full of peace and humility. Her Christian testimony includes a long list of victories. Most notable is Katrinne's conscious choice to forgive the injustice in her past and the ongoing prejudice against her people today. She wants her Rom tribe (and all other Gypsy tribes) to be completely free from discrimination, hostility and the resulting "fear of discovery." She knows that sincere forgiveness is a necessary foundation for this much-needed move of God.
Katrinne refuses to be bound by a spirit of fear. Exhibiting great courage, she blesses those around her with gifts of life-changing prayer, encouragement and practical help. Today, through her article, this precious Romina Christian offers you a gift of truth.
Katrinne went to be with the Lord on February 10, 2009. She will be greatly missed here on Earth.
From The Heart of a Gypsy
by Katrinne December, 2008
When I was a young child, my passion was for coloring books. I was not an artistic prodigy at the age of four, but the coloring books opened a door for me to a larger world. They allowed me to listen to the old women who congregated around the table in my mother's kitchen. After a while the adults would forget that I was sitting on the floor in the next room and would begin to talk among themselves. I was treated to their conversation as long as I kept still and looked like I was creating a masterpiece.
The conversation flowed in several languages. Many of these women had come from strange places, so I didn’t understand their words. But I knew they were whispering about my family from long ago. Ancestral names were pronounced in reverence. Even at my young age, I clearly understood that the women in my mother’s kitchen were connected by heartbreak to those they spoke about.
Eusebius, Jakop, Goerr, Katrine—these names began to be familiar as the stories were told and retold. Tadeuz, Mattias, Zophia—these were bright and vibrant people who all had one thing in common. They died by the hands of the Nazis during the war.
My people are the Rom—known as “Gypsies" to most people. Even today, I must be careful to protect my "settled" family and not carelessly identify them as being Rom. Our old ones still remember the days when it wasn't uncommon for them to be denied entry to stores, to be spat upon and insulted publicly, to be refused work, to have no protection from the police, to watch the fire trucks keep going when they saw that it was a Rom house in flames, and to be run out of town—or worse.
I have lost many relatives to hatred and prejudice, so I know what could happen if I am not careful when I write. For example, in 1934 in New York, my great-great aunt and uncle and two of their children were sleeping in a vardo, or wagon, when it was surrounded by an angry mob that did not want "their kind" stopping near the town. They were trapped inside, and the vardo was set on fire. The crowd cheered as they screamed and finally died. The citizens responsible for these horrific murders were not unusual. They did not see themselves as a raging mob. Their fear, anger and prejudice made them think they were protecting their community. In their ignorance, they attacked a negative stereotype, causing the death of real, flesh-and-blood people whose only crime was being "different."
Hopefully you will understand my people's tendency towards caution. The 1934 killing of my relatives is far in the past, but hostility toward the Rom still smolders, and therefore, we are still on guard. In spite of this, God sometimes leads me to share the truth of my heritage with certain Christians who are compassionate toward the Rom. I call them "Romina sisters," and I consider them true friends. I'm beginning to learn that some Americans have a positive view of the "mysterious, adventurous Gypsies."
Throughout history, my people have been travelers. The longest they have been in one place in recent history was in Romania, where they stayed for over five hundred years—only because they were being held in slavery. Roms have very little love for Romanians, who see them as being lower than dirt. In some places in Europe you could be spit upon for confusing the two.
My grandmother married a "guago," or non-Rom, and settled down to raise her family. This in itself was an outrage. The family unit is considered sacred to the Rom, and just the thought of being parted from each other is considered to be a tragedy. That is why my grandmother enraged her family when she married outside her race. When her parents could not talk her out of this, they put on mourning clothes and wailed on her porch. After disowning her, they traveled on without her. Being disowned by the Rom means you are dead to them. I have seen entire families dressed in black, with ashes rubbed into their hair, sobbing for the "dead" one, gnashing their teeth and beating their breasts while the disowned one grovels in the midst of them, begging for a look or a word from them. Forgiveness is not a strength of some Rom families, and things can get ugly when you disobey your jaja (yahyah) or papa.
Fortunately, my grandmother’s disownment was not typical. My great grandparents saw that their daughter had married a good man and had a good life. They saw that she was well loved and cared for. They loved my grandmother, but they were also quite stubborn and concerned about what others in the family would think of their reaction to this great offense of their daughter.
The solution to this predicament was born of determination and ingenuity. Every year as the family enclave journeyed up the east coast, they would stop to see if my grandmother was ready to rejoin them. First, they would bring in gifts, homemade foods and news of the family in order to tempt her. After a few days, they would ask if she was ready to leave. When her answer was "no," out came the mourning clothes, and the porch wailing would begin before they left. She would be newly disowned again until the next year. By repeating the yearly ritual of attempted reconnection and the pretense of disownment, harsh tradition was superceded by love and grace.
My grandmother was considered a wise woman. She knew all about herbs and plants and how to make healing poultices, teas and ointments. She was also our family historian who could remember every Rom for at least four generations. Grandmother knew who they married, how many children they had and how they made their living. This was no mean feat, considering that she no longer traveled the circuit, and there were so many to remember.
A “gracious house” was run by my mother and grandmother for those in need of food, shelter, clothing or simply someone to talk to. That is why we always had little old women of all nationalities at our table and why I got a good earful whenever I could. This was when these souls opened up and talked about the old days and their troubled pasts. This was the stuff of our history, and you'd better believe that when my family members started to talk, I listened with attentive ears!
Please don't think that life in our house was anything like "The Waltons." Every family has their fault lines and cracks, and mine was no different. In addition to the normal problems of growing up, I dealt with some unique issues at home. The biggest problem was the culture clash between my grandmother and my guago father. Each of them, by their own traditions, expected to be the leader of our family. In their battle for headship, they wasted very little love or grace on each other. For all of us who were caught in the middle, each day was a test of loyalty. Even what we children did or said might offend one side or the other, and our punishment was often brutal. This power struggle went on until the unexpected death of my father at a very young age.
It took a long time for God to teach me forgiveness for the cruelty I endured as a child. He helped me realize that the elders in our family were carrying generations of emotional and spiritual baggage, and He gave me understanding of their problems. Abba showed me that just as I was forgiven for my sins and shortcomings, I must also forgive. I thank God every day for His grace that stopped the hardness of heart in my own generation.
My sister and I were taught early that our heritage must be kept secret if we were to live peacefully here in the land of opportunity. The United States has been the kindest of all nations to our people, and our family did not want to attract the kind of attention that might get them run out of the community. Therefore, some rules had to be followed at all times and in any situation: "Thou shalt only use English around guagos." And "Thou shalt never invite anyone home without prior notice"—only people who the adults knew and trusted. It wouldn't do to bring a friend home from school and have them witness anything that might attract unwanted attention. We were to be completely below the American radar. Our elders just wanted the peace they had never enjoyed. They wanted to settle in and blend in. With a few exceptions, this strategy has worked well, and my family is very content where they are.
I consider myself blessed with three different types of heritage. Of course, I will always be a Romina. The traditions that I choose to observe from my Rom roots are those that I find comforting. I dream of opening a “gracious house” like that of my mother and grandmother. I want to help bind up the hurts of this world and to share the promise of the next. The house would be open to all people, regardless of color, creed, religion or origin—just as my mother's was. My grandmother taught me well in the special knowledge that she carried, and it is now mine to use to the glory of God.
I am also proud to be an American citizen, born in this land and given the promise and freedom in life that my ancestors couldn't even hope for. Thanks to the educational policies that we have here, I've received a better education than any of my earlier family. I've been able to choose the jobs that I wanted. In so many ways, I am truly blessed.
Above all, I embrace my spiritual identity. God touched my life and drew me to Him. When I gave Him my heart, and He claimed me as His, I inherited a wondrous citizenship that transcends any other. Just like the Rom and the American influences have changed my life, so has Christianity. God has taught me that I need not have a spirit of fear or be bound by ancient rituals. He showed me that this world is filled with people who can be interesting, inspiring, funny, solemn or annoying—people of all colors, shapes and sizes who are neither Rom nor guago to Him. They are simply "His." God has shown me that hatred is wrong, regardless of what happened or who started it. He wants me to put an end to strife and conflict by walking in humility, forgiveness and grace.
Long after the time of hiding behind coloring books, my sister and I would sit at my grandmother's table and listen while family stories were told over and over again. Grandmother said that everyone has a story, and she is right. My story happens to be quite unique, and I suspect that your stories are also filled with rare adventures. But among the uncommon threads of our distinctive histories are woven some very common threads. These common threads are truly the most important. If we all look closely at the tapestries of our past, we can see dark threads of dysfunction, reminding us that Jesus died so we can triumph over evil. The rich, colorful threads of love are easy to find as they contrast against the dark. Finally, the shimmering threads of grace enter from every horizon and are woven skillfully throughout each segment of our lives.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
These words from "Amazing Grace," by John Newton, are dear to all Christians. This same amazing grace keeps us walking the paths of holy purpose that God has ordained. Even if we've stumbled over obstacles, becoming bruised and sore—whatever our heritage and whatever sins we have committed or endured—if we offer our past, present and future completely to God, He will create something glorious.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:28-31.