Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Moroccan hospitality

Written by: on January 31, 2019

As I write this blog post, I’m on vacation in the coastal town of Essaouira, Morocco, famous for its sardines, crescent beach, and UNESCO-protected fortified wall. Haunting calls to prayer wail out five times a day, and though it’s a beach town, I’ve seen more burkas than bikinis. This is not the first place you’d pick to get away. But late last year, my wife and I looked at each other over dinner and wondered where we would go this winter. She said, “Let’s go somewhere we’ve never been before!” By the time she came home from Christmas choir practice, the tickets to Casablanca were in her inbox.

So, this week, Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map was a good book to reflect on in this new and unusual (to us) environment. Similar in intent to David Livermore and his work in cultural intelligence, she exposes the way one’s cultural lens shapes and impacts the way we view the world. She states, “In any given culture, members are conditioned to understand the world in a particular way, to see certain communication patterns as effective or undesirable, to find certain arguments persuasive or lacking merit, to consider certain ways of making decisions or measuring time ‘natural’ or ‘strange.’”[1]

Day One in Marrakech: We checked into our riad[2] and dove in, wandering the serpentine streets and alleyways of the medina. The riad manager offered to provide us a guide to walk with us, which we declined, nicely (but, in our hearts, arrogantly). We’ve been around the world and know how to navigate unfamiliar contexts, we told ourselves. But after an hour, we were completely lost, and it was painfully obvious to locals who saw us standing on the corner with map in hand. A young man appeared and offered to show us to the main square, so naively, we followed him. He took us down several alleys (short-cuts, he called them), and soon we were alone and then trapped and surrounded by five young men who demanded money “for helping guide us to the square”. I didn’t have small change, and ended up parting with a 100 dirham note, worth about $10. We walked away quickly, and were still lost, though we eventually found our way back. On Day Two, we took our riad manager’s advice, and went out with our guide, Mohammed, who became a friend.

Reflecting on this incident, I see how our Western values – autonomy, self-sufficiency, inquisitiveness – conflict with the Arabic culture’s emphasis on hospitality and networks of relationships. The riad manager had an obligation to protect and care for us as the host, but we refused his offer of a guide, which made us vulnerable. Our sense that we can do this ourselves contravened the cultural norms and we stuck out like a sore thumb, waiting to be exploited.

Several days later, outside our hotel in Essaouira, I noticed a small sign, “Eglise”, with an arrow pointing down the small street. Morocco has only 20,000—40,000 believers in the entire country of 33 million.[3] It’s astonishing when you remember that North Africa was once the centre of the Christian world, birthing Origen and Augustine, and recalling our first book by Thomas Oden: How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind. I had to see this church (see photo).

The gate was open, so I crossed the threshold, the dim light illuminating a few wooden pews and musty icons. Père Jean-Claude greeted me, a wizened but lively 82-year old French priest. While it was midweek, he was repainting the sacristy to be ready for Sunday mass. He had been here, a missionary priest, for 39 years. Same small church, with few conversions, if any, since it’s officially illegal. Pointing at the tabernacle with flickering red flame indicating the presence of the Living Body of Christ, he gave a gallic shrug and explained, “I’m here just to be with Him.” He left me to pray in the semi-darkness.

As I exited the church, I was drawn to a table with the latest diocesan bulletin (reproduced here). The news of Pope Francis’ first and upcoming visit to Morocco headlined the piece. “We are very few in number, but for the universal Church our [Christian] presence among our Muslim brothers and sisters makes sense… We have joy that the visit of Pope Francis to Morocco coincides with the 800th anniversary of the meeting between Saint Francis and the Sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in 1219. Now, today, another Francis will come to meet another King (i.e., King Mohammed VI) in his home.”[4]

I’m inspired by the Pope’s decision to come to this country. Morocco is probably in the bottom ten percent of worldwide nations for the Church, but he’s doing it to enhance interreligious dialogue and friendship, particularly between Christians and Muslims. He’s not coming unilaterally to impose his way, but by invitation of the king who, as his host, will offer him warmth and hospitality. By respecting local culture, he is welcomed and bears witness to a different way.

While my capitalist culture strives to achieve results and seeks competitive advantage, and where even faith becomes infected with rationalization, we see a different kind of culture mapping occurring, one that is informed by a living faith at the margins. The Moroccan church has learned to be patient, they have learned that small is not bad, they have learned to befriend their neighbour who is unlike them. “I’m here just to be with Him”, says the priest. As the West abandons its Christian essence to secularism, just like North Africa once did to Islam, how will faithful Christians respond? I would argue we need to learn from these small lessons on the margins. I repeat our cohort mantra again: as per Hunter, we must be a “faithful presence”.


[1] Erin Meyer. The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 252.

[2] Home converted into an inn, with usually just a few rooms for guests.

[3] Wikipedia, “Christianity in Morocco”, Accessed on January 26, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Morocco

[4] Sœur Pascale Bonef, ed., Ensemble: Bulletin du diocèse de Rabat, No. 148 (November 2018), 3. Translated by author.

About the Author

Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

13 responses to “Moroccan hospitality”

  1. M Webb says:

    You are really getting aboot aren’t you? Are the Burkas more than one color? When we lived in Afghanistan we noticed that different Mullah’s would direct different colors depending geography, tribe, status, and so on.
    Praise the Lord you were not injured in your trip with the not-so-good-Samaritan. Wow Mark! I wish I was there as your backup and praise the Lord for his guardian angels watching over you.
    What a great experience, to meet a French Priest who has served and sacrificed 39 years at his post. We owe a lot to the Catholic Church who helped carry Christianity forward over the centuries.
    Great post and thanks for sharing your cross-cultural adventures.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. Jay Forseth says:


    You got to live out our book in Morocco! Way to go. If you take a field trip for next week’s book, I will be so amazed (grin–The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership).

    You nailed it this week with connecting our reading with prior readings. Well done. What about Livermore?

    Thanks for the reminder about “Faithful Presence” and “I’m just here to be with him.” Honestly, I think you are very good at that!


  3. Great post, Mark! You create such a vivid picture of Morocco. It’s always been on my bucket list; however, after reading your post, I’m tempted to take it off the list and book my flight.

    Your quote caught me right away when you wrote, “I’m inspired by the Pope’s decision to come to this country…He’s not coming unilaterally to impose his way, but by invitation of the king who, as his host, will offer him warmth and hospitality. By respecting local culture, he is welcomed and bears witness to a different way.” I find that the Catholic church is presenting a truly universal unified front when it comes to the gospel and partnering with cultures from around the world. Do you find that many Protestant churches exemplify the same unifying behavior?

    Denominationalism is so strong in the west and divisive. Has this caused segregation and hierarchical experience amongst westerners who minister to other cultures?

    • That’s an interesting perspective, Colleen. I don’t know if the history of division in Protestantism then creates monocultural churches? I think it would have to do more with how we’ve been infected with the secular age and everyone feels they have a right to their own comfortable church experience, so they tend to become monocultural which is easier than multicultural.

      In a parish model, everyone in the catchment area is automatically a part of the church, so there is no selection process of church shopping. Of course, our communities can be segregated and that would then influence the way churches are populated.

  4. Thanks for sharing a bit of your Moroccan experience with us! Tu me donnes envie d’y aller aussi !

    Yes. “Faithful presence.” “I’m just here to be with him.” Isn’t that exactly what Jesus called his disciples to do ?

    “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” Mark 3, 14.

    SO THAT THEY MIGHT BE WITH HIM! The first missionary task is to be with him. We westerners tend to jump straight to the second missionary task “…and to preach.”

    But my push back would be that we are not ONLY called “to be with Him.” There is also a call to preach and to cast out demons. I’m sure Père Jean-Claude was also preaching (and even exorcizing demons as needed), so this is not to critique him. It just takes me back to my post on last week’s book, and our tendency to vacillate between two false dichotomies. It’s not either/or, but both/and!

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    Always connecting real life experience to the reading and work we are doing. It’s always so good to read your blogs. We are constantly learning cultural ‘lessons’ like the one you experienced in Morocco. Maybe that is what it takes for the more independent and stubborn ones of us (read North Americans) to genuinely learn. Continue being a faithful presence wherever you find yourself.

  6. Jean Ollis says:

    Mark, what excellent timing to be reading Meyer’s book and traveling Morocco. I’m sorry to hear about your incident with the group of five – but it’s an excellent reminder how quickly our cultural “arrogance” can backfire on us. I know several friends/family who have traveled overseas and had similar incidents – and instead of being humbled by the cultural experience they become soured to traveling and especially to the country where it happened. You and Karen are excellent world travelers so it’s no surprise that you navigated the experience like a champ! How will change your future travel based on this experience?

  7. Greg says:

    Mark. I first of appreciated you vulnerability by sharing the negative encounters and how you played a role in that. So often we are embarrassed and don’t want anyone to know when we fall into these scams. I have a few stories myself. Our independence so often makes us (me included) arragant and not open to cultural cues. Our faithful presence (as well as Christ in use) can make a difference. I am a firm believer that we do need to share (as Jenn says) but that is not always with words.

  8. Kyle Chalko says:

    Mark. I love this post. I think this post help me see my self-suffiency as, as you put it, arrogance. I too would have declined the offer for a guide feeling as if it would of been an imposition on him, and I was just one of his many guests. but in reality, I feel I didnt need help because I am Kyle Chalko. I can think of many situations of turning down help, regretfully.

    great connections about hosting and culture. 🙂

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