A Hope That Has Sustained Me
I WAS born in October 1950, one of hundreds of children who yearly become victims of birth defects. I suffered from the absence of the tibia in my right leg. The tibia is the main bone between the ankle and the knee. Without this bone, it is impossible for a person to stand or walk.
My father was in the armed forces during this time and was eligible for certain medical benefits. Naturally he and mother were quite excited at the prospect of a revolutionary operation that might restore my ability to walk. The operation was performed in 1953 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It consisted of an animal-bone transplant to replace the missing tibia.
Of course, in the early 1950’s transplant operations were only in the experimental stage. Little was known about body rejection of foreign matter. As a result, the operation was a failure. My body rejected the transplant and my right leg contracted gangrene. With my life in danger, it became necessary for the leg to be amputated. I was only three years old, so at an early age the future seemed dim.
A SUSTAINING HOPE
Our little family managed to hang together. Then, shortly after my operation, dad became interested in studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first mother was violently opposed, to the point of threatening to leave my father. But after one of Jehovah’s Witnesses showed her from the Bible that there was no such thing as a burning hell, she immediately became interested in a Bible study. She progressed rapidly in Bible knowledge and, after a short while, symbolized her dedication to serve God by being baptized. Soon she became very active in sharing the “good news” with others. My father, on the other hand, was still undecided, but on seeing mom’s fine progress he, too, dedicated his life to serve Jehovah and was baptized.
A handicapped person can fall into the snare of self-pity. Fortunately, my parents were keenly aware of this and, using the Scriptures as the basis of their instruction, they were able to build in me a new hope. That hope was for me to be able to walk and run and enjoy perfect health in God’s new order. Oh, what a wonderful prospect!
I literally ate, slept and daydreamed about God’s new order. This hope is not some idle fantasy manufactured by my parents, or by someone else, to try to encourage me. No, but it is a hope based solidly on the promises of God in the Bible. “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to [God’s] promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell,” the apostle Peter wrote.—2 Pet. 3:13.
From a young age I came to have firm faith in such promises of God. “God himself will be with them,” the inspired apostle John wrote. “And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3, 4) But my favorite scripture came to be Isaiah 35:6, which says: “At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does.” At night I dreamed of running effortlessly over fields of daisies and meadows of grass for miles and miles.
At age five, with the help of a newly developed artificial leg called a “boot,” I became a publisher of the good news of God’s kingdom. I was so proud to be able to present the magazines and other Bible literature to people. By the time I was six I could give a complete Bible presentation at the doors, using a number of scriptures on a Bible theme. The following year I delivered my first talk from the platform as a member of the Theocratic School.
My mother was pioneering and my father presided at the Theocratic School in our congregation in Washington, D.C. Then an invitation came for us to serve where the need for Kingdom proclaimers was greater, in the Gaithersburg, Maryland, area. Dad and mom accepted the assignment joyfully and we soon moved to our new home.
The congregation in Gaithersburg was very small. In fact, we met in the home of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were very few black friends associated with the congregation. So it was a privilege to be able to make sure that people of all races could learn God’s Word. With Jehovah’s blessing, the congregation grew and prospered. In 1961, with my father’s approval, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.
During this period many social changes were taking place in the country. The fight for civil rights was well under way. There were marches and protest sit-ins and riots. “Black power” and “burn, baby, burn” seemed to be the slogans of the day. It was hard not to be caught up in the swirl of events. But dad and mom kept close to Jehovah’s Word and made sure that we children had the proper outlook on the changing world scene. Yes, we were glad to be able to eat in certain restaurants and to ride in the front of the bus now, but our only hope for lasting peace and freedom was still in God’s new order.
GROWING INTO MANHOOD
When I entered high school, I became more self-conscious of my appearance and handicap. At times it was very discouraging because I longed to be popular and to be accepted by the other kids. But I was helped to appreciate that strength comes from Jehovah and that popularity with the world is not a requirement for gaining life eternal.
I had come to terms with the fact that there would always be certain things that I couldn’t do. What was important was to do my best at the things I could do. As for friends, of what value could they possibly be if they could not accept me for what I was and the way I looked? As it turned out, I found true friendship among Jehovah’s people. These friends taught me how to play baseball, football, and to swim. I excelled at swimming, and to the surprise of my family and myself I was one of 17 students in my school to receive the President’s Physical Fitness Award for Athletic Excellence.
Of course, “bodily training is [only] beneficial for a little.” (1 Tim. 4:8) There was so much more that I wanted to do with my body and the logical answer seemed to be the pioneer service. So from that time onward I began pioneering every summer, and set as my goal the full-time preaching work and serving at Bethel, the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York.
MAKING A CHOICE
Before I knew it graduation time came. As an honor student, and a handicapped person, I was given the opportunity to accept a college scholarship from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. How tempted I was to accept that scholarship! Pressure mounted in favor of acceptance.
After talking it over with my father, I reflected back on the training that I had received. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that I had been prepared to do a special work. That work involved the saving of lives, as the apostle Paul wrote to the young man Timothy: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Tim. 4:16) So I enlisted in that lifesaving work full time by enrolling as a pioneer. It was a decision that I have never regretted.
To remain a pioneer I found it necessary to do numerous types of part-time work. Just to name a few, at various times I was a painter, dishwasher, bartender, cook, janitor, share cropper, bricklayer’s assistant, and an office boy. I even did time as a one-legged ditch digger, which my family still laughs about.
While serving in Annapolis, Maryland, I had many thrilling experiences. One was with a man who was deeply involved with the holiness religion. He believed strongly in hellfire. After a study of God’s Word he and his entire family accepted the truth of God’s Word, and today he is an elder in the Annapolis South Congregation. Such experiences are not unusual for pioneers, and I heartily encourage all young people who can to reach out for this marvelous privilege of service.
Years have passed and I now have a family of my own. Jehovah has richly blessed and used me. I am now serving as an elder in the Washington, D.C., area.
As I have grown older, it has gotten a little harder to climb steps and stairways, to walk long distances and to stand for long periods. I begin each day with a prayer to Jehovah for strength and guidance, and somehow there is always enough strength to make that last return visit, that last hour in service or that next meeting.
What a blessing it has been to have had such wonderful parents, and the guidance of the only true God in my life! During more than 20 years of active service I have relied always on that guidance and strength that is provided by Jehovah.
For me, that dream of running effortlessly for miles and miles in God’s new order is still alive and burning brightly. It has not dimmed in the least.—Contributed.