Why Should Christians Care About Gypsy, Romany and Traveller Communities?

Jesus was a Jew. Abraham, the Father of the Jews1, travelled with his family and flocks from Ur2 via Haran3 to Canaan and Egypt.

In search of food his descendants went down to Egypt then, fleeing from persecution, they wandered in the desert for a generation before finally settling in The Holy Land. They never forgot their travelling past and were commanded by God to treat different races, travelling through and living in their country, with kindness and generosity4.

For much of his life, Jesus had no settled home. The occupying Romans forced his mother Mary, and Joseph, to travel many days: south to Bethlehem, where he was born and placed in a feeding trough “because there was no room at the inn”5. The Holy Family then fled to Egypt to avoid persecution, before setting in the north of The Holy Land. For the last three years of his life, Jesus travelled and “had nowhere to lay his head.”6

The first people to visit the baby Jesus were shepherds. These were semi-nomadic people who led their flocks across the land in search of water, grazing and safety. They were often despised by the settled community, being blamed for anything that “went missing” and were forbidden to give evidence in a court of law7. The Holy Family welcomed the shepherds. Throughout His ministry, Jesus spent time and reached out to those who were on the margins of society. People like tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. He calls us to reach out to those who are vulnerable and in need “as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.”8

All Christians, whether or not we are part of the settled community, are just travelling through this life. God is our shepherd who “leads us beside still waters”, “in right paths”, and “through the valley of the shadow of death”9. In a very real sense, we do not belong to this world10 so that we can say to God, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”11

If GRT people are in need of somewhere to stay on their travels then this gives settled Christians a chance to live out the Gospel by responding in love and generosity, much in the same way as Jesus, Mary and Joseph treated the shepherds, and as God treats us. If we risk offering hospitality to Gypsies Travellers and Roma, many of whom are Christians, then we may indeed discover that we have “entertained angels without knowing”12

1 John 8: 39 2 Present day Iraq 3 Turkey 4 Deuteronomy 10:19 5 Luke 2:7 6 Matthew 8:20 7 Luke, an Introduction and Commentary: Leon Morris: 1974. Page 84 8 Matthew 25.45 9 Psalm 23 10 John 17:14-16 11 St Augustine prayer 12 Hebrews 13.2

– Canon Paul Tyler and Canon Jonathan Herbert