Elisee’s Mother (The Other One)

Elisee has a beautiful biological mother.  She has a gorgeous smile that lights up her whole face, just like our Elisee’s, but her inward beauty is so much more!  Her character is strong enough to face adversity and keep that amazing smile.  She is truly beautiful in every sense of the word. And her incredible story cannot be kept a secret. (For her own security we’ve named her Natalii.)


Natalii married her childhood friend when she was 14. They had grown up in the same village their whole lives. This village is a dark place spiritually, I’m afraid. It is the birthplace of voodoo. Benin is proud of its’ long history of voodoo, claiming it is the country of origin for this religion. Museums spell out picture for picture how Benin so graciously influenced other parts of the world with it’s belief. The people are so proud of the heritage!

The village of Elisee’s parents is at the very center of it all. The chief of the village says no one from their people have ever left the country because of the sacrifices their ancestors made during the slave trade to keep their families “safe” (in Africa). The gods of voodoo are keeping them safe still. (And I wonder why I can’t get Elisee to the US?)

Well, Natalii’s father was a pastor. (Which can mean a lot of things in Africa, but basically he loved Jesus at some point and preached something along that line. I wish I knew more about him!)  Natalii, therefore, has ancestry from both voodoo and Christianty- this lays a tumultuous path for a woman in Africa. Women do not have rights in many areas of life in Benin and her destiny has never been her own.

Natalii did, however, get to marry her friend who was her own age and they started a family.  First was Jeret, he is a strapping boy who is rough and tumble and will not be the underdog no matter which way the lines are drawn. He’s tough as nails and wild as a stallion. He was favored much by his only living grandmother (his father’s mom) and she claims him as her own. When asked who his mother is in a lineup of family members, Jeret pointed to his grandmother and smiled that knowing smile with her, “She is mine. That one is Elisee’s.” Next to the grandmother in this lineup was Natalii. Natalii has a tenderness toward Elisee as if he was her youngest, her baby.

Elisee was the second son of his father and quickly followed by baby #3: a sweet-natured girl named Ruth. When Jeret had turned 3 and Elisee was almost 2, their father had pains in his stomach.  It lasted for days with increasing intensity and he was taken to the hospital. He was given medicine for the pain and sent home only to pass away immediately after returning. The western-minded assumption is appendicitis. He was gone and Natalii was left behind. Her mother-in-law (who practices voodoo devoutly) believed the common superstitions and blamed Natalii. She had “killed” her own husband and she was no longer welcome in their village. She was sent to distant relations in another village with her nursing baby while the boys were taken from her for the grandmother to keep. “It wasn’t their fault, after all, that their mother was a murderer.”

Now Natalii has this beautiful humility about her. In this moment, she had no rights to argue or stand up against her mother-in-law, but the level of grace and dignity she holds even after experiencing this travesty of “justice” is insane. Even years later when I got to spend time with Natalii, she was kind and gracious towards “that woman” (as I call her in my own head).  Natalii was sent to her relatives with an infant and no way to protect her. She had no resources, connections nor a single possession of her own. She was “worthless” in the eyes of her culture. Even her reputation was slandered by the words of her own kin- “a murderer”. Who would care for her now? What were her hopes of a future and a family?

Natalii was introduced to a new village without a friend or an ounce of pride.  Her hopes and dreams were lost, but she pressed on. She came to befriend a man who was sick. He was dying and needed a caregiver and so they were wed.  I don’t know what love there might have been between them, but her good fortune was short-lived.  He provided for her basic needs while she cared for him but money was not plentiful and when he was gone, so was her provision. Now she is marked. In voodoo it is believed that she has been the death of 2 husbands, she is not likely to marry ever again. She is an outcast. It was at this time that she also gave birth to a fourth child- another son. Once again homeless, penniless, and with two young babes in her care, Natalii’s only hope was to return to her first mother-in-law who had cast her out and slandered her name.  The woman who had taken what was left of her youth and every last shred of aspiration.

Now the grandmother… That woman… She had two tiny boys in her home and under her care.  Unfortunately, she had also lost significance in the eyes of the village. Her son was her breadwinner. He was her hope and her source of sustenance. Without him, she also had nothing. With no income and no work, how could she feed the babes she had stolen? She couldn’t. And so, not long after sending Natalii on her way, the grandmother took the boys to the only orphanage in southern Benin, perhaps in all of Benin. They traveled 4+ hours southwest to Exodus House Orphanage and she left the two boys on the doorstep of the gracious and Jesus-loving Patrice. Praise the Lord. They were welcome, they were safe. Both boys were cared for and given the basic necessities for life, education, and friendship for the next 4 years before we had the privilege of meeting them.

And so it came to be that Natalii was living with the granmother when we returned to Africa for our Elisee.  They were two women bound together by kinship but with nothing in common. They share nothing and everything at once and there is no love or joy in their communion.

Elisee Biological Family
Top: Natalii (pregnant with #4), the grandmother, her oldest son    Bottom: Ruth, Elisee, Jeret


God has a future for Natalii. As I think of her difficult life and pray for her and the tiny ones she holds dear, I feel God’s heart for her in Isaiah 47:

“But you {Natalii} are my servant.

You’re Jacob, my first choice, descendant of my good friend Abraham…

I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you. Don’t panic, I’m with you.

There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.

I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.

I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

She has not been forgotten by the one who holds her heart.  Natalii can smile that beautiful smile because she has Jesus. He is enough. He is her strength and her song. And because of God’s work in Elisee’s life, we had the privilege of meeting her. We have prayed for her and her children and all of their futures for a year and a half now.  Our friend Patrice has taken her in as a friend to encourage, speak life and give gifts to. This year on our last day in Benin, we were sent money for some “impromptu” paperwork and the sender felt led to double the amount. That same day we met with Patrice to see if there was a way to bless Natalii with it, was there a business she could possibly start  for this amount and keep it running while being a mom? Could she become her own provider and no longer be at the whim of her mother-in-law? YES! It was Natalii’s own idea to use the money to drive into the Bush (the African countryside) and buy beans and rice to sell in the market.  Her travels would not be frequent and she had enough money to take a car instead of a “moto” (motorcycle) and the two young children could come with her. They could stay with her in the market while she sold each day and the work would not be too much for her to bear.  God is good. He has provided where there seemed to be no way. She is his favorite, His first choice and He has a firm grip on her. She is not lost. I can’t wait to return to Africa to see her smile and drink tea in her house. I can’t wait to see what God uses her to redeem in her village and what He does through her children!

Natacha,Elisee & Baby
Natalii, Elisee and Baby

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