Christians' Expulsion Strains U.S.- Morocco Ties

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Members of the Village of Hope, a Christian organization devoted to caring for orphaned children, described before a congressional panel Thursday the brutal experience of being forced to leave behind the children they loved.

The Christian orphanage workers were deported from Morocco on the charge of proselytizing to minors - a claim the Christian have said is false.

"We just ask the question - Why are we treated as criminal for wanting to love these children?" asked Village of Hope foster parent Lynn Padilla.

Morocco is 99 percent Muslim, and it's against the law for other religions to proselytize in the north African country.

"The repatriation measures which concerned, among others, a number of American citizens, solely and exclusively targeted proselytism activities which are clearly and categorically forbidden by the laws of Morocco and the precepts of Islam," Aziz Mekouar, with the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, D.C., said in a released statement to congressional panel Thursday. Read the entire statement here.

The parents told lawmakers their stories of life in Morocco, their deportation, and their devotion to the 33 orphans in their care.

"We made a commitment of 20 years to take in up to eight Moroccan children," foster parent Eddie Padilla told the panel.

The workers said although they were watched closely by police, they had good relations with Moroccan authorities, colleagues and neighbors.

The deportation, they said, followed a brief and unexpected police investigation.

"Some of the children were asked to sit on the lap of the policemen and they were asked 'What is your religion?' To which several of my children answered, 'We are Christians.' What is the religion of a child and what right do we have to ask what religion it has?" Village of Hope Director Herman Boonstra said.

The Christians said the police charged them with proselytizing minors, and then gave them just a few hours to pack their bags and say goodbye to the children.

"One of my children touched my heart, because he totally closed inside of himself and didn't show any joy in his eyes -- as if he died right there," Boonstra said.

One lawmaker at the hearing described the deportation as unfortunate, and called for a re-thinking of U.S.-Moroccan relations.

However, for the orphanage parents, it's all about their children and knowing now little about their life - or what their future may hold.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.