Orphaned work

April 4, 2010 21:03

The expulsion of Christian workers in Morocco has questionable causes but certain results

Alisa Harris at World Magazine

Children’s Haven of Morocco began when a Moroccan woman pled with two American expatriates—Irene Wenholz and Mary Mellinger—to take her baby. They were not in Morocco to start an orphanage so they refused, but they couldn’t forget that baby.

The next time a Moroccan woman thrust her baby at them with a plea, they took the baby in. Fifty-seven years later, the children who grew up under the women’s care describe Moroccans lining up each afternoon to get medicine and medical help from the orphanage workers. When a staff member was gravely injured in a car accident, the governor of the region canceled his reelection party out of concern. When recent floods nearly wiped the village of Azrou away, the orphanage gave medicine and aid.

So when the Muslim neighbors of Children’s Haven heard that it was under investigation for proselytizing, the neighbors flocked to the mosques to pray for the aid workers’ safety. Salim Sefaine, who grew up in the Children’s Haven and now lives in the United States, said his foster parents are not outsiders who come in and out of the country to make converts, but community pillars. His foster father, Jim Pitts, has lived in Morocco longer than he has lived in the United States.

The Moroccan government is suddenly bearing down on Christian organizations like Children’s Haven, saying it is responding to complaints that the organizations are using good deeds to proselytize illegally. In March the government expelled up to 70 Christian foreign aid workers, deporting some while barring others from returning to the country.

Moroccan officials came to Children’s Haven and asked for all of the workers’ information, the names of the children, and how they came to the Haven. They searched their bookshelves for Christian literature and listed all their possessions. Children’s Haven seems to have passed the investigation and workers are so far allowed to stay in the country; but they look at the outcome for other workers and know that may change within hours. On March 8, the government gave staffers at another orphanage, Village of Hope (VOH), just seven hours to pack their bags and say goodbye to the 33 children they had cared for as their own. In a statement pleading for their return, VOH workers say that officials gave “no explanation of who, when, where or how” the alleged proselytizing occurred.


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