by Guest Blogger, Brett Nirider
In October 2022, Brett and Juanita Nirider led a team to serve in Morocco. This is the second of two posts from their experience.
After five days of teaching in Sidi Ifni, we are traveling up into the rugged terrain of the surrounding countryside. Our fearless and skilled leader Jeff, covered in the prayers of many, drives us all carefully along narrow bumpy twisty curvy roads. We are immersed in land of Biblical character, as if we coul d expect to see Jesus and his followers gathering together on one of the nearby hillsides.
It is harsh land. There is very little water, and where the water is, a surprise of green blesses us. The donkeys, dogs, sheep and goats somehow find sustenance amongst the rocks, sand, and thorny plants.
The primary livelihood of this area is the gathering of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. It produces fruit but once per year, so the opportunities for financial success are quite limited. Added to that has been the death of much of the cacti over the past few years. When we traveled here three years ago to see and celebrate the new beginnings of the center in Sebouya, the plants were prolific, green and as lush as a cactus can be. Since then, however, something has happened to their crop, and most of the plants are withered, shrinking into strange shapes that resemble people in odd positions or strange animals posing weirdly. It’s a surreal sight.
I did a little research and found that the prickly pear is not indigenous to this area but was introduced as a potential food and income source. It proved to be well adapted to the area and soon took off too well. Other areas of the country did not want the intrusive prickly pear invading their agricultural spaces. The government set upon a plan to limit the spread by introducing a small insect from South America that feeds on the cactus. The meddling of man can sometimes produce more trouble, and this proved to be the case here in southern Morocco. The insect continues to work its way through the region, which is also suffering from a prolonged drought. We have also learned that the government of Morocco is very interested in obtaining these lands for the development of potential mineral resources. Where that leaves the people who somehow find a way to survive in this barrenness upon barrenness of land remains uncertain. While they are here, though, we know that we have been called to help.
This is the center that was started only three years ago, when we were last here, the one with the motto of “Do Something.” They work in a very small space for classes and another that measures less than 200 square feet for therapy, and they serve 47 children weekly. It seems they are doing a lot of something.
Because the spaces are too small for teaching, they have moved us into another building for the day. It looks to be a type of community center with a large open area, two smaller rooms, and a room that doubles as a storage space for rolled up rugs and at times perhaps a kitchen. There is stone everywhere, and the larger room where we are to be teaching and working with our students is loud. The sound reverberates. We wince with the cacophony of people coming and going. People are there to see Dr. Ellen and Lori here as well, so there is coming and going, crying, seeking. Even the murmurs of people in need echo across the space. This simply won’t work for the noise-sensitive children with autism we know will be arriving.
We gather our students together in the space of the rolled-up rugs. The workers there eagerly spread a few of those rugs out for us on the floor. The dust in the air shimmers in the warm golden light coming through a grated opening in the roof. Our interpreter Souliman sneezes and struggles to breathe. Allergic to dust, he continues on because the needs of the children that day are more important than his discomfort. We all struggle with the dust a little, but the space is quieter, much quieter.
Our first little girl of the day takes a shine to Molly. She’s a mover, a climber, a delightful seeker of squeezing, bouncing, climbing, joyously exploring the space. The jumble of rolled up rugs is just part of the fun. Molly invites the student who is most familiar with the girl to enter into the play, and she moves from one to the other, developing trust, the kind of trust that leads to relationships and not isolation. Her father joins the fun, and the delighted little girl uses her daddy as a tree to climb, a rock to stand upon, a horse to ride. It’s beautiful to watch.
Next comes Yousef, a twelve-year old boy brought in by his older sister. He is tight and twisted to one side, his gaze seemingly permanently stuck to the right. I bring him onto my lap, encouraging his left hip to relax so that he can sit without pain. Soon he is moving a little more freely, and the tight muscles of his neck give way to a softness that seems more comfortable for him.
The grated opening in the roof of the space is covered by thick pieces of cardboard held in place by rocks. There is a gust of wind, and another. The wind finds an unsecured edge of the cardboard and lifts it, then slams in into the grate. The noise is disruptive at first, but as I work with Yousef, I’m reminded of Jesus, when his conversation with the religious leaders is interrupted by the sound of a ceiling being opened so that friends of a man who couldn’t walk could lower him from the roof. There was no way for them to get him in to see Jesus through the door because of the large crowd of people there. The sound of banging from an opening in the roof became strangely familiar and comforting as Yousef and I worked.
Joyce helps him to bring his eyes to the middle, his gaze no longer stuck. His breathing changes, deeper, longer, as his ribs move with the rhythm of each breath. He is relaxed and nods “yes” when asked if his body feels better. We finish with him sitting with my legs under his body, his feet quietly resting on the floor, no longer pushing, his hands open and relaxed.
The next day we travel to another village, Tioughza, this one known for its honey. This center has only been open for 20 days! After working with the students in Sidi Ifni we know this group to be earnest and hard-working. We find our space and get to work, as do our super docs. Aurora, Jeff’s wife, and Scott, Ellen’s husband support the medical team and honestly anything that we need as well. They keep the days running smoothly. Jeff orchestrates, working with the local and regional leaders. Nora, who started all of this, seems very pleased.
We see more children and teach as we do so. Molly, Joyce, and Juanita continue their work of love and skill. The students are so very grateful. We help them learn how to use some new equipment they’ve just received. They are tired, the room is hot and stuffy, and it is time to be done. There are promises from the government to build a new and larger center for them in the next year. They have started from scratch just 20 days ago.
We gather together one last time outside the building on a rough patch of dirt that slopes downhill. They have set up desks from the center that now serve as tables, and we sit down on plastic chairs. Delicious sweetbreads are spread before us. A donkey meanders the street just above us, chased away by children trying to play in the same space. In this most humble of places, words of gratitude flow over us. We receive certificates for our service. We feel blessed over and over again. We part with hugs and some tears. We must also say farewell to our interpreters. Souliman gives to me his Moroccan wallet, with which he has traveled much of the world, and tells me that it has meant a great deal to him, but he wants me to carry it now.
For the past several days we have enjoyed dinners at a beachside restaurant in Sidi Ifni. As we finish the last day, we find ourselves there one more time. By this time, we know the menu by heart. The food is secondary. What matters is the fellowship of good work done with love and grace. Most of us take off our shoes and walk briefly into the Atlantic. The tide is returning, and surprises us and brings laughter. The emotions of the days here wash over me like the waves. My tears have mingled with the dry dirt of this place and now the ocean restores me with joy.
by Guest Blogger, Brett Nirider
In October 2022, Brett and Juanita Nirider led a team to serve in Morocco. This is the first of two posts from their experience.
We have now completed four very busy days of teaching in Sidi Ifni, Morocco. We have one more day here, then will spend the next two days visiting centers in more remote areas, one of which was just beginning when were last here in 2019, the other brand new, full of promise and hope for the children who will be served there.
Our arrival here was complicated by long flight delays in Seattle, finally making it to Paris too late to board our scheduled departure to Casablanca. Thanks to the help of a very kind and persistent Air France representative named Lauren LeMeur and a two-hour long wait in line, we made it out of Paris. I looked up “le meur” for its English translation; it means “the great.” She saved the day for us by booking all seven of us on a later flight. We arrived in Casablanca later and more tired than expected, but thanks to Lauren the Great we made it.
After 28 hours of very limited sleep, we enjoyed a restorative sleep in Casablanca, then departed early Sunday morning for a long drive south, through agricultural areas, mountains, dry terrain that seemed to grow nothing but rocks, and finally the Atlantic coast.
Sidi Ifni is a city of about 23,000 inhabitants that sits upon a promontory looking over the ocean. It seems to be a popular destination for European surfers, and the juxtaposition of the free-spirited surfers, men and women, their hair tousled about all willy nilly by the wind and the waves, with the more traditional garb of Moroccan men and women is fascinating.
We have been teaching in one of the centers started as an association of families with children who have disabilities of various types. These families form bonds of encouragement and affirmation as they strive to provide desperately needed services for their children in areas where there have been none. They usually start by renting a small house. Many of the parents become the staff. Most of the workers have about 3 years of high school education, but more importantly they have passion and steadfast commitment to their children. Once they have begun providing services, the Moroccan government will often step in to help provide funding for a larger center and may even help with the costs of hiring staff.
We are here to help these very neophyte servants grow in their ability to meet the needs of children who would otherwise have nothing. Three years ago, when we traveled to a remote mountain village to visit their emerging center, the banner on the wall proclaimed in Arabic, “Do Something!” And so, they did. And we try to help them become better at that “something.”
They are enthusiastic learners. The rooms are hot, and the colorful cloth wraps that enshroud the women, the mehlfas, provide challenge upon challenge for trying to move and to learn movement in ways that create new problem-solving opportunities for us in our teaching. They remain exuberant, clapping with successful demonstrations of a transitional movement up from the floor as if we had just performed a major symphonic masterpiece. They’re wonderful, and we love working with them.
Molly and Joyce spend their days upstairs helping the students to better understand the complexities of children with autism and sensory processing challenges. There are many such children here and from the other adjacent communities from which the children are being transported each day. Our students are eager to learn more about their children. Their neuronal synapses are bulging at the seams with the new information they are absorbing. It’s fun to sneak upstairs when we can to watch our colleagues perform their magic of relationship with the children and with the students.
Juanita and I are working with those who strive to help children with movement challenges. Hence, we are moving up, moving down, moving all around, trying to stay cool in our very light clothing while our Moroccan friends don’t seem to be affected at all by the heat, even in their multiple layers of garments. Our Scandinavian attributes are not favorable to us in this climate, even in October when it is supposedly 30 degrees cooler than the summer.
Because the children are being bussed in from some of the other communities in the region, we don’t really know who will be showing up and who might help us in our teaching, being willing to work with us in front of the students. We pray for good learning opportunities but also that the children may be blessed by these encounters. We’ve been blessed.
Imane is 22 years old. She arrived at the center on Tuesday to see one of our medical staff, Ellen MD, or Lori ARNP, and then bravely volunteered to help us teach the class. Because Imane is a young woman, and being sensitive to the cultural expectations here, Juanita stepped forward to work with her while I assisted. She shared with us a little of her life, her sisters, her cat, what she liked to do, and her pain. Twenty-two years of tightness in muscles that shouldn’t be so tight to make up for weakness in muscles that shouldn’t be so weak had resulted in malalignment and pain in her shoulder, ribs, and in her neck every night and nearly every day. Yet her spirit was strong, her countenance gentle and open to hope.
Matching her gentleness, Juanita provided soft encouraging movements that soon led Imane to sitting with more symmetry, to being able to reach farther on her right side than she had before, and to decreasing tightness and relieving some of her pain. She left as quietly and gently as she had arrived, but we hoped for the prospects of a better sleep uninterrupted by pain ahead for her.
Our interpreters have been really and truly wonderful. Each of them have met the children and staff with as much enthusiasm and loving kindness as we, and they have made us better at what we are doing here. Our assigned interpreter has been Souliman, or Soul, who is 33 years old and has traveled much of the world. He has been in business with real estate but decided that wasn’t a good match for him. He now owns some property outside his hometown of Guelmin where he plans to start an organic farm. Juanita and I think that’s all fine and good and wish him well in his endeavors to do so. However, he really should be a pediatric therapist. He engages with the children so naturally playfully, as if he were an extension of us. He practices the movements with the other participants and helps with the teaching and is really good at it. He shared with us that he, indeed, is reconsidering his career options based upon his time with us.
We learned that up until Friday the week before we were to start teaching on Monday, while we were in the air and traveling to Morocco, we had no interpreters. After much prayer, and unbeknownst to us that there had ever been this potential setback, there they were, our interpreters from Heaven, each of them an answer to prayer.
The next day we had Yessin come visit us. He’s a twelve-year-old boy, but much smaller than for his age. His smile is brilliant. He wants to be able to walk better and loves to play football (soccer). We discover all kinds of great things about his body that he didn’t know he could do, and his smile becomes even brighter. He loves the work, and Soul becomes part of the dance, encouraging, playfully inviting harder work, leading chants of his name with the course participants joining in. Other children who are there to see our medical staff peer in through the open window or bravely sneak into the room and join in the chants. It is spiritual. Yessin kicks the soccer ball harder than he ever has before and takes longer steps than he thought he could. He shares with Soul afterwards that his body feels “Perfect!” Soul explains to us that the word that he used in Arabic is one that is often used by older people, and truly means, “Complete.” I love this work. One of our trainees, a young mom of three, relates, through her own tears, how Yessin’s mother was moved to tears seeing her son walk so tall and confidently, and so different from how he had arrived.
Our medical super-docs Ellen, MD and Lori, ARNP continue to see and care for countless children and adults who are brought in by bus. For many it is the first time they’ve ever seen a doctor. They meet each seemingly insurmountable situation with the most important prescription: loving touch, listening hearts, and smiles. Because of limited resources here, their toolboxes aren’t quite as big as they would be back home. Thanks for a generous donation of a local benefactor, they are able to prescribe some medications and other services. Even though medical resources are few, tenderness is unlimited. Each encounter is closed with abundant gratitude.
There was a television crew that came through one day, along with leaders, politicians, and who knows who else. We continued with our work as best we could. Some of our students who tended to sit back and watch were especially attentive though. We all want to be seen in the best possible light. We’ve heard that we were on Moroccan national TV that night. We couldn’t get our hotel TV to work.
On the last day Imane showed up again. She told Juanita that she hadn’t had any pain since her last session. After 22 years, maybe she had found something that helps. We tried to help her some more. It was easier for her to move her body in ways that she had not been able to for 22 years, and she needed less help to do so. She provided another lesson to our eager class, and to us.
When I think about how quickly the past 22 years in my life have passed, and how full those years have been, I am grateful for all they have included. I am thankful that those years have been relatively free of physical pain. I have enjoyed the freedom of movement and using my abilities to enhance those of others. Imane’s situation has been very different. Born with challenges, enduring each day, anticipating that each day will bring pain, not freedom, she has continued on.
These centers, these warm and loving people, we pray will help lovely people such as Imane and Yessin live their best lives, that their movements will be easier, that strength will grow and pain will lessen. Twenty-two years is far too long to wait.
We will come back. There are plans for more multiple trainings per year over the next several years. We are honored and blessed to be included in this work.
For now we prepare for two final days in more remote villages where there are even fewer resources. There are, however, eager learners, caring hearts, and nascent centers just waiting to do good work. In 22 years, I will be 87. I don’t know if we will still be able to do this work then, but I hope that by doing so now, we could come back in 22 years and see something amazing.
One in four children in Pierce County is hungry. A school cafeteria may be the only way some children receive nutritious food every day.
Students in households with incomes below 130% of the poverty level or those receiving SNAP or TANF qualify for free meals. Those with family incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty line qualify for reduced-price meals.
In our own backyard, over 70% of students in the Franklin Pierce School District qualify for free or reduced lunch. Additionally, over 42% of students in the Puyallup School District qualify for free or reduced lunch.
That’s a big problem.
In 2012, Our Savior began to be part of a solution and launched the Backpacks 4 Kids program.
We could not have ever imagined what God had in mind and how He would use simple food bags and tens of thousands of volunteer hours to build an incredibly deep and powerful relationship with school administrators, board members, classroom teachers, counselors, social workers, students, and community leaders.
That’s the power of saying “yes” to what God is nudging and leading you to do - even when you don’t know what to do or how to do it. When we make ourselves available to God for the good work that He has prepared for us to do, God shows up in incredible ways.
10 years later, each bag is still packed with nutritious foods, including shelf-stable items for both the students and their family. Students receive the backpacks on Fridays through their school counselors and support staff to bridge the gap on the weekends. We’ve expanded our program to include breakfast bags, school break bags, and other resources available to students and their families throughout the week.
Here is what people are saying about Backpacks 4 Kids, today:
From the outside-looking-in, it is a high-impact social and community service program.
From the inside-looking-out, it is a highly effective way of growing faith, deepening relationships, widening influence where we live, work, learn, and play.
Powerful, life-changing stuff, indeed.
And we aren’t going to stop here because God continues to lead us forward in feeding hungry tummies and souls.
Literally, this week, we received the official permits to break ground and remodel our West Campus building to become our Community Commons Hub which will over double our ability to expand the backpack program and deepen relationships even more. Praise God!
With this permit in hand, we will be updating you with details and a timeline as soon as we get it from Lincoln Construction (the same contractor who oversaw the 2017 rebuilding of our Main Campus Facility).
For now, here’s your personal invitation to this year’s Novemberfest Celebration and Event and November Food Drive.
Novemberfest - Join us online, Thursday, November 3 at 6:30, oslc.com/novemberfest. The goal is to raise $25,000 which will be matched for a total of $50,000. Hear how our B4K program works, how volunteers are involved, and best of all, hear stories of real-life impact for students who receive our bags!
Food Drive - Canned chili provides protein to hungry students in our B4K program. This year, it has been hard to source and more expensive - but you can help! In November, we will collect donations of canned chili, culminating at the Thanksgiving worship service. Drop off donations in the church lobby.
Meet Pastor Tim
Tim Bayer has served as Our Savior's Lead Pastor since September 2019. He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University - Irvine, a National Leadership Facilitator and Resource, and a Community Mental Health First Aid Instructor. Tim studied sociology, psychology, and theology prior to earning his M.Div at Concordia Seminary - St. Louis. He has also is a candidate for an Ed.D (ABD) in Transformational Leadership. He is married to Beth and they have three young children. Together, they enjoy exploring the outdoors, experiencing culture, and pizza and movie nights.