Scatterlings of Africa: Friday 10/7/11

We completed our tour of CEI partners on a hot Friday in Rabat.  This morning, our group split as John and Marilyn Sanders stayed at the church in Rabat with Karen to meet with over 20 migrants who had various medical needs.  Their basic medical assessments helped the CEI to determine that 17 people needed updated or new prescriptions for drugs.  Their morning was well spent using their wealth of medical knowledge.  As the eldest members of our group, the Sanders have been a wonderful blessing to all of us.

The rest of our KBF group traveled with Diachari and Angels to a local migrant home.  There we encountered Mogarash who had to flee Congo due to conflict.  Before he fled, he was beaten and hit over the head - which left him with some temporary paralysis.  He was able to receive refugee status in Cameroon with his wife and children, but he needed medical attention.  He choose to come to Morocco because of the better medical opportunities for him while leaving his family in Cameroon.  We listened to his story, sitting in his 8x8 room he rents for ~$75 a month.  He is unable to move on his own very well, often having to crawl to and from where he needs to be.  Though we sat with him, prayed with him, helped with this month's rent; we still left sensing that our meager "God bless you" really does nothing to change the reality that his Saturday will be the same as it has been for every day of his life for the last year and a half.  

Our group combined again during the afternoon as we met with two more CEI partners, FOO (Foundation Orient-Occident) and IOM (International Organization for Migration.  After a brief rest, we met back at the Rabat church for a combined worship service with the local migrant congregations.  Seven pastors, including our own Mark Howell preached a brief sermon while each congregation’s choir sang.  It was a wonderful night of worship in word and song.

The reality that our trip is coming to a close is starting to set in.  We are anxious to see family again, but we are not anxious to leave these challenges and stories that are now apart of our us.  We will start to debrief and explore how we can work together as individuals and churches with CEI as well as advocate for the needs of migrants and refugees.

Scatterlings of Africa: Thursday 10/6/11

EEAM, EKIR, and KBFAdventures in taxi's, visiting sights, and a long but productive day of meetings with partners is what Thursday held for us here in Rabat, Morocco.  After a good night of rest at our hotel in the downtown area, we traveled by taxi to EEAM/CEI Vice President Anne Marie's home - a lovely Moroccan home overlooking the mausoleum of King Mohammed V.  Our taxi's decided it would be fun to drop us in various locations so that we could play a rousing game of "Marco Polo".  After our game was completed, we quickly visited the mausoleum before returning to Anne Marie's home where members of the EEAM, the Julich District of the EKIR and our KBF team met to discuss the future of our partnership as it relates to funding for 2012-2013.  This was an energizing time for us we learned more about our respective congregations and the vision EEAM has for Morocco. our time concluded with the traditional Moroccan meal:couscous - tres magnifique!

The afternoon and evening including many meetings with CEI leadership and various NGO (non-governmental organizations) partners of CEI.  We began by meeting the trainers for the Professional Formation Program - the third of the three emphases of CEI.  The upcoming session (only the second time as they just started) will include training for auto mechanic's and carpentry/upholstery in Rabat.  In Casablanca training will include clothing design, hair styling, and sewing.  The trainers who are migrants (sans papier - without papers) will lead other migrants to learn a useable skill that can be utilized for basic income.  The training only allows for a total of 20 people and will last for three months, meeting every Monday - Thursday for eight hour a day.  Much of the funding for this project is provided through the German partnership of the Julich District of the EKIR.  The training program works well because there is great desire to learn, which is the motivation for the project.  Through this, people are taught to live by their own hands, a much needed skill for these people in the shadows.

In the late afternoon and evening, we meet at the office of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. There we learned about the necessary steps needed for asylum seekers to take in Morocco.  We also learned that currently there are 754 recognized refugees (those within the border of Morocco legally - with papers) living in Morocco.  The work of the UNCHR is crucial for human rights across the world and we are grateful for their time with us this evening.  Over dinner we met with one final group - Caritas (Catholic Charities) who also partner with CEI to help provide emergency medical assistance as well as food aid, rent and a host of other services in the area.  Our night was book-ended with a final fun-filled taxi ride home to our hotel.

Meeting with so many on this day who hold a common concern for our shared humanity continued to renew our hope, though it also continues to raise questions for us as to how we must continue to enter into the stories of others here on the continent of Africa.  We must find ways to be bold and to encourage ourselves find solutions together for refugees and migrants in Morocco, in the US, and for the rest of our world.

Scatterlings of Africa: Wednesday 10/5/11

University students waiting to be interviewedOur group spent the majority of Wednesday traveling from Oujda to Rabat.  Though the drive was tiring, it was good for us to spend the day fellowshipping and learning more about one another.  Upon our arrival and check-in at the hotel in Rabat, we immediately arrived at the Rabat church which is in the heart of the capital city of Morocco.  

Tonight the CEI Leadership Team emphasized the scholarship assistance portion of their program.  African students who come to Morocco legally as students are often sent from their home by family, friends and villages who use many of their financial resources to get them to Morocco.  Additionally, these students receive various scholarships from their home country for attending the university in Morocco in exchange for their return back to their country to work after they earn their degree.  Unfortunately, the money is not enough for them to afford school, rent, food and basic needs.  When the money runs out at the end of the month, often these students will choose to go days without food so that they can stay in school and pay their portion of the rent.  This is where the CEI helps as they offer scholarship assistance

The scholarship assitance CEI offers is to those who are in their final years of school, yet have ran out of financial resources to complete their coursework.  CEI distributes funds it receives in partnership from the Julich District of the EKIR (Protestant Church of Germany) and through KBF/CBF.  The CEI leadership team receives and processes applications for these scholarships and then interviews the applicants.  Tonight in Rabat, we representated the KBF and three representatives of EKIR from Germany were present to assist in the interview process.  

After yesterdays disturbing testimonies which left us filled with hoplessness and anger, our evening ended with an overflow of joy as we met so many young African students who are working so hard to educate themselves and make a better life for their family.  We heard story after story from these young people who had projects and ideas on how they will make the world a better place - if only they can complete their education with a little assistance.  These students we met are not unlike any student studying at Georgetown College, the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky or any academic instituion in the US.  They are full of hope, they are full of ideas, they are representatives of the uncharted future.  

We are pleased to know we played a very small part for these students who will receive assistance to comlpete their coursework.  We are pleased to know that tonight in the sanctuary of Rabat, we were part of casting a more fully alive vision of God's kingdom at work today in the world.

Scatterlings of Africa: Tuesday 10/4/11

St. Louis Parish where Oujda EEAM congregation meetsToday in Oujda has been the most powerful and disturbing day of our trip as our group encountered the real-life conditions of so many sub-Saharan Africans living in Oujda as immigrants.  Our day has challenged us to balance the extremes of life - the extremes of wealth versus poverty, the extremes of having answers verses being filled with questions, the extremes of being filled with great joy versus being filled with great anger.

This morning we began our day at our beautiful hotel in Oujda with a European breakfast outside by the palm-tree lined pool followed by a time of devotion and sharing about our hopes for this day.  We then split into two groups in order to visit immigrants who live in areas on the outskirts of the city.  It was through these early morning experiences that we encountered real stories about the long-journeys of men, women and children fleeing from their countries because of economic disparity, war, famine and other heart-wrenching testimonies. The reality of our privilege as Americans and as wealthy, white foreigners became quite apparent as we met with these who fight every moment of every day not only for survival, but to be recognized as a fellow human beings worthy of love and mutual respect.  Our morning disturbed us into challenging conversations and to begin to imagine how in the world we accompany these who suffer.  At the same time we questioned how to challenge the very systems that imprison so many sub-Saharan Africans.

During the afternoon and early evening, our group met with key partners who work with the Oujda CEI team. The OMDH (Moroccan Human Rights Group) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) play important roles in helping the basic needs of this Africans in Morocco.  Our conversations with them provided more understanding as well as new questions for how we can interact with other partner agencies in Oujda and beyond.  

Our day ended with a nice meal for us to debrief and discuss what has weighed so heavy on our minds and hearts today.  We are leaning heavily on one another as well as God's spirit to guide us.  May we be found faithful with what has been shared with us on this day.

Scatterlings of Africa: Monday 10/3/11

Our group of eight said goodbye to Hotel Maamoura in Casablanca, loaded into two vans and hit the road headed for Oujda at 8:30am.  Halfway through our 10-hour drive, we stopped in Fez to meet with the CEI leadership at the Fez congregation.  Karen and Kevin drove from Ifrane to meet us so that Karen can travel with us the rest of the week.  We enjoyed a nice lunch in the heart of Fez before boarding our vans to continue our trek across Morocco on the autoroute.  

While traveling by van, CEI Secretary General Diacahari led our van in a conversation about the history of CEI and their work with the EEAM as a partner organization.  We learned a great deal about the new organizational structure that Diachari has brought to this partnership as well as the projects they emphasize, such as emergency assistance for refugees, scholarship assistance for college students, and workplace training.  Diachari, who is supported fincially through CBF, KBF, Highland Baptist Church, EEAM, and the EKIR (German Protestant Church) is doing a tremendous job leading this vital work with the International Aid Committee in Morocco.

Our group arrived in Oujda after 8pm on Monday.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal at a local restaraunt serving traditional Morccan food which ended with Moroccan mint tea.  The CEI team from Oujda joined us and we learned more from this group including Voice United almuni Rachel, who is beloved by so many already.

Our server pouring Moroccan Mint Tea

On Tuesday we explore Oujda and meet those who live in the area utilizing the services of CEI.  Our minds, hearts and bodies have been opened in ways we could not have imagined already.  We are being challenged to imagine what the world would look like if every need was truly met by the Church.  We are being challenged to consider how we might go the distance to finish God's call upon our lives to move forward in this partnership with Morocco.

Scatterlings of Africa: Sunday 10/2/11

We found Mickey Mouse on the beach in Casablanca, MoroccoAfter a long Friday evening and Saturday morning of travel - the Scatterlings of Africa group of eight arrived in Casablanca, Morocco around 4pm Saturday, October 1st.  Jan Causey (Buechel Park, Louisville), Roger Jasper (Living Faith, Elizabethtown), Mark Howell (First Baptist, Frankfort), John & Marilyn Sanders (Highland, Louisivlle), Keith Stillwell and Shawna Stomberger (Lexington Avenue, Danville) and I were treated to a wonderful dinner at the church in Casablanca consisting of traditional Moroccan fare - tajine.

Sunday morning we worshipped with the French-speaking congregation in Casablanca.  Roger Jasper gave the sermon with the help of translation from Ann Marie, friend and Vice-President of the CEI (International Aid Committee) who leads the work with refugee population through EEAM.  

In the afternoon we gathered for lunch at La Teranga Sengaliase where we enjoyed a traditional meal from Senagal.  Diachari - our host and president of the CEI (Diachari is funded in part through CBF/KBF funds) - and Espiranza took us on a walking tour of the more popular area of Casablanca near the beach.  We finished our afternoon with a visit to the the Grand Mosque of Hassan II, one of the most beautiful sites in the country.

Tomorrow we travel again, this time to the Eastern-most part of the country to Oujda where we will visit with key leadership working with CEI.  We appreciate your prayers and your concerns for our team.  Hope to share more about our trip in a couple of days.