An Unexpected Conversation in Casablanca

By Tom Castor | September 7, 2019 |

Casablanca is one of the most famous cities in the northern corner of West Africa. No one is certain when Casablanca (Al-Dār al-Bayḍāʾ in Arabic) was founded. A small village sat on the site as early as the twelfth century. It became a pirate base used to plunder ships, and so the Portuguese destroyed the city in 1468. The Portuguese returned to build a port there in 1515. The town was taken and abandoned by the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the French over the following centuries, always called “White House” in varying languages. Today, Casablanca is home to nearly 7 million people in the Casablanca-Settat region. It is also home to one of the most massive and most ornate mosques in the Arab world. Morocco is 99.8% Muslim, although there has been a Christian and Jewish presence there for several centuries. 

An Engaging Encounter

I landed in Casablanca on my return trip from Burkina Faso. I had made an appointment to meet a man named John, a South African who has been working among the Muslim people for more than 30 years. John and his family have had a part in pastoring international churches in both Casablanca and Marrakesh. He has also worked in a variety of evangelical projects all over Morocco. We arranged the meeting to discuss the material that Clear and Simple Media has developed – how to improve them and how to better shape them for this particular target audience.  

I had never met John before we had coffee together. As it turns out, John is quite well-connected in the evangelical community in that part of the world. His contacts are spread across North Africa and the Middle East in a variety of organizations. He has worked with “Brits, Australians, South Africans, the French, the Moroccans, and even some Americans.” I especially wanted to talk to John about the translation of the Travel Guide and the A Simple Word website into Arabic. 

A Complex Language

There are several challenges one faces in communicating the gospel to this part of the world. Aside from the obvious political obstacles, the language itself presents a problem. Linguists refer to Arabic as a macrolanguage comprised of up to 30 different dialects. The majority of Arabic speakers live in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, known as the Arab world. According to one source, there are 25 countries that claim Arabic as an official or co-official language: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. And then there are six sovereign states in which Arabic is a national language or recognized minority language: Iran, Turkey, Niger, Senegal, Mali, and Cyprus.

Because John has been where he is for so long, he has made connections with the lead translators for several Arabic translation projects. He is passing electronic versions of our materials on to them and will gather their insights and recommendations. John has already sent the eBooks to the leaders whom he believes will benefit most from them. He has also asked them to do the same.

A Promising Opportunity

From time to time, God in his providence arranges surprises for us. Before I left for West Africa, I had never heard of my new friend John. If it had not been for the inconvenience of a 10-hour layover in Casablanca, I would never have pursued the conversation. But, a few “shot-in-the-dark” emails sent to places where I had little connection produced one of the most productive conversations I have had in the past six months. 

Pray that God will use John’s influence and his lifetime of connections to help us. We believe that Arabic should be our focus for the next major translation project. But there are many decisions to be made, and a great many resources need to be assembled before we can proceed. We believe that our conversation in Casablanca has helped move us further in that direction.  

Tom Castor