Lost for Over 20 Years
“You’re my brother and my sister. I’ve been waiting for you!”
HOW excitedly Jimmy expressed these words when my wife and I met him! For over 20 years, he had been isolated in prisonlike conditions. Now, with our visit in 1977, a period of relief was about to begin.
But how and where could such medieval circumstances occur in our times? First, let’s go back to the beginning.
Tragic Life Brightened by Bible Truth
Jimmy Sutera was born on June 13, 1913, and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His real name is Vincent, but he has always been called Jimmy. From infancy, spinal meningitis cruelly disabled him. While still a child, he began a long series of confinements in hospitals.
One day after coming home from church, Jimmy was sitting in his yard, crying from loneliness. A kindly woman named Rebecca was touched by the scene and began to comfort him. She explained that God cared for him and that God has a name, Jehovah. Jimmy quickly grasped the clear ring of truth in her precious message. She was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (then known as Bible Students).
Jimmy’s parents, his brothers, and his sisters all disapproved of his newfound faith. So Jimmy would secretly pursue Bible knowledge. His parents thought he was going to church, but he was actually attending meetings of the Bible Students and sharing with them in the public ministry.
In 1932, Jimmy dedicated his life to God and symbolized this by water baptism. Interestingly, the then president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, delivered the baptism talk.
Though it was very hard for Jimmy to walk, he shared in the house-to-house Kingdom preaching using the testimony cards and the phonograph. Playing recorded sermons at the doorsteps of people was a principal method of spreading the Kingdom message that Jehovah’s Witnesses employed in the 1930’s. Although it was not easy for Jimmy to carry anything, off he would go, carrying the phonograph on one side and a book bag filled with Bible literature on the other.
Confined to a Nursing Home
But then Jimmy was struck with polio and suffered a series of strokes, resulting in his losing the use of his left side. He also was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and could speak only with great difficulty and in spurts. His parents, who were by then quite elderly, decided to confine him to the care of a nursing home nearby in Brooklyn, New York. That was in 1958.
Commendably, members of his family showed real concern by visiting him several times each week, although some of them were very opposed to his religion. Unfortunately, the nursing home administration proved to be very antagonistic. Since he was not physically capable of even using the telephone to call his spiritual brothers, he lost all contact with Jehovah’s people. Here he was, in a nursing home just a few miles from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses but trapped like a prisoner and isolated from all spiritual association!
Conditions in the nursing home deteriorated, and eventually, in the mid-1970’s, the state condemned the facility. However, because of a shortage of nursing homes in New York City, no place could be found to which to move the patients. Cockroaches ran boldly across the floor and walls. At times some of the staff even beat Jimmy. He endured, isolated in that wretched place for over 20 years. Yet his Sovereign Lord Jehovah was not far off from him and kept his faith alive and strong—a fact that my wife and I can attest to. But how did we find him?
How We Found Jimmy
In the early 1970’s my wife, Barbara, and I also became Jehovah’s Witnesses. In time, we moved from upstate New York to Queens, New York City. While we were planning to move, my father recalled that his uncle in the city might be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, he remembered that his uncle Jimmy used to tell him wonderful stories about little boys playing with lions in Paradise.
We had been in New York City for about a year when we learned from Uncle Jimmy’s sister, my great-aunt, that he was indeed one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, “one of you people,” as she put it. She gave us the address, and within an hour we were at the nursing home. A nurse stopped us at the door, as it was not visiting hours. I explained that we were there to see my great-uncle and that I was a minister, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I’m not prejudiced, but we do not allow Jehovah’s Witnesses in here,” came the clearly prejudiced reply. “We allow the Catholic priest, the Protestant minister, and the Episcopal priest in here, but we do not allow in any of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Trying to keep calm, I gave her two choices: (1) She could let us in immediately and peaceably or (2) she could deal with the police. She made a quick, peaceful choice.
I don’t remember having ever seen Jimmy, since I was only about four years of age when he entered the nursing home. We walked into his room and told him our names. Lunging up in bed, he exclaimed, “My brother!”
“No, I don’t think you know who we are,” I said, repeating our names.
“You’re my brother,” he said again, “and my sister. I’ve been waiting for you!” He meant, of course, that we were his spiritual brother and sister.
We learned that his sister, who was very opposed to our religion, had told him about us. “Al and Barbara have joined your religion,” she had said. So for several years he had been waiting for us to come to see him, to share the faith we have in common.
Faith Alive and Strong
As we spoke, it became increasingly evident that this mere shell of a man housed a giant heart filled with spirit and faith. As we explored his memory, he quoted many passages of Scripture, discussed with us deep Bible prophecy, and even sang a song he had composed that expressed his heartfelt appreciation for Jehovah. Uncle Jimmy’s face shone; his entire being radiated a joy and enthusiasm unique to one obviously sustained by God. It was like a miracle to us. It was like, well, like a resurrection.
Soon, time for the 1977 district convention was drawing near. We inquired if we could take Jimmy along. The administrator would not think of allowing it. On another visit, we asked a nurse if we could take Uncle Jimmy for a wheelchair stroll around the block. While it was not their custom to take him outside at all, she thought it would be a fine idea. So we proceeded. However, we had gone only a short distance when the administrator came running after us, screaming and telling us never to take him out again.
Right from our initial visit, we left Jimmy literature. When we returned, it was gone. “Where is your literature?” we asked.
“I placed it,” he said.
“Where is your Bible?”
“I placed it.”
Songbook, Yearbook, everything we left him he would leave with interested ones. He has such a burning desire to praise Jehovah’s name. He also knew that the administration would destroy any literature that they found.
Once, in speaking of world events and prophecy, I said: “Uncle Jimmy, isn’t it wonderful? Soon the end of this system that Jesus spoke about will be here. You will soon be glorified as a king and priest in the heavens, and all your sufferings will be over.”
Without the slightest hesitation, he emphatically replied: “That’s not the important thing.” And with unique emphasis, he stressed: “Jehovah’s name will be vindicated!” We were moved to tears by his godly perspective. He has suffered so much all his life, yet his greatest desire is to see Jehovah’s name sanctified rather than realize personal relief.
A Welcome Change
In 1978 nursing home employees in New York City went on strike, forcing the move of patients into hospitals. The state never allowed the old nursing home to reopen. So Jimmy is now in a much better home in a section of the city near the ocean. All the nurses love him and take good care of him. What about his spiritual needs?
Members of the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses now take Uncle Jimmy to meetings and assemblies. He distributes over a hundred magazines a month, mostly in the nursing home. However, the Witnesses also take him in the door-to-door ministry in his wheelchair. Several times his spiritual brothers and sisters have brought him to visit Barbara and me at Watchtower Farms in upstate New York, where we have been residing for the past ten years.
Uncle Jimmy says the congregation is “wonderful, everybody loves me.” It’s true. They do indeed love and care for him. The presiding overseer, Joseph Bowers, says: “I have never heard the brothers complain about caring for him.” Then, with real feeling in his voice, he adds: “My life has been enriched by knowing him.”
Although by some standards Jimmy is poorly educated, he has the ultimate issue clearly in focus—Jehovah’s vindication as the Supreme Sovereign of the Universe. This is foremost in his mind. Happy to be alive, he cheerfully serves Jehovah, fully realizing that by his faithful life course he is proving Satan a liar and sharing in what he knows to be the most important work of all, the Kingdom ministry.—As told by Albert Caccarile.