When Clement Le Cossec (1921-2001) was growing up in Brittany, a province in northwest France, his mother warned him, “Be careful! If you are not good, the Gypsies will come and steal you away!” Frightened, Le Cossec promised his mother he would be good, so that he would never have to live with the Gypsies. Yet, God had a plan for him, and when this French pastor died in 2001, more than 2,000 Gypsies from across Europe attended his funeral, mourning the loss of the man who came to be known as “The Apostle to the Gypsies.”
The March 30, 1969, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel shared the fascinating story of Le Cossec and his ministry to the Gypsies.
In 1952, while pastoring a church in Rennes, France, Le Cossec held a preaching campaign in Brest, near Normandy. At the end of one of the meetings a strongly built, dark man approached him and asked if the pastor would visit “us” at an encampment in the hedges alongside the road leading into town. When Le Cossec arrived, he found a caravan of trailers and a group of people with a story to tell.
Two years earlier, one of the young men, Zino, had been given a terminal diagnosis. A traveling Pentecostal preacher prayed for him and he experienced healing. Upon hearing what had happened to Zino, his brother, Mandz, determined to tell the story of how God had power to heal in the name of Jesus. Since that time many of the Gypsies in this caravan had come to faith in Christ, but they had a serious problem. They heard that to be obedient to Christ they must be baptized. Mandz had gone from pastor to pastor asking for someone to come and baptize them but none were willing.
Le Cossec invited them to come to a prayer meeting in a church member’s home. He opened the meeting by saying, “We are going to change the form of the meeting. We are not tied to a routine. We want to be sensitive to the direction of the Spirit. We are going to pray with our Gypsy brothers and sisters to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” After a brief meditation, the Gypsies knelt on the earthen floor and began to praise the Lord with all their hearts. Mandz suddenly lay on the floor, with his face down, and started to speak tongues. Many others shared his same experience. Le Cossec announced to the group, “The baptisms will be next week!”
After the baptismal service, the police made the Gypsy caravan move from the area, and Le Cossec returned to his church in Rennes. One year later, in 1953, both Le Cossec and the Gypsies returned to Brest for a meeting. After the baptisms of the previous year, more than 100 Gypsies had come to know Christ, but Le Cossec could see that they were troubled. They shared with him, “Brother, on the road we have no one to lead meetings with us. Each evening when we stop, we light a fire and we gather around to sing and pray. If there is someone in the group, even a child, who knows how to read we ask him to read from the Bible. We need a servant of God.” Le Cossec replied, “That is impossible. There are no servants of God in Brittany who are free” to travel with you.
Le Cossec felt he must help the Gypsies in some way. When the caravans came close to his church he would hold reading and Bible classes. But by 1958, more than 3,000 Gypsies had been converted, and Le Cossec could no longer be indifferent to this flock of sheep without a shepherd. A decision had to be made. He had a house and an assured salary and eight children who depended on him. The church in Rennes was doing well. Wouldn’t it be folly to leave a secure position and join his family to a caravan of traveling Gypsies? “There was a battle in my heart … but putting all my trust in the Lord, and refusing to count the cost, I threw myself into an adventure of faith … how very meaningful Christ’s words: ‘Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in that my house may be filled.’”
Eleven years later, in the 1969 Pentecostal Evangel article, Le Cossec shared with American readers how more than 20,000 Gypsies were serving the Lord. He told of their meetings in caravan conferences across Europe, including in Germany, where Hitler’s Nazi regime had exterminated tens of thousands of Gypsies in concentration camps.
Le Cossec and his family traveled with the Gypsies through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and India. By his death at age 80, the “Apostle to the Gypsies” had traveled in more than 40 countries sharing the message that Gypsies, who had been “a rejected community,” have instead become “an elect community” in the Lord. On his tombstone, his friends and family engraved the words of Luke 14:22: “The servant said, ‘Master, what you have commanded has been done.’”
Read more about Le Cossec’s Gypsy conference in Germany in “One People from Many Nations,” on page 16 of the March 30, 1969, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Gifts of Healing,” by Howard Carter
• “How Can I Know God’s Will,” by J.W. Jepson
• “The Balm of Gratitude,” by Mel De Vries
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.