Determined Despite Disabilities
As told by Kouamé NʹGuessan
My companion and I struggled to push our bicycle up yet another hill. It was November 2002, and civil strife was raging in Ivory Coast, Africa. So the desolate road held many dangers. Looming in the distance was the next military checkpoint. Why was I taking such a dangerous trip during this period of strife?
I WAS born in 1978 with a progressive illness. It began with a hearing impediment and debilitating pain in my legs. As I grew older, my family belittled me, saying that I had ‘useless legs and ears plugged with refuse.’ Older ones looked down on me, and children yelled that I was lame and had broken feet.
I started school at the age of eight and immediately became a victim of bullying by classmates and teachers alike. Often I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. Sensing that I was terrified, people made fun of me. I left the house only to go to school.
‘Why did this illness strike me?’ I would ask myself. Mother said it resulted from a magic spell someone had put on me. At times, I saw others with similar infirmities and wondered, ‘Did that mean they were also targets of sorcery?’
In 1992, I began to suffer excruciating pain in my elbows. After the pain subsided, I was unable to straighten my arms. Two years later, I lost the use of my left eye. My parents took me to a number of so-called healers but all in vain. The deterioration of my health forced me to leave school.
Searching for Answers
A religious classmate invited me to attend church along with him. I was raised an animist; however, for a year I attended church services.* I learned little there about the Bible, so I began to wonder if there was any good in organized religion.
Some church doctrines frightened me, particularly hellfire. I didn’t think I was so bad as to merit eternal torment. Yet, at the same time, I didn’t believe I was good enough to receive eternal happiness in heaven. Since I didn’t find satisfying answers to my questions, I began to lose interest in religion.
The following year I was invited to a healing session in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, some 100 miles [150 km] from our small town of Vavoua. Before our departure I told responsible ones in the church that I didn’t have enough money for the entrance fee or for food. They gave me the impression that I would be looked after in Abidjan, but things turned out otherwise. Although I was surrounded by a huge crowd of between 40,000 and 50,000 people, I felt alone and dejected. No one took an interest in me.
I returned to Vavoua just as ill as before, but now I was disillusioned as well. The local church leaders told me that God had not healed me because I lacked faith. After that, I severed all contact with religion.
Finally, Spiritual Comfort
In 1996 one of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited our family. I had never spoken with a Witness before, but I listened in on the animated discussion between my older brother and the visitor. My brother was not interested, but I was. Every word that the Witness said went straight to my heart.
The Witness explained that sin infected the human family as a result of the disobedience of the first man. That rebellion led to imperfection and death for all mankind. However, Jesus provided his life as a ransom so that our sins can be forgiven and we can enjoy eternal life. (Romans 3:23; 5:12, 17-19) Moreover, the Witness showed from the Bible that soon Jehovah God, by means of his Kingdom, will transform the earth into a paradise and wipe out sin and all its distressing consequences.—Isaiah 33:24; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:3, 4.
The logic of Bible teachings had a profound effect on me. The Witness, whom I later came to know as Robert, made arrangements to study the Bible with me twice a week. Within a few months, equipped with my new Bible knowledge, I qualified to accompany the Witnesses in their door-to-door ministry. To do this was a challenge, since I had to overcome my apprehension of mixing with people.
My family was not pleased that I was studying the Bible. To annoy me, my older brother would smoke cigarettes in my bedroom during the night. In the morning I would have a headache and feel ill. Another challenge was the food we ate. Father was an avid hunter, and the meat he provided was a staple of our diet. I explained to him that the Bible forbids eating the meat of unbled animals. (Acts 15:28, 29) Still, he refused to bleed the animals. Mother would occasionally put plain rice aside for me, but I often went without adequate food.
Although the Kingdom Hall in Vavoua was on the other side of town, I never allowed the distance or inclement weather to hold me back from attending meetings. I was baptized in September 1997 at the “Faith in God’s Word” District Convention in Ivory Coast. Eventually I increased my participation in the Christian ministry to the extent that I qualified to be a pioneer, as Jehovah’s Witnesses call their full-time ministers.
Political unrest culminated in civil war in September 2002. In a matter of weeks, the national army was approaching Vavoua. Fearing for their lives, some people fled, including most of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Five days after that departure, soldiers took over the town and immediately banned all social activities. At that, most of the inhabitants of Vavoua dispersed, including the remaining Witnesses.
Since there was no public transportation, people had to walk many miles to reach neighboring towns. I couldn’t walk such a long distance, so I was the only Witness left in Vavoua. I continued to preach, and I held congregation meetings to which some of the local inhabitants came.
Efforts to Attend an Assembly
A special assembly day of Jehovah’s Witnesses was scheduled for November in the town of Daloa. I prayed to Jehovah, expressing my desire to attend. A Witness who had previously left town returned unexpectedly. I asked him if he would take me on his bicycle to the assembly location, which was some 30 miles [50 km] away. He readily agreed, although he too suffered from serious infirmities.
Tension reigned, so it was not the ideal time for such a journey. Vehicles were prohibited from traveling from Vavoua to Daloa. An unidentified traveler might be viewed suspiciously and machine-gunned by a soldier of one of the opposing factions. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning, November 9, 2002, we left Vavoua by bicycle and headed for Daloa, as described at the outset.
Soon we came to the first of many military checkpoints. We were thoroughly searched and allowed to continue. The trip was long and taxing. We would walk to the top of a hill, and then when we reached the summit, we would both sit on the bicycle and coast down.
In time, another cyclist offered to help us. I sat on the small rack at the back of his bicycle. As this hospitable stranger cycled along, I used the opportunity to talk to him about the Kingdom of God. I explained that the government of God is heavenly and that soon it will bring lasting peace to the earth. He was amazed at what I said and bombarded me with questions. When we arrived in Daloa, he bought us food and promised to attend the special assembly day the next morning.
We arrived at Daloa late in the evening, tired but happy that we had reached our destination. Our nine-hour trip had not been easy. A local Witness family warmly welcomed us and suggested that we stay with them until the political climate settled down somewhat. Sadly, the assembly had to be canceled because of the political unrest. However, the trip was not in vain. It led to my receiving additional privileges of serving fellow Christians in Daloa.
Determination Has Brought Blessings
I now keep busy as a ministerial servant and regular pioneer in a congregation in Daloa. I also help with the maintenance of the Daloa Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To care for my material needs, I make and sell wooden butterfly ornaments and also paint signs.
For many years I left my house only to go to school, but since then I have covered many miles searching for those who are thirsting for the truth about why sickness and suffering exist. While I wait for God’s Kingdom to wipe out all infirmities, I continue to share with the people in Ivory Coast the comforting good news regarding God’s purposes.
Animism involves the belief that conscious life exists in animals, plants, and other objects of nature.
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En route to Daloa to attend the assembly
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Assisting with the care of our Assembly Hall in Daloa
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I make and sell wooden butterfly ornaments to support myself