June 23, 2016
By Blake Tommey
GREENSBORO, N.C. — A longtime Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner celebrated 25 years of ministry among the persecuted and marginalized Roma people in Bucharest, Romania, during a Thursday evening event held in conjunction with the 2016 General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C.
With a host of friends, partners and contributors gathered at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, Executive Director Mihai Ciopasiu took stock of the sweeping impact of Project over the past quarter century.
“Thousands of people have been impacted,” Ciopasiu told the room of Cooperative Baptists. “I’m thinking about 800 students in the Ruth School, and if we count the Gypsy Smith School and those involved in the Naomi Women’s Center, we get more than 1,000 people. And most of them have families and most of them have kids now.”
Gathered to celebrate with Ciopasiu and Project Ruth founder Oti Bunaciu were partners from across the Fellowship and from around the world, including CBF leaders, Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C., many other supporters and CBF field personnel Ralph and Tammy Stocks whose ministry in Bucharest has been devoted to Project Ruth and serving the Roma people for many years.
In addition to the Ruth School, which provides education to children of Roma families living in poverty, Project Ruth’s partners gathered to honor the work of the Gypsy Smith School for training Roma pastors as well as the Naomi Women’s Center for counseling and sewing training among Roma women.
One of those CBF supporters, former CBF Interim Executive Coordinator Pat Anderson, spoke about the growing pains of Project Ruth’s building in the Ferentari neighborhood, and shared about traveling o Romania with a gift of $30,000 that the Ruth School used to serve its first meals to Roma children. Ultimately, Anderson emphasized, Bunaciu’s radical vision for ministry with Roma children has always been Project Ruth’s lifeblood.
“I can say with confidence that without Oti Bunaciu, there would never have been a Project Ruth,” Anderson said. “When I reflect on what I’ve experienced in Project Ruth and the Ruth School, I see an incredible story, and I can only imagine the cultural and social barriers that he had to overcome, even within the church. It was his vision to have a ministry to the children of Roma, who are not highly prized members of that society. Many people will praise God because of what Oti has done.”
Over the years, Bunaciu’s vision for Project Ruth has not only been realized but has grown to encompass Roma pastors as well as Roma women and mothers, CBF field personnel Ralph and Tammy Stocks said.
Tammy Stocks recalled finding a closet full of old sewing machines — a discovery that would eventually lead to the founding of the Naomi Women’s Center — when she and Ralph relocated to Bucharest in 2010. Through the ministry of sewing, she said, Project Ruth has been able to provide the space for skill development, counseling and healing among so many Roma women.
“Women aren’t just learning to sew; they are transforming their lives,” Tammy Stocks said. “It’s empowering for them to help themselves and support their families. Let me sincerely say, on behalf of the Naomi Women’s Center, thank you for supporting us and thank you for coming and being a part of us. God is truly working in the lives of women and their families in the Ferentari neighborhood.”
Throughout the evening, staff, contributors and partners commemorated the ongoing redemptive work of Project Ruth, including Ralph Stocks, who celebrated the impact of the Gypsy Smith School for training Roma ministers.
Former CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal hailed Project Ruth as one of CBF’s most meaningful partnerships, and Ellen Sechrest and Johnny McKinney of Boulevard Baptist Church celebrated the power of financial support and scholarships for Project Ruth from CBF churches over the past 25 years.
Bunaciu concluded the celebration stating that the story of Project Ruth is not the story of one person or one vision, but a story of how a community lives out a common faith in the God of miraculous possibility.
“The miracle of what has happened with Project Ruth rests not on me or any one person, but on many people who decided to embark on a journey of faith,” Bunaciu said.
“The journey is not about one or even several people with a heroic vision. It is about a community who lives a story as we discover ourselves touching other lives. It is a story about the presence of God in community and our problems are never beyond God’s possibilities. That God is a God of hope and God promises us a future.”
To learn more about Project Ruth and the ministry of CBF field personnel Ralph and Tammy Stocks, click here.
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.