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The plane landed at Casablanca airport in Morocco. It was a hot afternoon and I can it was dusty from the plane window. I checked my passport; the custom agent congratulated me that I am a Hajj (one who did the pilgrimage to Mecca). I smiled in my heart and I wish I could tell him “Ya Right” – but had hold myself from telling him that I am a Christian and proud of it. I am sure that he would perhaps told me the engine of the plane is still warm. I simply smiled and he asked me if this is my first time to morocco – I knoded with yes – and he kept talking but I realized that I could not hear well as my left ear was still blocked due to the pressure changes with different attitudes during my flight.
I proceeded to pick up my luggage. I found them right away and rejoiced for God’s goodness to get both laggages “safe and sound”. Then, I proceeded to find the customs, there was one custom agent sitting behind the desk minding his own business as the travelers siz-zagged around the path made up before the customs. There were several “foreign” looking passengers ahead of me (not Moroccans for sure). The agent did not even look at them. Then I saw him breathing with life as he pointed his finger right at me and called me to proceed toward him.
“Salaam Alaikum” I said (Peace be with you). I figured that should tell him I am one of good guys. My mouth got dry, and my swelling got louder as he asked what do I have in my luggage. “Like what” I responded? Gifts?”. He said yes. I told him I have gifts of course as I am here to visit friends. “What kind of gifts are they” he shouted back? By then, I got really nervous, so I proceeded to tell him that I have books and CDs – lots of CDs as I am bringing them to friends and I may also visit my home country Lebanon right after Morocco. “You are Lebanese” – he shouted back. I said yes with a smile to keep drilling in him that I am good. The smile did not last too long “Open your luggage and show me”. My mouth got dryer. Thoughts quickly rushed through my head, am I going to be arrested?
I quickly opened my smaller luggage since it did not have as many books (I had with me 6 whole bibles, 50 CDs, 4 copies of Gospel of John and many Arabic Christian books ranging from bible commentaries to Christian living). I showed him first the stack of CDs – each has a label on them “Christian sermons and books by Pastor Yousef Costa including the whole Arabic Bible with Hymns”. He read the title out loud. Time started to move very slowly as somehow I am watching a movie but in slow motion. I thought this is it – this is what it really means to be arrested. [My mother in law must be praying hard for this moment].
“The injeel of our Lord Issa” he shouted in Arabic. I said yes. I did not think that was a good sign. “What else do you have?” I kept looking around in my luaggage through my clothes. I knew I hid one whole bible somewhere. I remembered it was in a side pocket with a zipper when I stuffed 2 whole Arabic bibles and few CDs. I opened the zipper and pulled one the Bibles. He read the title “The Holy Book”. My swelling was getting louder and drops of sweat were noticeable on my fore head. “Is this the Injeel of our Lord Issa?” – I responded with a yes and I proceeded to tell him in the Arab custom, it is yours (meaning I am offering it to him as a gift). He looked at me and said “really” – I said yes please it is yours a gift. “How about one of these CDs?” I said “Please take one as well”. “How about one these cassettes (I only had 2 of them and they contain Arabic Christian Hymns) – I said of course, you can take that as a gift (that sounded like I am doing him a favor ).
He took them and he rushed behind the door. I closed the luggage and waited. I was not sure what to do, wait or go. Is he calling for back-up? Well, with my body weight, I would not blame him if was calling for a backup! He came back out. I asked him “am I all set?” He said “yes, yes of course”. Please go! I did not hesitate. I put my luggage back on the cart and proceeded to push it. “Allah Maak” I shouted back to him (May God be with you). He thanked me with an Islamic salutation that I could not make it up since my hearing was weak from the plane ride.
I came out from customs to the reception room (Arrivals) and it suddenly hit me that I am in a purely Muslim land. Muslim men and women were all over the place – a sight that I love to watch. My eyes scanned the crowd for a white face with brown hair which is easily is distinguishable among the darker skin and black hair (or hats). I looked and looked but I could not find A***. Moroccan men started coming to me offering taxi or hotel service or all of other things which I could not understand. I kept going back and forth around the arrival section with my cart in front of me. I waited and waited. One hour passed by. I got a bit nervous perhaps A*** is waiting for me somewhere else. I noticed a sign for trains. I remembered him saying that he will be coming by train to pick me up. So I headed that way, perhaps he is waiting there. None. After an hour and half of waiting, I got a bit desperate. I prayed and reminded the Lord of His promises. I asked a man in the information booth if there is a pay phone with credit card. He pointed me toward one. I tried to use it, but it would not accept any of cards and I have all 4 of them (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and AE).
I circled the arrival area again and again scanning the crowd. No trace of A***! In desperation, I proceeded to think of a back-up plan (typical engineer). I said worst case scenario is to grab one of the buses of hotels and stay in a hotel until I locate my host. I looked for an Exchange office to exchange dollars for Darham (Moroccan currency). I bumped into a man who had an official ID on him. I figured he is an official and he is not going to sell me anything (there are lots of those). I told him I need to cash dollars so I can make a phone call. He grabbed my cart and he said follow me. I grabbed the cart back and told him I simply need to find an exchange place. He said he can use his phone card and can make the call for me. I knew I am in the hands of someone who is trying to take advantage of the situation specially that the Dollar sign was mentioned. I figured, I will let him use his phone card, and I will hand him few dollars.
He used his card and called the number for me. There was the answering machine. A*** is not picking up. I thanked him but now I needed to give him cash. Knowing that I had $20 dollar bills, I really needed to get to an exchange place to exchange currency. I did not want to give him $20 bill. Suddenly I saw the exchange office right behind the man as he was trying to convince me that he can help with the cart. I forced my way to the exchange place and cashed $40.00. The exchange rate was around $7.85 Darham for a dollar. So I got few coins of change and 2 on hundred Darham bills. The coins amounted for 3 dollars. I handed him the coins. he was not happy. That was too little he said. He pulled a 50 Durham bill and showed it to me. He wanted me to give him one of the 100 dirham bills I got for his 50 dirham bill. Now what I said. He nudged my hand with the 50 bill. Oh well I said to myself, at least he showed me how to use the phone system. I was getting desperately frustrated to make a phone call either international to my wife or locally to A***. I gave the 100 bill for the 50 bill – so he got around $7.00 not a bad tip for his salary.
I made one attempt to call A*** using Moroccan currency (no phone card) – no answer. I sat in a coffee shop and got some coffee. Cappuccino coffee is well known in Morocco, not the heavy Turkish coffee that I am familiar with. My thoughts kept playing the worst scenario, did I come to Morocco to be stranded? Well at least the Lord used it to get a bible to a precious soul and that comforted me.
I got up to make another round , suddenly I saw a familiar face – among the crowd. It was A*** – PTL! I shouted to him and we both embraced. “Inta Habibi” he said in Arabic (my dear brother -an Arabic expression to show intimate closeness). I responded you are too.Then he called shouted for S*** – a Muslim convert who was accompanying him. S*** is tall, skinny with a very dark complexion, something unusual for a typical Moroccan. We hugged, and he kept welcoming me and calling “my brother” welcome. A*** wanted us to rush to the train station to catch the train before it is too late. It is a 6 hours ride back to where he lives.
So we rushed to the train and I had this image of the train in India where the crowd hangs from the windows and on the roof tops. It turned out that the train was very modern and was well organized in Morocco. We had to change to another train heading from Casablanca to Tanja. Another Muslim convert joined us. A*** had told him to meet us there and join us for the ride back to Tanja. S*** is his name and he had to take a 4 hours bus trip to join us. We went into the first wagon- it was empty but very hot. There was no air circulation, we sat waiting for the train to move. It suddenly dawned at me that I am in a train in Morocco, sitting with 2 Muslim converts. What a joyous time! The train took off – it was a comfortable ride and we talked and talked about the Lord. S*** shared how A*** called him or mailed him. A*** had gotten his address from our ministry as S*** requested the NT from our ministry. Woww! I finally met someone who came to the Lord through our web sites.
My eyes kept wondering outside to watch the buildings and the cities we were passing. The houses reminded me of Lebanon and India. There was some very poor neighborhood we went through. The conversation got louder and louder about the Lord. I suddenly realized that there were Muslims sitting not too far from us listening. But a closer look, you can tell they were exhausted- they are fasting and they have been with no water or food all day! Good I said to myself – sleep well and let the train rock you to sleep! The fellowship of the saints was my dream come true – right in a Muslim land! Praise is name!