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Photo: Felix Carroll
By Kellie Ross (Aug 7, 2009)
Throughout my life, I've had the opportunity to meet people that I've sensed would become saints. Some of these people were gifted in virtue and models of faith. Others have radiated the love of Christ through charitable works. But until I went to the Cote d'Ivoire in June on a 12-day Divine Mercy mission — until I met Frank — I had never met what I would call "a living saint." To me, he is the patron saint of the despairing.
I first heard about Frank a few days before I was to leave for the Cote d'Ivoire. His Excellency Marie Daniel Dadiet, Archbishop of Korhogo, in northern Cote d'Ivoire, had told me that many people were anxiously awaiting our arrival and that we would be speaking to "thousands." I had a hard time believing that given how small our ministry is here in northern Virginia. Nevertheless, when one of my volunteers approached me with a picture of Frank and an e-mail from his mother, I could feel my heart being drawn towards him.
"This child is very, very sick," the volunteer told me. "His mother has written you to see if you can help him."
As if God wanted me to know for sure that it was His will for us to help Frank, the phone in my office rang. "It's Frank's mother," the volunteer said, as she translated. "She is sobbing. They have turned him away from the hospital because she can't afford a blood transfusion."
"How much is a blood transfusion?" I asked.
I picked up the phone and tried to speak with Frank's mother. She was crying too hard to listen to my words. For a few moments, I just stood on the line saying, "Its OK, it's OK," trying to reassure her — trying to reassure myself. After a few moments she collected herself, and then I told her I was coming to see her and Frank. I told her to go back to the hospital and to tell the doctors that the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy would cover the transfusion and if they had any questions to call me directly. This time her tears were of joy. She cried so hard it brought tears to my eyes. The love for her child was beyond words.
So what's wrong with Frank? Doctors aren't sure. What is clear is that Frank lost his father during the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire a few years ago. During that time, he and his mother, along with his siblings, fled into the woods trying to survive. Eating only leaves and grubs for two weeks in order to survive, Frank became progressively weaker. As they emerged from the woods, Frank's mom had to carry him. Frank was 16 years old at the time.
Since then, Frank has seen numerous doctors in Cote d'Ivoire, each telling him they are unsure of what is wrong with him. Some say he needs a bone transplant, suspecting it is an autoimmune disease, while others think that it may be related to a disease. For Frank, it doesn't matter. His suffering could not be any worse. Weighing only 70 pounds at the age of 22, Frank appears more like a child of 10 years of age than that of an adult. His disfigurement is so severe that, for some people, just looking at him is more than they can bare, or at least that was what I was told before I arrived.
It had almost been two weeks that I had been in the Cote d'Ivoire when a woman approached me and said, "I have been trying to get you to see Frank. Please come see him. He needs you. You are his only hope." After talking to my guides and translators, it was agreed that Frank would meet us in Abidjan, where we were staying. My husband, Scott, a family practitioner, would also be there to see him. And so it was, around 8:30 a.m. Frank arrived to see me.
I was not aware that he had arrived. Several members of the delegation came up to me and said, "Frank's here! You must come see!" I went as quickly as I could into the reception area and found a room full of people waiting to see me and meet Frank. At first, I did not notice him because he was so small, seated amongst a large number of people. When I did, I lost my breath. His face was so severely disfigured that his nose seemed to disappear. He is unable to close his mouth. I could hear him panting. I said, "Well hello Frank! I'm Kellie."
To my surprise, Frank jumped off the couch walked as quickly as he could across the room and threw his arms around my waist. He began to sob. Even as I write this letter, I cannot describe what the sounds of despair sound like. His sob reverberated through my body. This little child clung to me as if I were his own mother. I led him over to the couch and rocked him back and forth. This was not a time for words, but a time for tenderness.
Frank's clinging to me was a journey of mercy. With every tear that rolled down his face he expressed the years of rejection, pain, and fear he had felt since he had fallen ill. As he laid his head against my breast like a small child, he seemed to say, "Save me. You're my only hope." I was so caught up in the moment I forgot there were other people in the room. When I looked up I saw everyone was crying. Frank's doctor, the priests, the children, and the Ivorian delegation. In one moment, Frank had carried the cross imitating Christ so perfectly that even the most hardened heart was touched by his childlike trust in me.
"Frank," I said. "You are the most beautiful child I have ever seen." And I meant it. Never had I seen someone so perfectly formed in the image of Christ. It was as though the verses from the bible radiated in this child, "Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, YOU DID IT TO ME." Frank heard the words as they were translated and his sobbing quieted. He looked up at me and smiled. I don't know if anyone had ever told him he was beautiful.
I spoke with my husband, the doctors and Frank's mom at length. I told her that I didn't know how to help Frank, but the Lord would open doors. She kept crying saying, "Thank you, my mother. Thank you." I told her Frank would probably need to come to America for treatment, and she nodded her head in understanding. There was a short pause, and she said to Frank, "What will you do in America without me?" For the first time, Frank sat up and began consoling his mother. "My mother, do not worry. If I go to America, I will always carry you with me in my heart."
Now the whole room was tearful again. The decision was made. I said, "Frank would you like to become a missionary?" No room could have been brighter than the one we were in as Frank beamed with joy. "Oui! Oui!" he said. And after a few short hours we parted. I promised to bring him to America. I told him we loved him.
As I got on the plane to come back to America I started going through the pictures of Frank. The weight of his cross was heavy upon my shoulders as I knew treatment would be both expensive and difficult, even if I could get a foundation to accept him. "God, why did you ask this of the ministry?" And the answer pierced my heart, "Because when you said 'yes' to Frank you said 'yes' to me." God was asking me to trust in His providence and rejoice in my weakness.
Since I have returned I have called numerous places hoping to find help for Frank. Most of them have said no because of his age, others because of cost, but I have not lost hope. Frank is no longer a stranger to me, but a child of God and a member of my family. Even though we are still working on his case as he continues his treatments in the Cote d'Ivoire, I take him with me spiritually in all that I do.
When I met three homeless men recently, Frank was with me. Looking at each man directly in the eyes and seeing the years of pain, suffering, and sin that had caused their fall, I saw Frank in their eyes, pleading for mercy. It is a miracle what God has done with this small child. He who was deemed "untouchable" has become the patron saint of our ministry. Frank's illness and hope for a cure is the inspiration I use to minister to the poor and homeless. His witness to hope is a reminder to all that Christ lies hidden in each soul waiting for someone to love Him.
Kellie Ross is the director of Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy, based in Manassas, Va. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone at 703-659-1636.
Read a special nine-part series on Kellie Ross and her ministry's Divine Mercy mission to Africa.