ENGLEWOOD - They knew it was a possibility, but never really believed it would happen to them. Eddie and Lynn Padilla say their family was torn apart when the Moroccan government deported them and other Christian workers at an orphanage in the Islamic country.
Now they worry about the future for little Samir and Mouhcine, the two Moroccan boys they were raising.
"If I think about it too much I just start crying. I look at their pictures and I just can't believe that I'm not with them," Lynn Padilla said.
She and her husband Eddie Padilla moved to Morocco 4 years ago to work at the Village of Hope in a rural area about 5 hours northeast of Casablanca. The orphanage in the village of Ain Leuh took in children who were usually abandoned because they were born out of wedlock. They are children who might have otherwise died or been left to fend for themselves living on the streets.
"We knew that God was calling us to that. It was just a feeling in our hearts. We saw the need," Eddie Padilla said.
The Padillas and 14 other overseas volunteers from Europe and South Africa were taking care of 33 orphaned children. Some of the couples had been there 10 years with valid visas. They say the government had approved the plan for the Village of Hope when it opened. Then on March 8th police showed up and informed the foreign workers they would have to leave within hours. Eddie Padilla said it was heart wrenching to leave his Moroccan children. Samir, only 2-years-old, didn't understand what was happening but knew it wasn't good.
"He jumped back into my arms and said I want to go with you daddy. I just held him, and I had to put him back," Eddie Padilla said.
The Village of Hope workers are accused of breaking the Moroccan law against converting Muslims. Christian organizations and some U.S. Embassy staff there have told reporters they are seeing a crackdown on Christian workers. Morocco's Communications Minister Khalid Naciri told reporters that the government would be "severe with all those who play with religious values." He also called Morocco a land of tolerance and said Christians can live and worship there as long as they don't proselytize.
A professor of religion and international politics at the University of Denver says this is an example of religious intolerance that has plagued the planet for thousands of years.
"There's a long history of this. We are going through a particularly ferocious Islamic version of it which is very distressing, but we should not forget that we are not clean either in terms of what has happened in history," Professor Arthur Gilbert said.
"This is precisely how countries were built in western Europe," Gilbert explained. "In France, the Catholics drive out the Protestants after religious wars, in something called the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In England, the Protestants take over and suppress the Catholics. In Spain, they go after everybody who is not a member of the Roman Catholic church. That's the inquisition."
"Because Islam found itself in a position of defensiveness against a vibrant and technologically superior West, you get, in effect, areas where people are going to protest and they're going to fight back," Gilbert said.
"Is it going to get better? Countries become tolerant after they are, in effect, thriving and they don't feel threatened," Gilbert said.
That may be a long time away in a place like Morocco. Still, the Padillas hold onto hope that maybe they could be reunited with their sons.
"We really hope that the king of Morocco would open up a dialogue with us at least," Eddie Padilla said.
He and the other workers at the Village of Hope deny breaking Morocco's law against proselytizing. They say even though they are Christians, their Moroccan children still went to a government-approved school and learned Islam.
For more about the Village of Hope and its official reaction to the deportations, visit http://www.voh-ainleuh.org/.
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