Paul and his wife Odile were baptized on the same day in December 2006. Back then, the couple had three children, and Odile was pregnant with the fourth. They had left their home in Boukombé and were living in Natitingou where Paul was trying to make some money doing odd jobs. Life wasn’t easy, but Paul was a loving father and did his best to take care of his family. Over time, it became evident that Odile had not really left animistic practices behind when she had decided to follow Jesus. She even convinced a young girl from church to participate in the female initiation ceremonies, telling her that otherwise she wouldn’t find a husband and have children.
When the family’s financial challenges became too great, they moved back to a village near Boukombé where at least they had enough land for farming. The family grew to five children. At some point, Odile quit going to church and openly returned to animism. Eventually she left Paul and their children and rented her own place.
Suddenly, Paul was a single father. In cases like this, the man typically finds himself a new wife quickly, or the children go to live with relatives. It is rare to find a father taking care of his children alone. But Paul still loved Odile and hoped she would come back. Also, he didn’t want his kids to live with relatives because he wanted them to grow up knowing and loving Jesus.
Life became increasingly difficult for Paul and the children. By that time, his two oldest sons had already left the house to live elsewhere and learn trades. But the three smaller ones were too little to take care of themselves or do any major household chores. Since Paul had to help the kids get ready for school each morning, he couldn’t go to the fields to work as early as the other laborers. In the evenings he had to go home early so he could fetch water from the well, start the cooking fire and fix supper. It was almost impossible for him to fill the role of the breadwinner while taking care of the household and his children.
Negotiations to reunite Paul and Odile began between their two families. In this culture marriage issues are dealt with by the extended families, not just the couple. At the end of the negotiation, clear conditions were presented to Paul: His wife would rejoin him only if he abandoned Christianity.
Paul loved Odile, his children and Jesus. What should he do? Should he give up his faith so that his children could have their mother back? Should he remain faithful to Jesus and continue raising them by himself, though that seemed nearly impossible? Boukombé Church members were willing to take on the children, but Paul knew the extended family would object. Our team and the Boukombé Church prayed a lot for Paul during this difficult time, but nobody could decide in his place.
Odile’s family called Paul and our coworker Hyacinthe for a last meeting. The outcome was the same as before. Odile was ready to return to Paul and the children, but only if he abandoned his faith. After the meeting, Paul and the church leaders discussed the situation. Two things were clear to Paul. First, he wasn’t going to abandon his faith. Second, since his wife was committed to animism, it might not even be good for his children to have her back. So he decided that he would stay alone and do his best to raise his children. God gave him peace about the decision, and the church pledged to help as best they could. Paul faithfully continued coming to church each Sabbath, piling all three children on his old bicycle for the trip.
But then another problem arose. Since Odile was still living in the same village, and the children were still close to her, they spent more and more time with her and ended up living at her home. Paul would go and pick them up, but they would return to their mother. Paul was not against his children spending time with their mother, but Odile had a bad lifestyle, frequently changing boyfriends. Paul wanted to protect his children from this negative influence.
This is where the situation is now. Paul faces another decision. He is a very soft-spoken person and doesn’t like conflict. He wants to do what is right for his children and before God. And he is still praying for Odile to come back to Christ. Should he forbid his children to see their mother? What would you do?
As much as we have discussed the issue, there doesn’t seem to be a good solution. But we know that God is bigger than all the problems in this world. Please pray with us that God will show the way out of this seemingly hopeless situation. Pray for Odile, Paul and their children and for a sweet reunion of the whole family in Christ.