Christian volunteers and foster parents at a Moroccan orphanage were forced to abandon dozens of children on Monday after they were accused of proselytizing.
Moroccan authorities raided Village of Hope and said they were expelling the 16 workers and parents. The 33 children who were being cared for cried out "hysterically" for their foster parents as they were left behind.
"Watching the children be told by their parents that they had to leave, that they would maybe never see them again, is the most painful thing I have ever witnessed," said Chris Broadbent of VoH.
Village of Hope registered with the Moroccan government in 2002 as an official Christian organization and received permission to talk about Christianity to the children in their care, according to Broadbent.
The North African country is a predominantly Muslim country where Christians make up only 1.1 percent of the population. The government restricts non-Islamic religious materials and proselytizing and monitors the activities of non-Muslim religious groups.
Also, it is only legal for Muslims to adopt children. Volunteers at Village of Hope were thus acting as foster parents, though the children considered them to be their parents, Broadbent noted.
For nearly ten years, VoH volunteers had been open about their faith to the authorities and were allowed to take in and foster abandoned children, who would otherwise be killed or placed in state-run "mega-orphanages," the organization stated. Despite that, authorities accused them of trying to convert the children to Christianity and forced the foster parents to board a bus heading to the airport to leave the country.
The staff was told the order came from the new Minister of Justice for Morocco, Mohamed Naciri.
"Thirty-three children have just been abandoned again by the actions of the Moroccan state," said Broadbent, who is originally from New Zealand. "These 33 children have never known another mother. Some of them have been here for 10 years, since the start of VoH.
"This is a shame and a disgrace to the leaders of Morocco."
Days ahead of the raid, Broadbent, his wife and two young children were called out at midnight and interrogated for 2.5 hours, he told Voxy News.
Without being given any explanation for the purpose of the interrogation or of their rights, the Broadbents were asked such questions as how they came to know about VoH, how they were personally financed, what they did when they meet together in our Sunday morning services at VoH, and whether they were evangelizing, as reported by Voxy.
Logan Maurer, regional manager of persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, said Monday's incident isn't isolated. On Feb. 4, authorities raided a Christian meeting in Asmis, arresting 18 and deporting the lone foreigner. Since then five other foreign Christian workers have been expelled.
"This is indeed a shameful act by the Moroccan government, and especially poignant," Maurer commented in a statement. "Lately Morocco has taken a tyrannical stance against Christians, forcibly deporting foreigners and bringing charges against the Moroccan nationals they associated with. This marks a swift and ominous change in Moroccan policy toward human rights; the world must pay attention."
Broadbent, meanwhile, has appealed to the public for prayers.
Village of Hope near Ain Leuh was started by two Americans, Emmagene Coates and Ellen Doran, more than 50 years ago. The organization seeks to establish a home for orphaned and unwanted children up to the age of 18 years. Educational programs, vocational training, agricultural training, medical care, small business training and many other projects are offered to the children and the wider community. VoH is committed to provide a loving and caring community of families for children, offering security and hope and enabling them to be fully integrated into the larger Moroccan community.