In 1951 Ellen Doran and Emmagene Coats purchased a simple Moroccan home on a mountainside near the Middle Atlas village of Ain Leuh.
Although they had come to Morocco from the USA in 1939 as missionary partners, by bringing to them unbidden five little girls (who for different reasons and periods of time needed their shelter), God had increasingly shown that motherhood was now his calling for these two single ladies.
Then they were given a baby daughter whose abruptly widowed father had lovingly entrusted her to their permanent care. She was to be the eldest of their 16 children, later collectively known as the Mestoura (‘sheltered’) family.
All were loved by their natural relatives who, in various circumstances, had had to relinquish them, and those relatives who were able to visit were always welcomed to the children’s new home. The words ‘abandoned’ and ‘orphanage’ were not part of Mestoura thinking or vocabulary.
God had graciously provided premises for the expanding family, but facilities were limited and money usually short. Along with what they could themselves cultivate, Ellen and Emmagene prayerfully relied on family, friends, and their home churches in the USA for sustenance.
Theirs was genuinely a life of faith, of which practical reliance on the sovereignty of God was an essential part. They did not advertise their family or solicit money for their needs, and God was faithful. Their unassuming, respectful and humble integration into the local community caused them, in turn, to be loved and respected by both their fellow Ain Leuh residents and by the authorities, until the ends of their lives and even beyond; this despite the expulsion of other foreigners in the late 1960s.
Life at their home in the 1960s and 1970s (when this writer was privileged to share it) in some ways resembled that depicted in early episodes of The Waltons. Excitement was watching at night for white vehicle headlights, since these might mean that a foreign visitor was about to arrive.
A treat was being transported in the back of an open truck up to the cedar forest for a simple picnic. Spontaneous and unlimited Christian love and generosity were what regularly brought a variety of friends and neighbours to the Mommies’ ever-open door – a shepherd badly burnt in a tent fire, whose personal lice eagerly explored the kitchen whilst Ellen dressed his wounds; an elderly villager calling for coffee and chat, whose long relationship with jewellery had earned her the family’s nickname of ‘Ragged Ears’; a local truck-driver with his young family; and many more.
Ellen, typically, was once seen to gift her only coat to a needy neighbour. Reserved, kindly Emmagene, whose Arabic as well as her English was characteristically correct, courageously undertook for many decades the mammoth task of the children’s schooling (several went on to university).
In the absence of any godly adult man, she also prepared and gave a simple message each Lord’s Day. The more extrovert, artistic Ellen, whose use of Arabic was contrastingly ‘spontaneous’, was a natural communicator, and hence often the ‘PR Mommie’. In many other ways they differed yet complemented each other, and in common with all Christian parents were constantly in prayer for their children whose needs often seemed so overwhelming.
The Mommies’ unchanging wish was that after their deaths those of their children who needed to would still be able to live in their family home. They sought to bring this about even in old age, but sadly it was not to be. Emmagene died in Morocco in 1995, the Lord graciously granting her wish never to leave her adopted home.
Ellen, already in poor health, then had to leave to be cared for in the USA, where her American family and also some of her older children lived. She died there peacefully in 2007, just short of her 98th birthday.
The Ain Leuh property was leased from the Moroccan government by a foreign Christian organisation with a different approach to the care of needy Moroccan children.
Some of the widespread publicity that followed the recent expulsion of its workers (May ET, p.32), would have been upsetting to the Mommies. They were conscious that, despite having spent most of their lives in Morocco bringing up their Moroccan family, they were still guests of the country and people they so loved. Their children have, therefore, maintained a dignified silence in the face of recent events.
In 1993 Ellen wrote the following, which summarises their life and work: ‘He told me so plainly some fifty years ago, ‘If you love me more than all else, feed my lambs’. Well, that is just what we’ve been doing ever since’.
The fruits of that labour will only be revealed in full when the Mommies’ Saviour returns.