My Burning Desire to Serve God
I was five years old and known as the terror of the playground. The school I attended was the Perkins School for the Blind.
I would spend the next 13 years of my life at this school in Watertown, Massachusetts, U.S.A. I knew all the other kids in the school were blind, but I thought I could see. My parents never treated me any differently from my five sisters. Whatever they did, I did—chores around the house, roller-skating, swimming, climbing trees, whatever. I was never treated as though I was blind, so I never thought of myself as being blind.
I had a zest for life, loved adventure, and was eager to have fun. I got the other kids on the slides, swings, and a rocking boat. I rocked it so hard the kids screamed, but I sang as loud as I could and yelled for them to have fun. I guess I overdid it, for the bell would ring and the housemother would call me in, and I’d get the hairbrush, plus have to sit in the naughty chair. It was located by the staircase that all the teachers used. They would see me there and chuckle and ask, “You there again?”
Let me go back a little and explain how I got to be in this school for the blind. I was born in 1941, and when I was two years old, my parents were told that I had a tumor on the optic nerve of one of my eyes. The eye had to be removed. During the operation, they discovered that the tumor had spread to the optic nerve of the other eye and was heading back to my brain. This meant removing both eyes or letting me die. At that time, in 1943, blindness was considered worse than death. One eye specialist said: “If it were my child, I’d let her die.” The other specialist disagreed. “No, let her live.” Happily for me, my parents let me live. Three years later I was the terror of the playground.
Each child received religious instruction in the religion of his choice. Since my mother was Catholic, I was instructed by the nuns who came each week from the nearby convent. They would relate stories of “saints” who gave their lives for God, and at an early age, I was fired with a burning desire to be just like them. I wanted to give my whole life to God, but the nuns told me that there was no hope for me. “You’re just too bad,” they said. “God wouldn’t want you!” They said this because I played with Protestant and Jewish children, whereas they had told us to play only with Catholics.
I further irritated the nuns by asking them about Jehovah’s name. By now my mother was studying off and on with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and when I went home once a month for a weekend, I would hear that God’s name was Jehovah. When I asked the nuns why they were not teaching us about Jehovah, they would become infuriated, and I ended up standing out in the hall. I think I must have spent half my early years either standing in the hall or sitting in the naughty chair.
Since my mother was a good Catholic, how did she happen to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses? After my operation the priest came to visit her and told her that she must have done something terribly wicked to make God angry enough to cause my blindness. Instead of comforting her in this hard time of grief that she was enduring, he made her feel guilty. And besides, he blamed God for my blindness. That priest left the door wide open for Jehovah’s Witnesses when they came knocking on her door—which they soon did.
They told her the wonderful good news of the Kingdom and that God was not a God of hurtfulness but one of love. So my mother began to study with the Witnesses. It took her a long time, however, to make a dedication to serve Jehovah. The erroneous teachings of Catholicism had been deeply entrenched in her. But the Bible truths she was learning were “powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things,” and in 1954 my mother got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—2 Corinthians 10:4.
Now when I went home for my monthly visit on weekends, my father wanted us to go to the Baptist church, some of my sisters went to the Methodist church, my mother took me to the Kingdom Hall, and at school my instruction in Catholicism was being intensified. Four different religions going on at the same time in one family! So by now I was thoroughly confused as to which was the right way to worship God.
By the time I was 16, that nagging, gnawing, burning desire to serve God in the right way began welling up inside of me stronger than ever. I prayed to Jehovah that when I married, it would be to a man who had the right religion, whichever one that was. Well, the day came when this seemingly wonderful man came along and wanted to marry me. And since he was a Catholic and God apparently had sent him to me in answer to my prayer, I concluded that Catholicism must be the right religion. I made up my mind that from then on I would be a really good Catholic and wife and mother.
Sad to say, my marriage turned out to be a disaster. In 10 months we were blessed with a daughter and 22 months later with a son, but all the while the marriage was deteriorating. I was sure that things couldn’t have been worse.
I was wrong; they got worse. It was our custom to go dancing every Saturday night, and afterward the group would come back to our house for coffee and refreshments. But on this particular Saturday, we went to another friend’s house. While there, I overheard my husband making plans for wife swapping. A stranger was there, and he asked whom he would get, and I heard my husband say: “You can have my wife.” Horrified, panic-stricken, I fled from that house. In the early morning hours, I paid the price for leaving. When my husband got home, he beat me severely. The reason, he said, was for ‘making him look like a fool.’
All day Sunday, I prayed fervently to Jehovah that if there was a right religion, a right way to serve him, he would show me what it was. Otherwise, I wanted to die. The only thing that kept me from committing suicide was my two small children. Who would take care of them if I died?
The next morning I was outside mowing the lawn in my bare feet—to be barefoot helped me to know where the grass was longer and needed cutting. Two of Jehovah’s Witnesses came by, a man and a woman. I’ll never forget how mild-mannered and soft-spoken the man was, and he had a special article in Braille that the Watch Tower Society had produced. He gave it to me and asked if they could come back the following week. I wasn’t really ready for this, but they were both so warm and friendly, I couldn’t refuse. I remember walking back into the house and thinking: “Oh, no, God, not them, not Jehovah’s Witnesses! Can’t it be some other religion?”
They did come back, and we had weekly studies in the Bible. Eventually, two women, Judy and Penny, started coming. They were full-time ministers (called special pioneers) and were a great blessing from Jehovah. Judy was the bubbly, outgoing type but also studious and very adept at finding scriptures in the Bible. Penny was quieter but the firm disciplinarian that I needed. They were devoting their whole life to serving Jehovah, and in time I wanted to be just like them instead of like those “saints” the nuns had told me about.
When they later broached the matter of my going from door-to-door preaching as they did, I thought, ‘Oh, no, they can’t expect me to do that! I’m blind!’ I’d never used my blindness before to get out of anything, but this time I thought, ‘Not me. I’m not going out in the door-to-door service.’ So I said: “How can I read scriptures at the doors?” Penny quietly said: “You can memorize scriptures, can’t you?” She knew I could, for they had been having me memorize two new scriptures every week. I couldn’t get away with anything with those two!
After I had been studying for two years, I was determined to go to the 1968 Memorial of Christ’s death. I prayed before telling my husband. I knew he would react violently, and he did. He screamed that he’d rather see me dead than for me to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He grabbed a knife and held it to my throat. “Tell me you’re not going, and I won’t kill you!” I prayed silently to Jehovah: ‘Help me stay faithful even if I have to die.’ I was amazed to feel the inner calm that came over me and found myself thinking, ‘What good would life be anyway without serving Jehovah?’ It seemed forever, but he finally threw the knife on the floor. “I can’t kill you,” he wailed. “I want to, but I just can’t. I don’t know why.”
During the Memorial service, the feelings of peace and closeness to Jehovah again welled up within me. When I got home, I was locked out, and my things were on the doorstep. I spent the night with my parents. Thereafter the threats with a knife at my throat continued, and the beatings continued. I often found myself locked out of the house when I got home from meetings. My husband said: “If you’re going to serve Jehovah, let him take care of you.” He stopped paying the bills. We ran out of food, the gas and electricity were cut off, we lost the house. But Jehovah was always there for me and the children.
In July 1969 a big convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was held in New York City. An hour before I was to get on the train to go, my husband cornered me, made his usual threats, and held the knife to my throat again. But I was used to that by now and never wavered. At that convention, on July 11, 1969, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah. Along with 3,000 other conventioners, I was baptized in the ocean.
At least twice a year, I put in 75 hours a month, even though my husband forbade me to go out in the service. I knew it was the command of Christ Jesus to preach, and I had to obey him. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) I always worked hard at home, however. I kept the house clean. I had his meals ready on time. On meeting nights, I made his favorite meals. When I got home, I prepared special desserts for him. Even so, he was pretty grouchy. But it’s hard for someone to keep yelling at you if you’re feeding him his favorite dessert!
In 1975 my husband moved the family to California. In November 1976 our marriage ended, after 17 years. It was never my desire to be divorced. I never believed in divorce. At Malachi 2:16, Jehovah said that ‘he hated a divorcing.’ It was a devastating experience to go through. To add to my grief, my children stayed with their father in California. I returned back East to where I had lived before.
My parents, who had given me such a warm and loving childhood, were there. (My father has since died, but my mother is still living, over 80 and a faithful Witness for nearly 40 years.) I lived on my own, however, and Jehovah has provided for all my needs: apartments, food, clothes, money, jobs when I needed them, and many loving friends who were and still are very supportive. One longtime friend, Judy Cole, though now living far from me, telephones often, reads articles from The Watchtower to me, encourages me. She is my very best friend—second only to Jehovah, of course, whose friendship I treasure more than any other relationship I could ever have!
On October 1, 1986, at 11 o’clock at night, my daughter Linda called me from San Diego, California. She told me that my son, Stephen, 23 years old at that time, was in the hospital in intensive care and that he was not expected to live. On his motorcycle on a curving mountain road, he had hit a tree, plunged over a 150-foot [45 m] cliff, and landed in the canyon below. Only one house was nearby. It was two in the morning, but the man living there just happened to be up late studying. He heard the commotion, came out, saw what had happened, and immediately got the paramedics there.
Stephen was unconscious, had two broken legs, a shattered kneecap, and much swelling of his brain. When I got there, the doctors told me that they did not think he would live. He was in a coma for a week. I was there when he came out of it. “Hi, Mama,” he said. The happiest words I’d ever heard! He was going to live! To add to my joy, Stephen got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses one year later, in July 1988.
Another joy now brightens my life: the Watch Tower Society has now made so much literature available in Braille! It’s such a wonderful, wonderful gift to me! When I came into the truth, there was practically nothing in Braille. But now there’s the Great Teacher book, the Bible Stories book, the Young People Ask book, and now the recent book The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.
In concluding I would like to say that all my trials only drew me closer to Jehovah. It has all been very faith strengthening. I’ve never really missed having eyesight, never knowing what it’s like. I could, of course, see until I was two, but I have no memory of it at all. Yet, one of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 145:16, which says: ‘Jehovah is opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.’ Any desires not satisfied now will be satisfied in his promised Paradise earth, wherein he will make all things new. (Revelation 21:3-5) Even sight will be mine, as one Witness reminded me.
The joy that fills my heart now is the prospect of fulfilling forever my burning desire to serve Jehovah!—As told by Collette Nunes.
[Blurb on page 19]
“If it were my child, I’d let her die”
[Blurb on page 19]
“You’re just too bad,” they said. “God wouldn’t want you!”
[Blurb on page 20]
The priest blamed God for my blindness
[Blurb on page 20]
I overheard my husband making plans for wife swapping
[Blurb on page 21]
He grabbed a knife and held it to my throat. “Tell me you’re not going, and I won’t kill you!”
[Picture on page 17]
Collette with her guide dog
[Pictures on page 18]
Collette at 17 and at 2 (when she was still able to see)