Expelled Christians Refute Proselytism Claims

A group of Christians who were expelled from Morocco and forced to leave behind 33 orphaned children refuted all allegations of proselytism and maintained that it has abided by the law.

In a statement Thursday, Village of Hope said it is not a missionary organization and that it only exists to offer love, care and education to Moroccan children.

The 16 overseas workers feel their expulsion from the country was "without foundation and completely unjust."

"[T]here is absolutely no legal merit to the action taken against VOH," the statement reads.

After years of serving as foster parents in the predominantly Muslim country, the Village of Hope workers were accused this week of proselytizing the children and were ordered to leave the country on Monday.

The Moroccan government defended its decision.

Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said on Thursday that the workers "took advantage of the poverty of some families and targeted their young children, whom they took in hand, in violation of the kafala (adoption) procedures for abandoned or orphaned children."

Naciri said the government would take a tough line against proselytizers and be "severe with all those who play with religious values," as reported by Agence France-Presse.

Christians can practice their religion freely, the minister said, but proselytism is illegal.

Village of Hope registered with the Moroccan government in 2002 as an official Christian organization. The children's home "has always operated with the full knowledge and agreement of the Moroccan authorities with the overt understanding that the overseas workers are Christian."

"It has also always been understood that the children would be raised in a Muslim/Christian environment but would also be fully immersed in their Moroccan culture in terms of love for their country, language, education and knowledge of Islam," stated Village of Hope.

No charges concerning the welfare and care of the children have ever been raised as a concern by the Moroccan authorities in the 10-year history of VOH.

The workers said they have always sought to adhere to the Moroccan law prohibiting evangelism and even signed a declaration stating that they will abide by it. The foster parents and workers feel they were caught up in a national crackdown against Christians living in Morocco.

Jack Wald, pastor Rabat International Church in Rabat, Morocco, said Christians around the country were called in last weekend and questioned overnight. Many were sent out of the country the next day. Wald recounted earlier similar events, including the March 2009 police raid of a women's Bible study in Casablanca. Five foreign women were expelled.

As part of the "national campaign," police visited the Village of Hope on Saturday for what they said was just "routine." They asked questions, looked through the houses, and took materials they considered incriminating, according to Wald. They also interviewed each of the children and staff.

In a matter of days, all the passports of the staff were collected and they were told to leave and say goodbye to their foster children.

"These are the only parents they know and the government has ripped them away, traumatizing the children and ripping out the hearts of the parents," said Wald. "We are all stunned."

Village of Hope workers also described the situation as traumatizing for the children but clarified on Thursday that during the eviction process, none of the staff was ill treated by authorities.

The children have been placed in a temporary care home. But the foster parents still "have no idea" what will happen to the children.

"The parents only want to be reunited with their children," VOH stressed. "Every single set of parents would return to Morocco to continue with the care of the children and continue to live under the law and authority of the State."

Appealing to the king of Morocco, the foster parents requested that authorities open a dialogue with them to discuss the future well-being and care of the children.

VOH cautioned that the government's action will likely cause "long term damage to the excellent reputation of Morocco."

"Morocco is viewed by the West as a moderate and safe Islamic state with an ever improving response to social issues," VOH stated. "However, actions like this are only likely to tarnish Morocco's image and have a detrimental effect on inward investment, foreign aid and tourism.

"If a perception grows that non-Islamic guests in Morocco and foreign led organizations are being targeted then we fear for the damage that could be caused."

Village of Hope has appealed to its supporters to not comment or say anything that could be viewed as detrimental about the Moroccan authorities.