How I Benefited From God’s Care
ON THE morning of May 18, 1963, I awoke much happier than usual. It was the start of a beautiful, warm sunny day. But before I explain why that day was so special to me, let me tell you a little about myself.
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on May 20, 1932, the youngest girl in a family of four daughters. My mother died when I was two, and Father remarried when I was five. In time, six younger brothers and sisters were added to our family. We were Baptist, and at one point I even thought about becoming a Sunday-school teacher.
I was born with rheumatoid arthritis, which contributed to a very difficult childhood. When I was nine, a doctor told me I would get worse as the years went by. Sadly, his prediction proved true. By the time I was 14, I was no longer able to walk. Eventually my hands, feet, and legs were completely crippled, and my hips fused. My fingers became so deformed that I had a hard time writing or just picking things up. Because of my condition, I was not able to return to public school.
When I was admitted to a hospital at age 14, I was happy because the nurses allowed me to do little things to help them. I enjoyed this work very much. Later, I reached the point where I could not sit up alone. The doctors told my parents that there was nothing they could do for me, so after spending three months in the hospital, I was sent home.
For the next two years, until I was 16, I did not do much of anything except lay in bed. Some home tutoring was provided, but then my condition deteriorated. I developed an ulcer on my right ankle, as well as rheumatic fever, which required a return to the hospital. I turned 17 there. Once again I remained in the hospital for three months. When I returned home, I was no longer eligible for home tutoring.
As I approached 20, I was very miserable and spent much of my time crying. I knew there was a God, and many times I prayed for him to help me.
A Hope for the Future
While in Philadelphia General Hospital to receive further treatment for my ankle, I shared a room with a young girl named Miriam Kellum. We became friends. When Miriam’s sister Catherine Miles visited, Catherine would share information from the Bible with me. After I was discharged from the hospital, I somehow always managed to keep in touch with Catherine, who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Unfortunately, my stepmother did not like me very much. When I was 25, I moved in with one of my older sisters, and Catherine happened to move into a house around the corner. I called her, and she began to study the Bible with me using the book Let God Be True as a study aid. What a joy it was to learn that I would not always be crippled and that one day all wickedness would be done away with! (Proverbs 2:21, 22; Isaiah 35:5, 6) These truths appealed to me, along with the resurrection hope and the prospect of seeing my mother again.—Acts 24:15.
I started attending meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses right away. Catherine’s husband would carry me to their car and take me to the Kingdom Hall. When I went to the meetings, I felt encouraged by the love I was shown.
Sadly, my sister and her husband separated, which required that I once again live with my father and stepmother. Since my stepmother was very opposed to Jehovah’s Witnesses, I had to study the Bible secretly from 1958 to 1963. She would not permit any of Jehovah’s Witnesses to come into the house. I would study with different ones on the telephone or when I was in the hospital.
Another obstacle was that my stepmother would at times refuse to feed and bathe me. Once she did not wash my hair for eight months. She also did not allow me to read any mail that she did not first approve. However, Jehovah’s care was evident, since my brother allowed me to have my mail sent to his house. This arrangement enabled Pat Smith, a Christian sister with whom I corresponded, to keep in touch with me and supply me with Scriptural encouragement. My brother would smuggle her letters in to me; I would answer them, and he would smuggle my letters out.
In 1963, I had to return to the hospital, and Pat Smith continued to study with me there. One day she asked me: “Would you like to get baptized at our circuit assembly?”
“Yes!” I replied.
I was in the rehabilitation ward and could obtain a day’s pass. On the day of the circuit assembly, Pat, along with other Witnesses, came to get me. The brothers had to lift me over a partition and let me down into the water in order for me to be baptized. Now I was one of Jehovah’s servants! That was May 18, 1963, a day I will never forget.
In and Out Of Nursing Homes
In November, I was to leave the hospital. I did not want to go back home because I knew my service to Jehovah would be limited there. So I made arrangements to enter a nursing home. There I began to share in the ministry by writing letters to people whom the Witnesses had difficulty contacting in the house-to-house ministry. I also read the obituary columns and wrote to relatives of those who had recently died, enclosing comforting scriptures from the Bible.
Then, in May 1964, I moved to New York City to live with my oldest sister and her husband. He bought me my first wheelchair, and I began attending the meetings. What a joy it was to give my first talk in the Theocratic Ministry School while in New York City!
Early in 1965, some friends from Philadelphia asked me to spend two weeks with them. While I was staying in Philadelphia, my sister wrote and told me that she did not want me anymore and that I should stay where I was. I arranged to reenter a nursing home. While living there, I continued to attend meetings and to witness to people by writing letters. It was at this time that I was able to expand my ministry by sharing in what is known as the auxiliary pioneer work.
Recipient of Loving Care
A further indication of Jehovah’s care was the assistance given me by the West Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Philadelphia. In addition to taking me to Christian meetings, they provided me with the stationery and the other supplies I needed for my ministry.
In 1970 a further evidence of Jehovah’s care occurred when arrangements were made for me to move in with Maude Washington, a Christian sister and retired nurse. Though she was approaching 70 at the time, she willingly cared for me over the next two years until she could no longer do so.
While I was with Maude, the brothers of the Ridge Congregation in Philadelphia worked diligently to make sure I was able to attend all the meetings. This required that they carry me up and down three flights of stairs three times a week. How grateful I am to those who worked so faithfully to help me get to the meetings!
In 1972, when Sister Washington could no longer care for me, I decided to obtain an apartment of my own. This adjustment would not have been possible without the self-sacrificing help and love of Christian sisters in the Ridge Congregation. They made arrangements to feed me, bathe me, and care for my personal needs. Others helped by doing shopping and by caring for other necessary business.
Every morning the sisters arrived early to feed and dress me for the day. After assisting me to get into my wheelchair, they would roll me up to my desk in a little corner of the apartment, near a window. There I would sit, engaging in the ministry by using the telephone and by writing letters. I called this area of my apartment paradise corner, as I had it decorated with many theocratic scenes. I would spend the entire day in my ministry until someone came at night to put me to bed.
In 1974 my health required that I enter the hospital. While I was there, the doctors tried to pressure me into taking blood. About a week later, after my condition had improved, two of the doctors came to visit me. “Oh, I remember you two,” I said to them. “You tried to talk me into taking blood.”
“Yes,” they replied, “but we knew it wouldn’t work.” I had opportunity to give the doctors a witness about the Bible’s promise of the resurrection and about the Paradise earth.—Psalm 37:29; John 5:28, 29.
During the first ten years that I lived alone, I was able to attend Christian meetings. I never missed them unless I was ill. If the weather was bad, the friends would wrap my legs with a blanket and cover them to keep them dry. Occasionally a traveling overseer would come to see me. During his visits, he would “accompany” me on a Bible study that I conducted by using the telephone. These were times of great joy for me.
Coping With a Worsening Situation
In 1982, I reached the point where I could no longer get out of bed. I couldn’t attend meetings, nor could I pioneer, which I had done continuously for 17 years. These circumstances made me very sad, and I would often cry. However, Jehovah’s care was evident—Christian elders arranged to have a Congregation Book Study in my small apartment. How grateful I still am for this provision!
Since I was confined to my bed all day and could not get to my desk, I began to practice writing on a piece of paper that I would lay upon my chest. At first, my writing wasn’t legible, but with lots of practice, it became readable. For a time I was again able to give a witness by writing letters, and this brought me a measure of joy. Unfortunately, my condition has deteriorated further, and I am no longer able to share in this aspect of the ministry.
Although I have not been physically able to attend a district convention since 1982, I try to get into the spirit of the occasion at convention time. A Christian sister brings me a lapel card and attaches it to my gown. Also, I turn the television on to a baseball game at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia and think about where I used to sit during our conventions there. Usually, someone records the convention program so that I can listen to all of it.
Not Giving Up
Though I am not able to do as much as I formerly did in the ministry, I am still conscious of talking to people about Bible truths. Having been able to pioneer and to help a number of interested ones study the Bible has been a source of joy. While it has not been easy living alone for the past 22 years, I have enjoyed the freedom to serve Jehovah without hindrance, which I would not have been able to do if I had remained at home.
I have also seen the need to work diligently to adjust my own personality. At times my utterances have not always been offered with graciousness when providing direction to those who have volunteered to help me. (Colossians 4:6) I continue to pray to Jehovah to help me to improve in this area. I am truly grateful for the patient and forgiving spirit displayed by those who have put up with me in love over the years. Their loving assistance is a blessing for which I thank them and Jehovah.
Although physically unable to attend the meetings for years—I haven’t been out of my apartment in all that time except once to go to the hospital—I am still joyful and happy. Admittedly, I get depressed at times, but Jehovah helps me to come right out of it. I now enjoy listening to the meetings over a telephone hookup to the Kingdom Hall. By relying on Jehovah through prayer and trusting in him, I have never felt alone. Yes, I can truly say that I have benefited from Jehovah’s care.—As told by Celeste Jones.
[Picture on page 24]
I called this area where I engaged in the ministry paradise corner