Adversities—How We Overcame Them
As told by Marcelino Pitti
AT THE age of 22 I suffered a terrible accident. While I was fishing with my companions, using chlorate bombs, one exploded in my hands. My companions tried to stop the bleeding by tying tourniquets above my elbows. They took me to the nearest hospital, which is in the town of David.
David is the capital of Chiriquí Province in the Republic of Panama. To get there involved a four-hour horseback ride, then a long ride in a car. Eleven hours after the accident I arrived at the hospital, unconscious from loss of blood. I survived, but without both hands.
My family and friends tried to collect money to send me to the United States so that I could get mechanical hands. However, I argued that if it was God’s will for me to lose my hands—and that was the accepted way of thinking among our people—I was going to remain in this condition. I blamed God for what happened. If you knew a little about my background, it would help you to understand why I felt this way.
MY EARLY LIFE
I was the sixth of 12 children. We lived in the small town of Bugaba near the Costa Rican border. Although some Adventists lived in the area, anything other than the Catholic religion was considered “not for us.” Rumor had it that one could go crazy by reading the Bible, so Catholics simply did not read it.
When I was a child my father had much cattle, and we had a nice farm. But then he lost everything. So, when I was about 10 years of age, it was necessary for me to help out by working on small farms.
Later, we moved farther north along the Costa Rican border. Here the cooler highlands are excellent for farming, being especially suited for coffeegrowing. But, oh, how isolated! Since there were few roads, it was very difficult to get our produce to the markets. Life was hard, but by being content with the necessities, we were eventually able to recover what we had lost materially.
At the age of 19, I left home to work for another man. His wife was a subscriber to The Watchtower. We hired men slept in a room under our employer’s house, where we could hear every word said upstairs. As we would lie there in the still darkness of the jungle nights, I would listen intently while the lady would read The Watchtower to her husband for an hour or two almost every night. This went on for about a year and a half.
Although I listened closely, I really didn’t understand very much. I had no knowledge of the Bible. So the most I could figure out from listening was that something better was coming, and that there was a God whom we should serve in order to enjoy it. At the time I had no idea what magazine she was reading, or what its purpose was.
The accident in which I lost my two hands occurred not long after this. Up until then my conduct had been nothing to brag about. Afterward, though, I really began a life of loose living. I drank heavily, gambled and was sexually immoral.
About two years after the accident, I started living with Eladia. She is a woman several years older than myself, who already had 10 children. She had a Bible, and I started to read it. I could see that practically everything I was doing was out of harmony with God’s will. My conscience started to bother me, but not enough to cause me to abandon my dissolute way of life.
I was happy when Eladia gave birth to my first son. But then another tragedy cut short any happiness. While I was helping a friend to transport some corn, a venomous snake bit me. Blood began oozing from my pores, and I started to excrete blood from the kidneys, rectum, stomach and nose. After three days I became delirious. When I lost consciousness, my friends and family decided to carry me in a hammock to where I could get transportation to the hospital in David. Later they told me that, while being carried along, I would regain semiconsciousness and pray to God not to let me die in my sinful condition without learning more about his purposes.
I was unconscious for 18 days. But finally it became apparent that I would live. When I left the hospital I was so weak I couldn’t walk. The future looked bleak indeed. I had a woman, most of her 10 children, and a small baby eight months old to take care of. But I couldn’t even care for myself! For four months I was too weak to walk. But with the constant, devoted care of my companion Eladia, I eventually regained my health. Also, my wonderful family and friends again came to our rescue with monetary help.
SOURCE OF HOPE
In 1957 we had another son, and Eladia’s health required that she go for some medical attention. So she found it necessary to go for some medicine. This involved a two-hour walk through heavy jungle across the border into Costa Rica. There she found a Nicaraguan pharmacist named Camilo Alemán. He was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who held regular Bible studies in his home.
Camilo spoke to Eladia about his Christian hope. So when she came back she had, not only the medicine, but also spiritual help in the form of the Bible study aid “Let God Be True.” She became so interested that, in spite of never having had a personal Bible study, she would walk with four or five of the children for two hours through the snake-infested jungle to every meeting in the pharmacist’s home. Sometimes I would accompany her. However, our farm was quite a distance from our house. So I would spend most of my time there at the farm. Besides, I had not changed my drinking habits, and I was ashamed of what I was doing, now that I was learning what God requires of us.
How I made my dear companion suffer! She had to work to help to support the children, since much of my earnings went for gambling, drinking and other women. Sometimes I came home terribly drunk. From what she was learning, she knew that it was not honorable for us simply to be living together without any actual commitment to marriage. She wanted so much for us to legalize our marriage, but what hope was there?
Eladia would get so disheartened that she would go out into the jungle by herself and weep. She would weep for hours, praying to Jehovah to help her out of her desperate situation. There was no one else to turn to, no Witnesses nearby.
One day I came home from the farm drunk and penniless. As usual, my little children came running out to greet me, eagerly expecting some little gift. But this time I had nothing for them. It was such a heartbreaking experience for me that I vowed that I would never get drunk again, and I haven’t. I decided then and there that I was going to change my life, and serve God together with my faithful companion. Jehovah had heard her prayers.
Without delay we went to the Witness, Camilo Alemán, in Costa Rica to find out what to do. He suggested that we write to the Watch Tower Society in Panama City and ask where there were Witnesses on our side of the border. But we had never written a letter before. We had no idea of how to go about it. So I decided to look for Jehovah’s Witnesses myself, asking everyone I knew. Finally, one of my cousins told me that he heard there were Witnesses in Concepción. This is a town that is about six hours away by horseback and then by car. I made three trips there, inquiring of people in the street and in the public park, but I found no Witnesses.
RECEIVING NEEDED HELP
On my fourth trip I was talking to the cousin who had told me about the Witnesses, when he suddenly said: “There goes one of them right now!” Immediately I began to follow her. It must have frightened her when she realized that she was being followed by a handless man. However, when I spoke to her and begged for help, she realized that I was sincere. She was a missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the name of Dorell Swaby. She was so kind and helpful. Immediately she wrote to the Watch Tower Society in Panama City, asking that someone be sent to us.
The traveling overseer, Dimas Alvarez, was at once advised, and the following month he came. But what he went through to find us! He secured transportation on a pickup truck for part of the journey. But then, after passing through two heavy downpours and getting soaked to the skin, he finally got to within an hour’s walking distance of our house. He spent the rest of that night with the border police. When he finally arrived the next day we were overjoyed to receive his aid and counsel.
We learned that another Panamanian, Nazario Batista, had been studying the Bible with the Witnesses in Costa Rica. He had been baptized a short time before, so he was assigned to conduct meetings in our house. By the end of the very first month, four from our little group were sharing in the preaching work. However, Eladia and I could not be counted among them, because we were not legally married.
How anxious we were now to correct this matter! Three months later, at the circuit assembly in David, we were ready, not only to legalize our marriage, but also to present ourselves for water baptism in symbol of our dedication to Jehovah God to do his will. How happy we were! For the first time since losing my hands I really felt that life had a purpose. I was willing to be used by Jehovah in any way that he could possibly use a handless man.
With practice, I became expert in carrying a Bible under my arm and in turning the pages with my two stubs. I became proficient in teaching people from the Bible in their homes, and from the platform.
OPPOSITION, THEN ACCEPTANCE
My father threatened to beat me, a full-grown man, if I did not abandon this new religion. My brothers also did what they could to discourage me. But I was convinced that I had found the only true religion, and I was determined that nothing was going to discourage me. Our family continued to have Christian meetings in our house. And, in time, we began to see the fruits of our persistence.
One by one our brothers, sisters, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren and cousins began to study the Bible with us. Soon many of them were sharing our same Christian faith and hope. Three congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been formed here near the Panama–Costa Rican border, with members of our families as the basis.
My brother Juan had been interested in the Adventist religion. But as a result of studying the chapters on the Sabbath and the Mosaic law in the book “Let God Be True,” he soon became a Witness. For a number of years he served as a “special pioneer”—one who arranges to spend at least 140 hours a month in the preaching work. He has been instrumental in forming other congregations. My brother Domingo is a devoted Christian elder, as was also my brother Eduviges. But Eduviges was bitten by a deadly snake not long ago, and died almost immediately. My sister Carmen is a special pioneer along with her daughter.
My father and mother, although advanced in years and having opposed us for so long, finally became convinced that we had found the only true religion. They are now dedicated, baptized Witnesses also.
TRUE PROTECTION AND SATISFACTION
A few years ago there was a political revolution in Panama. Many began fleeing across the border into Costa Rica, and neighbors advised us to do the same. But I told them that we were not involved in politics in any way and so saw no reason to flee. We Witnesses stayed, and did not lose our farms, whereas those who fled lost everything to guerrillas and thieves.
The greatest satisfaction that Eladia and I have is in knowing that we have been able to help so many others to come to a knowledge of Jehovah God and his purposes. Of her family, we know of 31 who are baptized and making known the Kingdom message to others, and there are at least 35 of my family. Besides, there are many more relatives who are studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and attending Christian meetings.
Of our close relatives, eight are Christian elders, eight are ministerial servants in the congregations, and three are special pioneers. We no longer meet in our house; instead, we have a fine Kingdom Hall that we have built alongside it. Our regular meeting attendance here is about 75. I’m convinced that the power of God’s Word and spirit can help one to overcome any adversities, however great, that one may experience in life.