One girl was stolen from her birth family and left searching for a true home until she entered World Challenge’s partner-church in Albania.
Albania in the 1970s, caught under the boot of Enver Hoxha and his sharply Stalinist ideas of government, was not a friendly place for those who did not match the mold of mainstream society.
Xenophobic government officials and workers had little patience or pity for the Roma people, and one grandmother sitting in the hospital, waiting for her granddaughter to be born, would have been keenly aware of this. As she looked at the other children born that day, she noticed one little girl who had lighter skin.
To have that whiter skin might make a child’s prospects better in the Roma community and society at large where people would be less likely to immediately guess this child’s ethnic group.
Glancing around, the woman switched her granddaughter for this paler baby.
No one noticed as the family left the hospital. No one stopped them before they turned the corner and were out of sight.
Searching for Belonging
From the very start, you could say that Hamide started her life upside down.
Comparing herself to her seven siblings wasn’t hard, and she could see as clearly as anyone else that she stood out. Most Roma families were poor like hers and they all faced difficulties, but she was doubly weighted down by the constant feeling that she didn’t belong.
She married at 15 years old, typical for a Roma girl. She’d hoped that she’d find that allusive sense of belonging with a husband, but instead her life grew worse. Less than two years later, she was divorced. At 17, she remarried, hoping that perhaps this second marriage would be better. Her dreams proved to be nothing but phantoms. This man was an abusive alcoholic.
For years, her life was like trudging through a grim darkness. With an alcoholic man to endure and five boys depending on her, she traveled from one village to another, selling clothes so that she would have enough money to buy food for her family.
She did her best to survive, not knowing what each day would bring. For years, she suffered from terrible migraines, and the only way to find relief was medication, when she could afford it. No matter what she did, she felt doomed to teeter constantly on the edge of survival. Poverty and abuse seemed inescapable.
The idea of committing suicide often circled her thoughts like a flock of crows.
A Home and a Place to Belong
Hamide had been raised Muslim like many Roma, but when had Allah or going to the mosque ever done anything to improve her life?
The community center that doubled as a church, however, seemed like a place of hope and healing. People went there and looked like they found rest, even if they still led tough lives. Hamide felt like she had nothing to lose by stepping into a Christian church, so she went one day.
The moment she stepped inside the community center, her spirit cracked under the full weight of how empty her life had been, riddled with loneliness and depression. She started to cry and then, for the first time in her life, experienced a deep sense of peace and welcome. Unsure what was happening to her, she started to talk to the people who worked at the church.
For the first time, she heard about God, Christ’s sacrifice and the truest kind of love. Now she was offered what she had been longing for all of her life, and she eagerly accepted.
Her life has started to change; you can see the joy in her face, and her relationship with her husband is much better. They still have some problems, but he has seen the hope overflowing in her heart and encourages her to go to church. Their home is open now for Bible study groups and prayer whenever someone is in need.
Not only does Hamide have renewed hope, but God has also healed her migraines. She no longer needs the medication and now has the energy to attend a literacy course being held at the church. She told us, “I can’t be more thankful to God and God alone who changed my life when I was lost.”
Between church, Bible studies and her classes, she feels like she has found belonging and family, and now her heart is to share how God has healed her heart.