Former location: Hope House in Morocco

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This is a story that was shared about the former location: House of Hope in Morocco.

By Phil Durham

The YWAM base in Tangier, Morocco in the early 1970s was centered at Hope House, on the grounds of English Hospital. A group of Church-of-the-Brethren (I’ll paste in web link below) English missionaries began the facility in the 1880s by purchasing an old home and gradually converting it into a medical mission. I understood that this was the first hospital in all of North Africa. At its height in the 1950s-1960s, there were a dozen physicians there, and they had established a 30+ bed hospital, doing general practice medicine and specializing in maternity, tuberculosis and by the ‘60s, eye surgeries.

When I was there, the compound was directed by Dr. Farnham St. John (general practitioner and eye surgeon) and his wife, Dr. Janet St. John (general practitioner and ob/gyn). Dr. St. John (they pronounced their surname as “Sinjun”) had been there since the 1950s, beginning as a GP but returning to England for training in eye issues. By the time YWAMers arrived, the Moroccan government had moved to curtail Christian medical facilities by limiting foreign personnel, and by building a Moroccan governmental hospital just down the street. By the early ‘70s, the only physicians remaining were the Drs. St. John, and a handful of nurses from England and Sweden; the TB clinic had closed, and there were no in-patient facilities remaining open. Dr. St. John performed eye surgeries three days each week, with out-patient clinics done on the alternating days. He and Dr. Janet together would see the first 140 patients who showed up at the compound door on the street each morning. There were always many who had to be turned away. Many folk would walk in from the Atlas Mountains to get help at English Hospital.

The doctors began to see many “hippies” at the clinic in the late ‘60s, and would seek to help them spiritually as well as physically. However, their concerns were, of course, primarily with the Moroccans and so they began to pray that God might send help for them with these Western youth.

Loren Cunningham visited Dr. St. John in the early ‘70s, and an instant bond was established. In 1972, after a Leadership Meeting in Lausanne, a group of about 10 YWAMers moved to Tangier and into the now-vacant Hope House building on the English Hospital compound. They rented the building at some nominal fee to satisfy the Moroccan government’s demands.

This team was led by Bob and Vicki Lichty (USA), who remained the Base Leaders for several years. Also in that group were Denny and Dodie Gunderson (USA). Robert Cau (France) and Richard Shivetts (USA). Bob Lichty has since passed away, but Vicki and the Gundersons are on Facebook; I do not know where the others are today.

In late 1972, I was finishing an enlistment with the U.S. Navy, stationed in Rota, Spain. Rota was about a 5-hour drive from Algeciras, which was the ferry terminal for boats going to Tangier from Spain. On a sight-seeing trip to Tangier, I visited the English Hospital with Christian friends who knew the Drs. St. John. While there, we met the newly-arrived YWAMers who now occupied Hope House.

Hope House was the centerpiece building on the compound, having been built in the mid-1800s as a European-style mansion. The compound was on a hundred-foot-high bluff overlooking the Atlantic, with a lovely view of Gibraltar on a clear day. Over the years, the missionary society had built other buildings on the compound, with a separate home for the director’s family, a clinic, the multi-bed hospital, and nurses’ quarters. Hope House had fallen empty as it was large and drafty, and hard-to-heat in winter; there were 25+ rooms in this old home. (Hope House was the name given to the original building long before the YWAMers came, and all Tangier knew the name. It had a wonderful reputation among the Moroccans as a place of refuge, peace and compassion.)

The YWAM team quickly established a base, reaching out to the hippies, primarily in the “souk” (market) each day. Hundreds of Western youth would stream off the multiple daily ferry boats, for the Moroccan “experience”, to go ride the Marrakesh Express, and/ or find some cheap hashish. One could stay in-country for up to 90 days on a simple Entry stamp in your passport. Theoretically, if the Moroccan Police found you had over-stayed your 90-Day period, they could arrest you, and confiscate all you owned. However, simply riding the ferry back to Spain, or to the English holding on Gibraltar before the 90-day-limit would allow you to re-enter the country for another 90 days.

My former wife and I were quite impressed with the YWAMers and their work, and we joined this base in April, 1973, as I took a local-discharge from the Navy. When we arrived, with our 5-month-old son, there were perhaps 15 YWAMers present, with 20-30 hippies living in Hope House.

There were public meetings each night of the week in the large living/dining area of HH, with singing of Scripture songs and teaching. There were lots of one-on-one moments with nightly visitors as well. The YWAM team would go into the souk every day and of course, they would invite folks to come to the evening get-togethers. The team would also regularly visit the local prison, where there were many hippies incarcerated, usually on drug charges. They would be taken reading materials, writing materials, etc, and the YWAM team would carry out letters to be sent home for the inmates.

The local consulates (particularly USA, UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria,Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia, etc) were quite happy that YWAM was at HH, as they were dealing with many of their citizens’ issues, but had no time for any “social work” for those needing help.

The Moroccan Police didn’t seem to know what to make of the YWAMers presence, however, as they monitored the compound constantly for any evidence of involvement in the drug trade. They weren’t happy with the Christian activity, but since social work isn’t much a concern of Islam, they tolerated what YWAM was doing in helping the hippies.

The Drs. St. John and the nursing staff were delighted with this “youthful” infusion into their lives (most of the staff were over 50 years of age) that the YWAMers brought, though the Pentacostal nature of many of the YWAMers was not in line with Plymouth Bretheren doctrine. We daily interacted with the English Hospital staff, and Dr. St. John led a Sunday morning English-language service in the Compound Chapel for the ex-pat community.

I have incredible memories of Dr. Farnham St. John, and moving about Tangier with him. Without any desire to sound sacrilegious, I will say that I often thought that I experienced a small example of how some of the disciples of Jesus must have felt as I watched Dr. St. John interact with local people. As we would walk from the gateway of the compound, down into the souk in the central-city of Tangier (perhaps half a mile), we would literally speak with Moroccans every few steps as they would recognize Dr. St. John. The Arabic for doctor is “t’bib” and we would constantly hear “T’bib” shouted as one after another, Moroccans would come up to him as we walked, showing him some sore or swollen eye, or thrusting a sick child into his arms. He would speak with them, smiling and kindly, in whatever language he perceived they knew (he spoke fluent French, Arabic, Spanish and Berber, as well as the Queen’s English, of course), offering quick advice and telling them to come round to the Clinic. English Hospital care had been without-charge for many years, but the Moroccan government had required them to begin charging for their services, to discourage the locals from visiting these Christians. The governmental hospital down the way provided free-of-charge services, but with very little compassion. Regardless, in spite of the nominal charge the missionaries were forced to make, hundreds would come each day to the Clinic, hoping to see the doctors. Also at that time, Dr. Farnham was the only eye surgeon for the northern third of the country.

The YWAM base continued there, growing constantly with the influx of the hippies who were being discipled. Many hundreds of hippies came to Christ in that period, and as they showed genuine conversion, were allowed to live in HH for a rather intense program of teaching, intercession and outreach. Once a clear change of path was reached, many of them returned to their countries-of–origin. During this time, multiple teams were sent around the country, primarily to governmental campgrounds catering to Western travelers. The teams would set up a central tent area, with nightly singing and teaching sessions, and constant daily outreach. Some of these converts would come and spend time at Hope House before returning to their home countries.

I should note here that this YWAM base was somewhat unusual at that time, as Loren’s primary thrust had been toward YWAMers coming into a country to assist the local churches, work with indigenous folk, etc. However, there were only a handful of local Believer’s groups in Morocco in that era (a Lausanne Missions gathering in 1972 said that there were fewer than 200 Christians in the entire country), and there was this burgeoning population of hippies which were so spiritually needy.

As you may know, Floyd McClung had begun with YWAM, and then moved into a separate ministry to hippies which he called Dilaram House Ministries. There were the Dilaram houseboats in Amsterdam, the Farm at Heidebeek (Holland), the Dilaram Houses in Kabul (Afganistan), Delhi and Goa (India) and a place in Santa Barbara (California). He and Loren had a series of meetings to conjoin Dilaram Houses with YWAM, and the base in Tangier was brought under Floyd’s leadership. There was movement of YWAM folk from Tangier to Amsterdam and back as well during this time.

In 1975, the Moroccan government notified Dr. St. John that Hope House must be vacated, without being entirely clear why. He allowed the YWAM community to move into other English Hospital buildings for a time, to comply with the order, and also helped arrange with some friendly nearby folks for some of the YWAM team to live on other properties. We were quite literally living on top of one another in these scattered facilities, gathering in the basement of the Nurses’ quarters at English Hospital in the evenings for worship and fellowship.

At this time, my wife and I had been invited to bring a YWAM team south to Kenitra, Morocco to establish a small base to reach out to the American military personnel, the surfers who camped at a local beach, and to the hippies encamped round about. (The American Navy had a small presence on a Moroccan Air Force Base in Kenitra, and several of the Christians at that base had visited the YWAM base in Tangier.) So, we moved there, set up Dilaram House Mehdia Plage, and lived there for a year-and-a-half. During this time, we also hosted a Summer of Service from Northern Ireland, where a team from Belfast came and did outreach to the hippies and surfers.

I will note that the YWAM team worked diligently to interact with all the missionaries in Morocco in those days. There were about 25 foreign missionaries in Morocco when I lived there, scattered all around, with very minimal contact with one another, and most doing secular work as well as spiritual. The Moroccan government actively discouraged any overt missionary activity, and was constantly on the lookout for any public baptisms, outreach focused on locals, what they considered “proselytizing”, etc. The YWAM team members visited these scattered missionaries, encouraging, offering physical help, etc.

In early Autumn, 1976, my family (I now had two children) returned to the USA, going to Daystar Ministries in Indiana at Floyd McClung’s request. The folks from the base in Tangier gradually relocated to Chipiona, Spain, near the US Navy facility in Rota (where I had been stationed, and where Bob and Vicki had developed friendships over the years). The house in Mehdia Plage closed in early ’77, with the YWAMers moving to Spain and elsewhere.

Though the Moroccan government sought to curtail missionary activity, they loved the Drs. St. John. As the English Hospital was forced to completely shut down, the St.Johns moved to Cambridge, England where there is a large Arabic-speaking population living. They opened a medical facility for Muslims and operated it until Dr. Farnham died. Dr. Farnham was so beloved by the Moroccan people that the King of Morocco nominated him for Order of the British Empire recognition, for his outstanding medical ministry to the people of Northern Morocco for decades. Since he didn’t own a suit, he had to purchase one specially to meet the Queen.

Vicki Lichty can provide you with a much fuller explanation of what happened at English Hospital after we moved south, and how the YWAM team transitioned to Southern Spain. She is on FB as Victoria Lichty and I will include a link to her below.

I will stress that, obviously, what I have written are my experiences and perceptions, rather than a truly accurate history of what happened there. I hope this information is helpful or useful to you; I have enjoyed recounting those days in writing this. God bless your interactions with Moroccans and sharing Christ with them.

Here is the web link for Church of the Bretheren:
Here is the URL link to Victoria Lichty: Facebook
You may know this already, but here is Floyd McClung’s Facebook link: Facebook