Fraterine: Seeing the Face of God
For well over a year, I have spent much thought considering what it really means to see the face of God. There are references in scripture where a person sees God “face to face”. For instance, Moses seemingly saw the Lord face to face when the pillar of cloud descended upon the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:11). Just a few verses later, however, the Lord says that Moses could not see his face, “for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Examples like this suggest that man can experience a deep intimacy with God. But because of the impurity that remains in man’s heart, we cannot hope to see God’s purely adorned and holy face until we cross the veil and enter into the eternal realm.
Despite this reality, Paul exclaims in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give [us] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We rejoice that, unlike experiences in the Old Testament, where man’s relationship with God is conditional, we can be drawn closer and closer into intimacy with God through the blood of Jesus who purifies us to serve (and perhaps “see”) the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
Last night, my understanding of the reality of the “face of God” became a bit clearer. As many of you know, over the course of several days, I have had the opportunity to spend an extended time with Fraterine, an approximately eight-year-old boy who has had a difficult skin disease all his life. You can see his red eyes and the raised, discolored, excoriated skin on his face. Due to this disease, he has refused to attend school because the other students laugh at him.
Fraterine is extremely poor. He lives in a mud hut with a dirt floor. His mother was a prostitute until she began working at our cooperative and attending our Bible studies. Up to now, his family has had no bed--not even a mattress upon which he and his three siblings can sleep. Until the last ten days, Fraterine had never ridden in an automobile. Yesterday, for the first time, he rode in an elevator. When the door opened and we walked into the hallway, he paused to turn around to see what the doors would do!
Perhaps most remarkably, he had never seen a toilet! Last week, he asked Donatile, who was assisting him, “What’s that?” And yesterday, when I showed him how to flush the toilet, he stepped forward a second time to watch the water swirl around, down and away out of sight.
Despite his lack of experience, Fraterine has captured my heart. And his face has improved dramatically! Thank you for your prayers! Even the dermatologist was impressed. (And she is not the type to hand out compliments!)
But she still needed to take samples of his facial skin for biopsy. She performed a “punch biopsy”, where after giving him a topical anesthesia, she punched his face two times with a sharp circular blade and then placed the skin in a sterile solution. Oh my, when she did this, my mother’s heart cried out with him! (And I’m not even a mother!) I held his arms and Godfrey held his feet. He didn’t understand what was happening, and his torment ripped my heart apart. Finally, the doctor completed her task, and Fraterine’s salty tears gradually ceased sliding down his contorted face. It was painful for us all!
Late in the day, we began the long journey home. Fraterine insisted that we stop and get bread for him to take to his family who cannot afford bread. We did this when we last visited the doctor, and the next morning, at least seven ecstatic family members gathered in his tiny home and enjoyed crusts of a long delicious baguette. They were thrilled.
Last night, after Godfrey let me out, he led Fraterine deep into the forest to his home. They discovered that the three young children from the house next door were sitting alone in the dark and cold, locked out of their home. The grandmother had left and didn’t tell them where she was going. They were shivering and hungry. Note, these are the same children in the picture with the little bear toy.
Suddenly, Fraterine asked his friends to come into the warmth of his own home. (Remember, this is a mud hut.) He proceeded to pass out several slices of bread to each friend. As they sat there together, drawing comfort from one another, he bowed his head, and with open hands, he offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of bread. Then, they eagerly ate!
At the beginning of this article, we considered what it means to see the face of God. Surely, even the most committed Christians will need to wait until we meet God in the new heaven and the new earth to see him face to face. But last night, little Fraterine WAS the face of God to his friends. He gave them ALL he had. He prayed over the bread--much like a priest praying the Eucharist over the bread and wine. He offered them hope by telling them that they could eat more bread the next day. Finally, with his tender, young voice, he cheerfully comforted them by inviting them to stay with him for the night.
Last night, the true face of God smiled down upon a young boy in a little mud hut in Rwanda. Like the star that smiled down upon the manger in Bethlehem, a radiant light filled the universe, and the angels rejoiced.
Martha Vetter served with the Anglican Church in post genocide Rwanda from 2001-2007 where she taught Bible at Sonrise School for Orphans and wrote a Bible curriculum for grades 1-6 based on the national curriculum of Rwanda. Presently, she lives in Charleston, SC and works on behalf of The Dufatanye Cooperative and Organization, a small NGO in southern Rwanda, which assists impoverished families, most of whom have HIV+/AIDS. Previously, she received her Masters of Religion (Biblical Studies) at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA and her Masters of Education at Marymount University, Arlington, VA.