Paralyzed—but Living a Full Life
As told by Rodolfo Barin in the Philippines
IT HAS been seven years since I was able to stand and walk unaided. Five years ago I could still write my name and feed myself, but for the past year even these simple tasks are impossible for me. When I read, someone has to turn the pages for me and, if I lean too far forward in my wheelchair, my head will fall onto my chest and I cannot raise it up again without help. I am suffering from that crippling paralysis known as multiple sclerosis.
Since I was a well-built, robust man of thirty-seven when the disease first struck me, you may wonder how I have been able to remain cheerful and active. How have I fought off the gloom of discouragement during my eleven-year battle with this relentless enemy? The answer goes back to the year 1957, when I dedicated my life to serve our Creator, Jehovah God.
LEARNING RELIANCE ON JEHOVAH
Although it took over two years of study with Jehovah’s witnesses before I was fully convinced of the truth of the Bible, yet, once convinced, I endeavored to make changes in my life. I had been the owner of a lucrative bar and nightclub and was a heavy drinker and a chain smoker. But after considering the Biblical counsel at 2 Corinthians 7:1 to “cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, I cut off my bad habits. I sold the bar at a loss and tried to convince the girls working there to make over their lives by applying the counsel of God. Some responded and quit working in the nightclub. This proved a right decision, for their situation years later was far better than that of the girls who stayed.
As I uncompromisingly applied Bible principles, I soon experienced all manner of abuse from friends and associates. Though I held a responsible position in a large manufacturing firm in Manila, friends would taunt me for refusing to participate in business practices that violate God’s Word. Their attitude hurt me, yet, looking back, I realize that I was drawn closer to Jehovah and strengthened by my reliance on him. This spiritual strength proved vital in the dark days that lay ahead for me.
Later, I left my secular job and formed my own promotion service agency, which eventually prospered and became a nationwide operation. It now employs eighty persons regularly, and sometimes about twice that number. About 90 percent of my employees are Jehovah’s witnesses.
Though relatively small, my office has often been given the more delicate promotional jobs by our client company. Sensitive promotions that involve large amounts of money have always been given to our agency. This is not because we charge less, but—I am proud to say—because our personnel, due to their religion, are known to be exceptionally honest. Thus the managers of our client company always request us to assign to jobs persons who are Jehovah’s witnesses.
But, as is to be expected, sticking close to Jehovah’s laws and principles has also brought trials. When I refused to promote a soap product that offered as premiums religious articles such as crucifixes, pictures and images, it drew the ire of one of the representatives of the company, who asked, “Why should you refuse to handle religious articles that are attractive to consumers?”
“Well,” I said, “God detests the use of images, so we won’t touch them.”
When he sneeringly pointed out that we were of a different religion, I replied: “Yet, if I were in your religion, I would have even more reason to refuse. Certainly I would not so belittle my God by exchanging his picture for a few soap wrappers.” After this conversation, we heard no more on the matter.
But there were similar experiences. Once, lottery tickets were, without my knowledge, included as prizes on some articles. When I later learned of it, I immediately objected, but my objection was answered with talk of breach of contract and a possible court case against me. However, I remained firm, telling them that I would be ready to face any consequences. What was the result? They yielded and withdrew the tickets.
On another occasion, in the middle of a promotional campaign in the southern Philippines, my Witness employees requested time off to attend a four-day district assembly. I unhesitatingly agreed. When our client company learned of this they became indignant, saying that they would not tolerate such disruptions in the future. I took the opportunity to tell them that, even if I wished them to miss their assemblies, the Witnesses would still not forsake such gatherings. I also reminded them that the company prefers our men because they are honest, hard working and neat. I pointed out that, since it is from these assemblies that our workers imbibe the knowledge and spirit that make them what they are, it would be against the company’s best interests to keep them from attending. Again the strength of our position prevailed.
EARLY BLESSINGS FROM JEHOVAH
But it was not only these tests of my faith that strengthened me. Almost as if I were being prepared to face my debilitating illness, Jehovah God blessed me with many privileges among his people. It was only a year after my dedication and baptism that I was appointed an overseer in the newly formed Roosevelt Congregation in Quezon City, very close to the Philippine branch office of the Watch Tower Society. Though I felt unequal to the task, I was lovingly encouraged by my Christian brothers, and also by the branch overseer, who was then associating with that congregation. How satisfying it was to see the congregation grow during the next few years! In 1964 it was possible to start a new congregation in a distant suburb of Quezon City to take care of twelve individuals who had difficulty in attending meetings. I was appointed overseer of this newly formed Novaliches Congregation.
Since my residence was about twenty-five kilometers (15 1/2 miles) away, I decided to move to Novaliches permanently so as to be near the new congregation. As it grew through the years from the original twelve to its present total of 200 Kingdom preachers, it was my privilege to help to construct a large Kingdom Hall on a lot right next to my house.
It was about three months after the formation of this new congregation that I felt the first effects of my illness, in June 1964.
A BAFFLING DISEASE
It began with my seeing double, and my experiencing eye spasms as a result of a weakening of the eye muscles. The immediate effect was to make me exceedingly dizzy. After suffering through a day at the office I was forced to call a doctor, who gave me a prescription. Days passed with no marked change. Depression started to set in. The prospect of this disease impairing my Christian activity was hard for me to bear.
To reduce the dizzying effect of double vision, I covered one eye, then alternated with the other. In this way I was able to fulfill my congregational and family obligations, though with much difficulty. After two months I regained normal vision, and I am thankful that I can still see well. However, the problem with my eyes was only a prelude to the next stage of the disease. Soon I began to notice a weakening in my left leg, coupled with numbness. This reduced my walking to wobbling, staggering motions, which I initially corrected by using a cane.
I consulted different doctors, but their diagnoses were as varied as they were many. As the months went by and my sickness remained unidentified, I persistently looked beyond myself to the great Healer and Giver of life, Jehovah God. Firmly I decided that fear would never find a place in my heart, and I found much comfort in the inspired scripture at Psalm 55:22: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.”
By 1966 the disease had progressed so that my right leg began to give way, accompanied by a stiffening of my lower limbs. By 1968 I could no longer walk even with the aid of a cane, and I was forced to use a wheelchair. Now I was practically crippled and the impact was almost unbearable.
Until my illness I had been so strong and vigorous that it seemed impossible that this could be happening to me. Longingly I would think about how, only recently, house-to-house preaching of the good news had been a gratifying and rewarding work for me. How often I would recall the happiness of finding persons of a righteous disposition and renewing their faith in the only God who promises an entirely new system of things!
HELP TO COPE WITH WORSENING CONDITION
An eminent doctor later diagnosed my illness as multiple sclerosis. The cause of this disease is unknown, and the course it might take is as unpredictable as it is incurable. Though there were periods of slackening off and retrieval, yet exposure to cold or infection or even emotional stress could trigger a relapse into an even worse condition. Such uncertainty as to the disease’s next turn was enough to deplete me of any vestige of morale. But I placed my trust in Jehovah and, by constant prayers, I have bridged the many emotional gaps caused by my physical disability. At Psalm 46:1, 2, I found the reassuring words: “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses. That is why we shall not fear.” These words have always been strengthening in my efforts to defeat discouragement and frustration.
Meanwhile my physical condition grew worse. By 1970 my arms were so weakened that I could no longer push myself along in the wheelchair. By 1974 my fingers had lost all control, so that I could no longer read, write or eat by myself. If a mosquito bites me, I can feel it, but cannot do anything to swat it. Now the disease has started affecting my neck muscles so that, if I were alone and my head were to drop forward, I would not be able to prevent myself from falling out of the wheelchair.
Yet, I have many things for which to be thankful. First, I am grateful that, despite the deterioration of my body muscles, my mind has remained sharp and active. Second, that my eyes have not been affected since the first bout with double vision eleven years ago. So I am able to read if someone will turn the pages for me. Also, my voice, though weakened, is still clear. This has enabled me to continue as an elder in the congregation, giving public Bible talks in the Kingdom Hall and at assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses. Thus I am still able to teach others about God’s purposes.
I am even able to accept additional privileges in the Christian organization, such as being assembly overseer in our local circuit of Jehovah’s witnesses. I also serve as food-service overseer at larger district conventions held in the city. It brings me much joy to be used in this way despite my physical disability.
My wife and four children have been a wonderful source of strength, encouragement and compassion to me during this difficult time. I have never felt alone. My oldest son has proved to be a good substitute for my arms and legs, aptly performing many of their functions as well as taking care of their various needs and maintenance. My family members have written down this story as I dictated it to them.
We have a family passenger van with a special air-cooled seat in it, and this enables me to get around quite a bit. My sons lift me from the wheelchair into the van, and put the folded wheelchair in the back. Traveling is my favorite recreation, and we often travel a hundred miles or more to visit fellow Witnesses in the provinces.
KEEPING BUSY—THE BEST THERAPY
I like to keep a full schedule of activity. My day begins at 4:30 a.m., when, on awakening, I am given my massage. I need to be massaged before sleeping and on waking up to avoid a hardening of the leg and arm muscles. At 6 a.m. I accompany my two youngest children to their respective schools, and then I am driven to my office. I work there until noon. In the afternoon of every other day I conduct Bible studies with my office workers. All together, seven of them are now studying the Bible with me. Then I go home, which is about an hour’s drive from my office.
Every Tuesday evening I conduct a congregation Bible study. On Wednesday evenings I have a home Bible discussion with a family of four. On Thursday evenings I conduct a Bible study with a group of three families living seventeen kilometers (10 1/2 miles) from my home. This group is now holding regular congregation meetings and soon may qualify to be organized as a congregation of God’s people. On Friday evenings we have our regular congregation meetings called the Theocratic School and the Service Meeting.
Saturday morning I go along with my Christian brothers in my van to share in the public preaching work. Although it is not possible for me to go from house to house with my wheelchair because of the rough country roads and pathways, often the brothers will put me in a place where there are many people and I will strike up a conversation with them. Or I will sit in the van and, as people pass by, I will call them over and talk to them about the hope I have from the Bible. Saturday afternoons I spend preparing for congregation meetings and Bible talks. Sunday mornings I usually join with fellow Witnesses in preaching, and in the afternoon we have our regular public Bible lecture and Bible study using The Watchtower.
Sometimes well-meaning persons will approach me and suggest that I might be taxing myself too much with such a busy schedule. Invariably I reply that I will not relinquish any of my Christian privileges as long as I can carry them out. It is precisely because of these privileges and responsibilities that I have been able to avoid a negative and self-pitying attitude. They have kept my mind away from my ailment, and this has proved to be the best therapy I have had.
THE HARDEST TEST
Perhaps the most difficult test occurred one day in 1972 when I felt an excruciating pain in my face muscles. When I tried to speak I couldn’t utter a word. Neuralgia had struck me. The first time it did, I lost my power of speech for two days. It was extremely painful just to open my mouth a little. The gloom that this cast over me is too bleak to describe. Nothing could dishearten me more than to see my condition degenerate to the extent of losing my gift of speech. Discouragement plagued me; for a time I felt crushed.
Silently I prayed, urgently asking Jehovah to restore my speech so that I could continue to utter his praises. I was grateful that, after a short while, I regained my speech, though the pain along my nerves has continued intermittently. Increasingly I felt the presence of Jehovah, and this latest illness drew me even closer to him.
REWARDS ALREADY RECEIVED
By now I am sure you realize what has helped me to overcome discouragement and physical weakness. Yes, it has been a close relationship with Jehovah God and my firm hope in his righteous new system of things, along with the love and support of my family and Christian brothers and sisters. To have much to do in the work of the Lord has helped me to feel that I am still needed and useful, and can aid others. Whenever I feel some discouragement, nothing uplifts me more than visiting my friends and brothers and discussing God’s Word with them.
There is no joy on earth that can compare with the privilege I have had of aiding other persons to come to love Jehovah and serve him. Recently a family of six that I aided dedicated their lives to Jehovah and all were baptized at the same time! Many whom I have helped were merely curious at the start, noticing my debilitated state. But then they became absorbed with the new and marvelous things they were learning from God’s Word and forgot my condition. They would later tell me that it was my zeal and confidence as I talked that aroused their interest. On hearing this, I would silently thank Jehovah for rewarding and encouraging me in this way.
Indeed, the joys of God’s service far outweigh the physical anguish I feel. As I consider what I have been privileged to accomplish with the help of Jehovah, it helps to plug the holes through which a paralytic’s will to live might leak out and desert him. Due to this help from Jehovah, no pain, no paralysis and no neuralgia could ever prevent me from praising his great and glorious name.