The Children We Left Behind
by Edward and Lynn Padilla
In Morocco, being born out of wedlock is often a death sentence for the child. Men don’t acknowledge their illicit progeny, and women who want to keep their babies risk banishment from their families and society. That’s why the work of one Christian ministry, Village of Hope (VOH), has been so crucial – offering a community of foster homes where unwanted children can be taken in by couples from around the world who agree to live in Morocco and raise these babies as their own.
Edward and Lynn Padilla met in 1996 while preparing for a mission trip to work with Moroccan children. Ten years later, they moved there with their newborn daughter, Maggie, to learn Arabic and become house parents with VOH. Their son Ezra was born in Morocco, and they soon took in two other boys, Samir and Mouhcine, and enveloped them with the love of Christ.
Happy in their work for VOH, and delighting in their growing family, the Padillas hoped to live out their lives in Morocco. But that dream was dashed one Saturday morning in early 2010, when a slew of police cars pulled up in front of Village of Hope
Not to worry, the director told us: it was just a routine government inspection. Each staff member was questioned at length, and the interviews went all day and into the night. An officer wrote down our responses, and required us to sign the statements.
Next day, though, the police were back … this time, searching our home and that of some other families (we rented a house down the road from the VOH compound). They questioned our children, looking for evidence, apparently, that we privately mocked Muslim beliefs. Late that night, our director came to see us; the police were demanding our passports and residence cards. Reluctantly, we handed them over. After he left, a police car pulled into our driveway and blocked it. He was still there the following noon.
We called the American Embassy in Rabat to report what was happening. They just told us to stay alert and keep them posted. Edward was called in for more questioning, and then, late in the afternoon, both of us were summoned to the VOH compound. We left our children with some good Moroccan friends, and went down to join the other VOH staff in the big community room.
A government official was there with the police. He read a statement accusing us of breaking the national laws against proselytizing minors. That accusation immediately invalidated our right to remain in the country. We were being deported – without our adopted Moroccan children.
At that moment, in a nearby building, other officials were telling that to the little boys and girls. Many of them began to cry hysterically, and their parents rushed out to find and comfort them.
We drove up the road to our home in tears. We immediately called the embassy again, but this time they already knew what was happening, and told us we would have to comply. They did ask for more details of what had happened, and we hoped someone might be able to secure us a few days to pack and better prepare our boys for this radical change in their lives. But the next phone call told us a bus would be on hand shortly, and we’d have to leave right away.
Samir was barely 2 years old; Mouhcine was only 1. How do you explain to two toddlers that the only mother and father they’ve ever known are about to vanish – and it isn’t their fault? Would they even remember us? Would anyone care for them, love them, as we had? What would the people they grew up with tell our young boys about us?
Those were some of the thoughts crowding our hearts and minds as we hastily packed what few things we could carry, hurried down to the VOH, hugged our little boys goodbye, and placed them in someone else’s arms – perhaps never to see them again.
The police herded us onto a bus and rode with us to a hotel, where we waited a few hours for the first flight out of the country. The officers escorted us right up to the gate before handing back our passports. More than 40 of us were deported that day. We left 33 adopted children behind.
Although it was a privately funded institution, VOH had full government permission to take in children and provide for all of their needs – housing, medical care, education. The children we adopted would otherwise have been left to die in hospital wards, smothered in trash bags, or abandoned to the streets. VOH always took the greatest possible care to follow the strictest letter of Moroccan law: keeping meticulous files, working with local family courts, keeping birth certificate records and (where possible) the names of each child’s natural mother and father.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska represented our VOH families in an appeal to the Moroccan courts, but that appeal was denied. (Time magazine reported that what happened to us was part of "a widespread crackdown on Christian aid workers in Morocco.") Mr. Kiska also helped us as we testified before the International Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress. In both settings, he pointed out that none of the preconditions set out under Moroccan law for lawful deportation were met by the government officials who evicted us.
Sadly, at no time during any of the legal proceedings in Morocco did authorities show any real concern about the needs of the children themselves. For officials there, this is entirely a religious matter – by keeping us out, they hope to remove any chance that Christianity might somehow take root in their culture. Forcing these youngsters to be abandoned a second time is apparently a small price to pay for theological dogma.
"How do you explain to two toddlers that the only mother and father they’ve ever known are about to vanish – and it isn’t their fault?"
So now, here in the U.S., we wait, and hope, and pray. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, we are pursuing every possible avenue for bringing Samir and Mouhcine here to join us. For us, the memory of our boys is so painfully clear, and yet we know that after three years, memories of us are fading from their minds. News of them is hard to come by, but we have been told that Samir still asks for "Mommy" and "Daddy" when he sees the car we left at VOH.
Our little boy Ezra was too young to remember much about his brothers, but our girl, Maggie, still grieves the loss of Samir and Mouhchine. Like her, we love and miss our boys, and all of those 33 children we knew so well. We are thankful that some kind Moroccan workers are trying to care for them … we just know they can’t be parents to the children, as we were. Our family and so many others have been torn apart. It is our prayer that someday God, in His grace, will bring us back together again.