by Roy Fuller, Highland Baptist Church
Our Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Protestant Church of Morocco relationship is called “Partnership Without Borders.” In one sense, that phrase is not true – there are many borders between Kentucky Baptists and our brothers and sisters in Morocco, and borders define this partnership. In early October, I attended meetings in Morocco with Highland Baptist Church’s partners, the CEI (Comité D'Entraide Internationale). CEI is the national social service agency with works with migrants and refugees all around the country of Morocco. Highland supports CEI with our dollars, our prayers, and our stories of those we meet who pass through the churches of Morocco on their journeys.
For me, this was a journey of old and new. Seeing old friends, some I have known for several years, though visits, emails, and Facebook chats. Going to familiar places, Rabat, Ifrane, and Fes, and worshipping with Christians on World Communion Sunday. New was to see the desperate situation in Fes. When one of our Highland groups traveled to Fes in 2011, there was little problem with migrants and refugees in that city. In 2014, the situation has changed dramatically.
Now, migrants and refugees are being dumped in Fes by the authorities, who usually pick them up along the northern border of Morocco, where they are hoping to “cross over” to Europe. Dumped in Fes, they linger and live in a field near the train station. On any given day, between 100 and 200 persons find themselves with no support, living in the open in make-shift shelters of plastic sheeting and any other materials they can find. Some find day work, usually very demanding physical labor for little pay. Many are highly educated, but with no opportunity to use their skills and training in a countrywhere they are not wanted.
I was in attendance at a meeting of the national CEI leadership the local CEI committee, where they shared their situation and requested additional help. With a budget of 5000 dirhams ($625) per month, the Fes CEI provides food for this population, pays medical bills, and offers pastoral care. Many men are injured when they arrive, either due to their attempt to “cross over” orhaving been beaten by the authorities.
Following our meeting, we visited the places near the train station where I saw men with serious injuries including broken limbs and skull fractures. X-rays cost 250 dirham, and MRIs run 700 dirham, so the monthly aid stipend does not go far in helping with badly needed medical costs. Having previously been to Oujda, on the border with Algeria, where many refugees enter Morocco, I knew what to expect when meeting those in Fes. Vacant stares and unwelcome glances greeted us as we first approached. Upon seeing the familiar faces of the CEI volunteers, conversations slowly began. Men telling their stories, where they had come from, how long they had been in Morocco, their most recent attempt to “cross over,” and their current needs. We listened, asked questions, then listened somemore. Eventually Samuel Amedro (who was recently with us at HBC) or Karen Thomas Smith would pray before we departed. At such times, prayer seems so little, but it is what the church can offer in addition to material aid.
The primary purpose of my trip was to attend the General Assembly of the CEI in Rabat, which included not only the national leadership, but the coordinators from all the Protestant churches across the country. The Protestant Churches of Morocco are filled primarily with students, and they turn over about 25% of their members annually. And yet, here were young(er) adults, gathered to discuss policy and budgetary matters of great importance. Expressing their frustrations at the limits of budgets, awareness of the vast needs, and doing amazing work. What struck me was their commitment to helping others. Many are either full-time students or working full-time (in some cases both) and yet they are highly committed to helping others and passionate about their work. I was impressed and expressed my appreciation at how so few are doing so much with not enough resources to meet the needs.
I have often said that our Partnership Without Borders is not easy. It is not easy to establish and maintain relationships across the oceans and cultures which separate us. It is not easy to know how to best assist our partners in their ministry.
The problems of immigration, human trafficking, and racism can overwhelm us. But know that the challenges we face on our end in Kentucky pale in comparison to the challenges our sisters and brothers face in Morocco as they seek to care for “the least of these.” Our friends with the Protestant Church of Morocco send their greetings and give thanks for our partnership.
If you'd like to donate or purchase Christmas Cards (funds go to the direct care of migrants), click here.