She is Béninoise
I’m sitting on a curved chair handcrafted by local villagers using branches and nylon cord. I’m in the kitchen of Suzy Baldwin-Noutehou, the perfect spot to offer you a brief sketch of this solid, Jesus-loving frontier missionary.
Suzy is a practical, God-fearing and gracious woman with a streak of stubbornness and a strong sense of justice. Given the chance, she can talk your ears off. But the ease of her conversation belies her somewhat shy personality, which is perfectly balanced by her husband Fidel’s gregarious, outgoing disposition.
Suzy can squeeze a franc out of a piece of granite. For example, she calculated that it was more expensive to buy a jar of peanut butter in the marketplace than to buy an equal amount of small portions tied up in the corners of sandwich bags. PBJ sandwich anyone? Just pinch off a corner of the bag and squeeze.
Suzy is frugal in all areas of her life. Vendor asks too much? She walks away. Cheaper in another market? She stocks up there. Can’t afford it? Well, this is Africa. One makes due with what one has.
Fidel is no stranger to stretching a franc either; but he would rather invest in an entrepreneurial project. He recently started a ginseng business. He buys roots wholesale and grinds them into powder, which he packages into beautiful boxes that net nearly 10 times the original purchase price. Goats and sheep? He has a pasture full of them. Fish farming? This may be his next venture.
Jesus is Suzy’s constant companion. She hums hymns and other Christian tunes throughout the day as she performs her daily chores in and out of the home. Everything she does revolves around Jesus and brings glory to Him. Whether washing a towering stack of dishes or sloshing a plunger up and down in a bucket full of dusty, sweat-soaked laundry, she is usually listening to a dramatized version of the Bible on her Kindle.
While Suzy is busy around the home, her husband is often preparing sermons, filling out baptismal certificates, visiting church members or taking motorcycle trips to the nearby villages and introducing local families to the gospel.
Suzy lives a tough life by American standards, but she is cheerful and satisfied. Had she been born in the 18th century, she would have felt completely at home. Though her house has solar panels on the roof, there is only enough power to charge flashlights and computer batteries and to communicate with colleagues and friends via a somewhat erratic phone Internet connection—Facebook is a favorite. By about 8:30 p.m., the house lights flicker, and the power shuts down.
Suzy and Fidel’s home boasts a spacious kitchen and living room, and Suzy is a gracious host to a stream of guests. Currently there is no running water, but Suzy hauls what she needs from town in five-gallon containers.
Suzy is as tough and industrious as her Béninoise friends. She hefts five-gallon buckets full of water, carries large baskets of corn meal on her head and winnows tubs of beans as easily as the locals. In truth, they have been known to tell her, “You do so much more than any of us.”
At Sabbath School and church, Suzy leads the song services and children’s programs while Fidel preaches the sermons. She also heads up the newly formed Pathfinder club, which recently held its eighth meeting. They are working on memorizing the names of the books of the Bible.
Whether detailing local Benin customs or sharing a tidbit from an off-grid homesteader’s survival video on YouTube, Suzy often lets out a cheerful laugh, subconsciously noting the humor in the situation she describes. She is full of joy.
When I ask Suzy about the secret to the growth of the Pendjari Project, she is quick to respond: “Prayer.” Over the course of a year, the Pendjari Project has grown from a single family worshiping at home to a city church in Tanguita and three churches in the villages of Tetonga, Guande and Nanagade with a total membership of 62. Prayer is the engine that propels the Pendjari Project forward as Fidel and the Bible workers visit with villagers and introduce them to Christ. Suzy and Fidel spend much time on their knees. When they built their new home, they included a special prayer chapel next to their bedroom. It contains a table covered with a white cloth and a few books written in French. To the right sits a wide wooden reading chair with a comfortable cushion. On the floor is a throw rug for kneeling and a small 18-inch table with a Bible open to the last passage read.
Of course, this is not the only place Suzy and Fidel pray. On the living room couch, beside the kitchen desk, in the cab of their Toyota Hilux, on the back porch, on the floor of the bedroom, under a shade tree, in church or in a village, Suzy and Fidel often talk with God. He is their constant companion.
There’s much more to tell about this American missionary living in the African bush, but suffice it to say that she loves God with her whole heart, and she has a deep passion for the people of Benin. She lives as they do. She loves them dearly. She is married to one. In her heart and soul, she is Béninoise.
As Suzy and Fidel pray and work for the Pendjari, please add your prayers for them and the people they serve.
Recently, James traveled to Benin, West Africa to video the Pendjari Project and report on the progress of our missionaries as well as to witness the transfer of the Dendi Project to local Church leadership.
Listen to James narrate this story in episode #17 of Frontier Missions Journal. Visit afmonline.org/resources/audio.