Our team came to Morocco a number of years ago with the intention of sharing our faith through business, planting an underground church, and training Moroccan men for the ministry. We have been encouraged after seeing a number of people accept Christ, be baptized, and formed into a local, house church. Over the last year we have been working on forming an underground seminary with new believers being inspired by Bonhoeffer’s work in Finkenwalde during the Third Riecht’s rule of Nazi Germany.
In January at SGI in Detroit I presented eight reasons why we must flood Morocco now with church-planting disciplers. Those reasons included: Government persecution was at that time minimal, there was a receptiveness to foreigners unlike other parts of the Muslim world, and lastly there was limited time. I argued then that we do not know how much time we will have these advantages on our side. In March that question of time began to be answered.
On Sunday the 7th of March I returned home after our house church meeting to find in my email news that a fellow Christian pastor had been detained and then quickly expelled from the country. He had served the Lord here for 25 years. As I asked questions it became apparent that this was not an isolated case. The Moroccan authorities had begun a countrywide crackdown on Christian missionary work around the country. In just a few days they had expelled the entire foreign staff of a legal orphanage called Village of Hope operating in the Atlas Mountains. The news of the closing of the orphanage and the heart breaking re-orphaning of it’s 33 children was reported in the news of America and Europe. However, unless you are closely connected with someone in Morocco, you have not heard the whole story.
First, we must understand the scope of this campaign. Over 70 foreign Christian aid workers and “undercover” missionaries were expelled without warning or recourse of action during a three day time period from March 6-8. The campaign didn’t stop there. Since then Moroccan believers in all major cities have been harassed and threatened by the police in order to extract information about the underground church movement. One long time believer was arrested and beaten for three days before being released. This is unprecedented in Morocco. Never has such a concentrated effort been made by this government to suppress the freedom of worship of their citizens.
This campaign is known as “The Cleansing” of Morocco. Christian missionaries who have been operating in Morocco for over 30 years quietly sharing their faith are being dramatically removed. One secret police officer told a source, “We’ll cleanse the country of them one at a time until they are all out.” Joel Rosenberg’s claim in his book “Inside the Revolution” that Morocco is a “model” of religious liberty for other Muslim countries seems laughable today.
All of this attention is shocking Morocco into the realization that there are Christians and secret churches meeting among them. Most Moroccans have never met a Moroccan Christian nor had they even heard there was such a thing until recently. Christianity in Morocco was headline news in every newspaper and magazine for a solid week. One newspaper, Al Masaa has successfully spread the rumor that foreigner Christians have a goal to make Morocco 10% Christian by 2020. One of our Bible studies has been infiltrated by an Islamic group who then leaked my name and information about our church to a national newspaper. Islamic websites and chat rooms in Paltalk have exploded with threats to Moroccan pastors and evangelists.
Second, it would help us to know the cause of these events. The first is that the JDP (Justice and Development Party) is gaining strength in Morocco. The JDP is an Islamic fundamentalist political party. They have seats in parliament and have put pressure on the king to do something about the growing number of missionaries and Christians who have been growing in their boldness with the Gospel. The government is in a tight spot between the anger of Muslim radicals and the sensitivity of European tourists. The second cause is the appointment by King Mohammed VI of a new Minister of Interior Mohammed Cherkaoui and new Minister of Justice Khalid Naciri. These men were appointed in January and are seeking to make a statement.
Third, we must ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of this campaign?” The government of Morocco is trying to stop the rapid growth of the church in this Arab Muslim state. There is an estimated 3,000 believers in a country that had only 300 fifteen years ago. Their first action is to remove what they see as “the head” of the monster: the foreign missionaries. There is widely held belief that they prey on the poor, young, and unlearned. That is, however, far from the truth as Christian Moroccans come from all walks of life and social statuses. Their second course of action is to stop house church meetings by the intimidation of Moroccan believers with threats of imprisonment. Police and military have raided four house church meetings in the past year and half one time using up to 60 military personal. If they can succeed at these two goals then the church will cease to meet together. This, they know, will kill evangelism and discipleship in the local underground churches.
The last question is, “What should be our response?” This is a hard question with no easy answer but let me suggest a few answers straight from the Bible for consideration:
Pray- Acts 4:29
“And now Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.”
When the disciples were threatened they prayed that God would see the threats of the Jews and grant them boldness. Our prayer must be for boldness on the part of all believers in Morocco. Now is the time to stand for Christ and be known as Christians.
Is this happening? The answer is: For the first time, yes! Previously when young national Christians have been threatened they have backed down, promised to stop preaching, and even some fled the country. With a growing body of believers the Christians are standing their ground. I have heard of no one fleeing or promising to stop disseminating the Gospel. One young man in our church has been threatened just this week to be taken to prison for life. He has a visa to Europe in his passport but is not running.
Five believers (one from our church) recently gave a their testimonies for a Moroccan French-language magazine called Telquel using pseudonyms. One is speaking up for Christ on the radio. Others all over the country in every major city are sharing their faith with the police who are harassing them. Our church just added this promise to it’s members covenant this week, “We covenant to remember you when in persecution for Jesus’ name’s sake and the Gospel by visiting you in prison, defending you in court, and providing refuge and help when rejected by family. (Heb 13:3, Col 4:18)” The churches are not backing down.
Increase our commitment to send missionaries Acts 14:19-23
“And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
When Paul was stoned outside of Iconium and Antioch he returned into that city and a few days later returned a second time to continue the work of discipling the new believers and equipping them for ministry. The new believers and seekers in Morocco are in need of men like Paul to disciple them and encourage them. For every missionary that is kicked out we must send two in his place.
Is this happening? We have yet to see. For those considering missions, why don’t you consider coming to Morocco or another CAN (Creative Access Nation) for a term? Like Paul, don’t plan on staying forever. Plan on making such an impact for Jesus that you’ll be asked to leave. We have been here less than a term. When we leave, involuntarily, I believe there will be fruit that remains. God can do great things with someone willing to give three to four years amongst Muslim peoples.
Train national believers in bold, costly discipleship Acts 14:19-23
Paul, upon returning to the cities where he had been stoned, became the example for the believers in suffering for Jesus. He did not pity them in their suffering but confirmed that many sufferings would come on our road to the kingdom of God. We cannot obey Christ without suffering and we cannot train others to do what we are not willing to do.
Suffian, one of the young men we are training, took a trip 12 hours south into the mountains to meet a new believer from his same tribe who lives in city of over 200,000 with no church! This new believer asked Suffian, “If you know a pastor who would come please ask him to. We need a church.” Many believers in Muslim countries are risking their lives every day as they stand for Jesus but the churches are struggling with few trained, sacrificial, Christ-like leaders.
Focus on media evangelism and discipleship
The majority of believers in North Africa have come to Christ through TV, Radio, and/or internet. In this international connected age there is no country who can keep out a determined and techno savvy missionary. Even people in Saudi Arabia have Facebook!
The command is still to go. The order has not been rescinded. The dullness of the suburban dream of American Christians must give way to the pursuit of His command to reach every creature with the Gospel message.