My first Christmas in Morocco, last year, was quite emotional.
Here’s what I mean by that: I am ministering in a beautiful country, rich in history and culture, which is also a Muslim country which is not celebrating the birth of our Lord, yet acknowledges His ministry as a prophet.
But, you know, I still felt like something was missing. The Christmas songs playing non-stop on radio stations, Christmas movies on TV, decorations full of lights and colors, the smell of natural Christmas trees, the avalanches of snow and cold (I’m from Montreal, Canada!)… I missed that! Until I questioned myself about why we are celebrating Christmas and even the meaning of Advent!
We are now in the time where we are commemorating the waiting before Jesus’ birth. Our Savior’s birth. The more I think of it, the more I believe Morocco is the best place to celebrate it, and it is also where Advent has a deeper meaning.
The Protestant Evangelical Church of Morocco is a church full of Africans coming from Sub-Saharan Africa and who are seeking refuge, in a way, because it is where they most feel like home. This church also welcomes migrants who are escaping from their country searching for hope, salvation, and peace ideally in Europe. Pregnant women, children, very young men and young women are paving the streets of Morocco almost like walking ghosts looking for their Christ, for a destination they are not even sure they will be able to get to alive.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ ” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
“Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place, He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord.” (Zechariah 6:12-13)
In the majority of local churches in the Protestant Evangelical Church of Morocco there is not a special celebration of Advent. However, in Oujda (a city in Northern part of Morocco), where my husband and I are serving, since we are nested in a Catholic Church, we are have the opportunity to live Advent with our Catholic brothers and sisters.
To me, Morocco symbolizes Advent, where the migrants and the strangers come to wait. It is where they are holding on to a promise… A hope... They are waiting for Emmanuel, their God with them… But they are in the wilderness. This is the time and place where their need for Him cries the loudest.
There are even those who are not necessarily thinking about risking their lives in crossing the waters towards Europe, they are here to study in the hope of gaining something that they can’t find in their own country; a valuable education. Even though many of them, are still thinking of escaping their homeland after they are done with their program... They are thinking of Europe, America, or anywhere that offers more than what they left.
And while they are waiting, they are not inactive. Most of them are fighting for their lives, most of them are suffering physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. Many have been abused either on their way here or after they have arrived in Morocco, and are putting out their last drop of energy out, knowing that their salvation is right around the corner.
So when we think of it, and when we get rid of all the artificial things to decorate our celebration, the reason for this season, here in Morocco, Advent is about the waiting… For a Savior, for Help, for Love, for Hope! And the beautiful thing about it, is that many of us can be seen as Jesus in this celebration. We are branches, we are hands, and we are the help that God has sent here to assist those who are waiting!
Apart from serving the national church, my husband and I also have the privilege to work with young students in Oujda’s parish. These young people between the age of 18 and 25 years old are thirsty for something common, and we are thankful that the church is here to welcome them. Some of them feel lost and are seeking help and a safe place. They are waiting. We are humbly present in their lives and we are forever thankful for beautiful relationships that are created through this ministry.
Along with many sisters and brothers here who are committed to serve the least of these, we have this privilege to end the waiting. We are graced to give them a cup of water in their wilderness, and to love them as the Jesus we all once waited for, loved us. All this is possible thanks to your gifts, prayers and support!
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Emmanuela and Fritz-Gerald are members of Église Pentecôte Missionnaire de Prières, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Canada. They currently serve with the Evangelical Protestant Church of Morocco. Their appointment is supported by Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund, and your special gifts.