What Has Given Real Meaning to My Life
As told by Jaya Reddy
IT WAS my love of books that first awakened my interest in religion. For as far back as I can remember, books have held a special fascination for me. One day I was searching among a pile of books for something to read when I came across one with an unusual title, From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. We had obtained it from one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had called at our door. It had been left in the drawer, forgotten and untouched. I found it strangely absorbing. Within a week I had read it from cover to cover.
I was 12 years old at the time. The book awakened my interest in the Bible, the textbook of a religion different from my own. I was born into a Hindu family, but I really never practiced the religion. We live in Durban, that bustling port on the east coast of South Africa.
My mother had three children and all of us had one thing in common. We were all born with a hereditary disease, muscular dystrophy. There are three different forms of the disease. My elder brother had the worst form, and he died at the age of four.
We were all normal and well at birth, deceptively so. It is later that the signs show up—perhaps a weakness in the arms, a lack of strength in the legs, which causes one to stumble suddenly, and, over the years, a progressive slowness in the limbs and muscles. The disease creeps up on one in a slow, insidious manner.
Over the years, more and more of my muscles have weakened as a result of the disease. Thus, to do such simple things as eating or combing my hair require unusual effort. Even sitting can put a great strain on the muscles. My muscles are so very weak that I have to wear the lightest clothes and I sit only with the aid of a spinal brace.
When the muscles tire through strain, they become tense and ache, sometimes for days. At times the tension buildup in my muscles is so bad that every nerve and fibre screams with the ache. The muscles that enable one to sit weakened over the years, and I developed a curvature of the spine.
When I was 18 I underwent a major operation for correction of the spine. This was the Harrington procedure, whereby steel rods are placed in the spine to keep it straight and are kept in place by steel screws. In my brother’s case the progress of the disease was much slower, but eventually he, too, ended up in a wheelchair in his mid-teens.
DEVELOPING WIDE INTERESTS
Being confined to a wheelchair did not keep me from developing many interests. My mother is to be thanked for that. She did her utmost for us, sparing nothing and sacrificing much. She gave us a normal upbringing. We were never pampered or mollycoddled.
I was 11 years old when mother first suggested that I take up writing. It would be the ideal thing, she said. I could work at home, in my own time. The idea appealed to me. Apart from the practical considerations, I loved the world of make-believe. I was also the introspective type, given to daydreaming and reverie. So my early attempts at writing were all fairy tales.
On looking back now, I’m glad I began at an early age, since writing is not an easy profession. Yet it is something that grows on you and develops with you. Inevitably it becomes so much a part of you that one portion of your mind is always automatically absorbing ideas, impressions and thoughts for future use.
I developed a particular interest in history and wildlife. Also, I read all that I could find on religion. Because I loved poetry and literature, I found the rare lyricism and beauty of the Bible especially striking. Later, with my growing awareness of life and the injustices of man’s inhumanity to man, I developed an interest in sociology and the humanities.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS IN RELIGION
When I was 15 I joined one of the minor “Christian” sects, and attended its services occasionally in an effort to find something satisfying and wholesome. But I was deeply dissatisfied with much that I saw.
I noticed that the priest, with a few exceptions, took no interest in the members of his flock. He appeared to be very prosperous, for he often had a new car and lived well. Also, racial inequality was practiced. A Black priest earned far less than his White counterpart. The sermons were a bore. One sermon was no different from another and they seemed to concentrate on just a handful of scriptures.
I questioned the ability that certain members of the church were supposed to have of speaking in tongues and healing the disabled. Despite my physical condition, in my search for the truth I was not looking for physical healing. It seemed unreasonable to me that a God of love would heal a few while overlooking the sufferings of the masses. I felt sure there was something deeper involved.
I was learning nothing in church. So I stopped attending and decided to study the Bible on my own.
In the meantime, I had begun to question life around me. History as a whole seemed to be marked by man’s inhumanity to man, inequality, injustice and oppression of the poor by a handful who held the reins of power. We needed an ideology that spelled freedom and equality for all and that allowed the individual to develop freely to his full potential.
I felt strongly that the answer lay in politics, for power in the right hands exercised in the right way could result in good. How much better it would be if our leaders were real Christians who cared about individual rights and freedoms and who allowed the teachings of Jesus Christ to guide their decisions for their country’s benefit!
Occasionally I used to get The Watchtower and Awake! I noted that all facts and counsel given in these magazines were supported by the Bible. To me the reasoning was sound and especially suited for the problems and difficulties experienced in today’s world. But there was one point in particular that I could not accept: The neutrality of Christians in political affairs. True Christians, I was convinced, could be a powerful force for good in the world if they became politically involved.
As I came to feel more strongly about this, the more I disagreed with the Witnesses on their political neutrality. And yet I admired their stand. From my study of history, I agreed that war was a terrible thing. Two world wars had caused enough havoc for us to wish that we would never repeat the mistake.
Actually, I was against all mindless killing, including the wanton destruction of wildlife. Through man’s folly and selfishness, many beautiful and rare species were on the verge of extinction. From my study of the Bible, I knew that God had not purposed it to be so. Man’s dominion over God’s animal creation was meant to be a dominion of love.
I became convinced that the answer to man’s problems lay somewhere within the pages of the Bible. But my knowledge was too inadequate. Meanwhile, I had decided to use my writing as a vehicle for highlighting the hardships and oppression suffered by the Blacks. I felt there had to be a change.
THE SOURCE OF TRUE WISDOM
At this point in my life, I went into the hospital for the spinal operation. Recovery was slow and lengthy. Two years later, when I was 20, I began an in-depth study of the Bible.
A Witness with whom I was slightly acquainted rang me up one day in January 1969 for a friendly chat. I invited him to come by that weekend. He placed the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life with me, saying: “I know you’ll read it within the week. But reading it is not enough. The material the book contains is deep and requires careful study.”
True enough, I did finish it by the following weekend. When he returned, he suggested a Bible study. I accepted. On his next visit, he asked my brother to join in. He agreed, but, being an atheist, he did so very reluctantly.
I did not learn everything at once. True learning is when knowledge sinks into a person’s heart and becomes a part of his very being. One must mull it over and meditate on it, as the apostle said: “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them.” (1 Tim. 4:15) God’s Word, I came to appreciate, is indeed the source of true wisdom.
THE MESSAGE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
The “ideology” of the Bible, our study revealed, is theocracy—rule by God. God will establish a new system of real peace for mankind. God’s kingdom for which Christians were taught to pray will bring this about. (Matt. 6:9, 10) I was surprised to learn that this kingdom is a real government in the hands of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and that it will wipe from the earth all human governments and restore the earth to a beautiful paradise. (Isa. 9:6, 7; Dan. 2:44) Thus the world will once again be free of conflict and strife.
In that system, too, there will be wise direction, unlike the situation in this system, where one often sees the wrong people occupying positions of responsibility. “I have seen servants on horses but princes walking on the earth just like servants.” (Eccl. 10:7) Those in positions of responsibility under God’s kingdom will be selected by God’s direction. Each person will be able to develop to his full potential and will bring to that society his own individuality.
Ultimately, true knowledge and wisdom will bring what is good and worth while and constructive. For example, if all the money that is spent today on the arms race were spent on educating and feeding the poor, how much happier the world would be! As God’s Word says: “Wisdom is better than implements for fighting, and merely one sinner can destroy much good.”—Eccl. 9:18.
The citizens of God’s new system, I began to see, are being prepared now for life then. They are living examples of how workable true Christianity is. I liked what I was learning and found it fully satisfying. At the end of the year, in December 1970, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by being baptized. Later my brother was baptized. Over the years my mother also grew to love and accept our beliefs.
SOURCE OF REAL PLEASURE
What has given me special joy has been sharing the Kingdom hope with others. Due to my physical handicap, I do most of my witnessing through writing. When interesting subjects such as abortion, conscientious objection, cruelty to animals, speaking in tongues, and so forth, are mentioned in the press, I write to the publication giving the Biblical angle. I always include my name and address and often people write to me personally when they read my observations. This gives me a chance to write back, giving them a witness regarding God’s grand purposes for humankind. I also do a lot of informal witnessing, and have had Bible studies with children in the congregation.
In the long run, what a person really needs in life is the love and understanding of friends. Jehovah’s organization furnishes us with such genuine friends and real warmth. I have noticed that those who pursue material riches are generally dissatisfied and lonely. They lose sight of real things. It’s like grasping the shadow and losing the substance.
Above all, I have learned that what really matters in life is an individual’s relationship with Jehovah God. The closer a person draws to him, the more he comes to know the healing power and operation of Jehovah’s spirit in his life. Only then can a person know the real richness of living, of being whole and sound, of joy undiminished. How grand it will be when our hope is realized in God’s righteous new system!—2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:3, 4.