Jehovah Has Given Me Strength
AS TOLD BY EKUMBA OKOKA
I WAS born into a “Christian” household in a Central African country, and I grew up with a love for God. My father was a zealous lay preacher, and I often went with him when he taught in church or in prayer sessions in private homes. Since I seemed to be a devoted young boy, other lay preachers chose me to serve alongside the priest at Mass. They even told me that some day I would likely study to become a priest myself.
At night, however, I was a leading singer and dancer in a local orchestra, the Matumba-Ngomo. In that capacity, I joined the young men and women of our district in all kinds of immorality. But I still looked forward to having just one wife and to going eventually to heaven to live with the “saints.” I saw no need to clean up my life because, according to Catholic doctrine, all my sins were forgiven each Saturday evening at confession.
In 1969, while I was studying at college, I began to feel pains in my joints. I did not know what caused them, but over the months that followed, they got worse. My parents, despite being well-known Catholics, decided to take me to different fetishists, who said that someone had put a spell on me, but that thanks to their prayers and medicines, I would be healed. Nevertheless, I began to walk with a limp, and by 1970, I could hardly walk at all, even when leaning on a stick. At that point, I thought that my walking days would soon be over.
In February 1972 my father finally decided to take me to the hospital at Wembo Nyama. I was in the hospital for such a long time that they started to call me the owner! People would come to the hospital, be cured, leave, and then some time later come back with another problem, and I would still be there! My father had to go home for the rice harvest, but by now I was married, with two children, and my dear wife, although only 21 years old, looked after me and sought out a job so that she could care for our needs.
Nevertheless, I was very depressed about the whole situation. At 24 years of age, I was still getting worse, while my friends were doing well, many of them now having steady jobs. It seemed to me that it would be best for everyone if I would kill myself. Hence, I distributed everything I possessed to my children and my brothers, without telling them what I had in mind. I left myself with nothing but my favorite shirt that I wanted to be buried in.
Beginning of a New Life
Then one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was assigned the bed next to mine. Although he was blind in one eye and in danger of losing the sight of the other one, he quickly began to witness to me from the Bible about Jehovah and the Kingdom. After a few days, he left the hospital, but he commended me to the care of some Witnesses who had visited him. After further discussions, these also had to leave, but one of them continued studying with me through correspondence. He also gave me various Bible study publications, which I read with much pleasure.
In this way I received spiritual food, and my depression gradually changed to happiness. It seemed that my church had been giving me “acid” to drink, but now I was freely receiving the water of life. I thanked Jehovah in my heart for freeing me from superstitious beliefs, such as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, fear of the dead, and worship of ancestors.
By now I wanted to leave the hospital. Then I learned that two families of full-time ministers were going to be assigned to Wembo Nyama, so I decided to stay until their arrival. What happiness I felt when they finally came to find me in my hospital bed! Now I was able to continue my Bible study in person instead of through the mail.
After a few days, I asked them if they had meetings in a Kingdom Hall, as I had read in the magazines. They kindly told me that they conducted all their meetings in the little hut in which one of them lived. They also said they would be happy to bring me there on a bicycle! Despite severe pain in my spine and in all my joints, I joyfully attended all the meetings. When I met the qualifications, I was even able to submit a report each month as an unbaptized publisher, starting April 1974.
Three months later, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water immersion. I witnessed to the medical staff of the hospital, to the patients there, to the Protestant missionaries who came to visit, and to members of my family—despite the determined opposition of the latter. At this time, I witnessed while lying on my bed or riding in a wheelchair that the hospital made available to me until I could buy my own.
Endurance Brought Benefits
Despite the opposition of my family, I continued to walk in Jehovah’s way and was richly blessed. My wife took her stand for the truth and was baptized in 1975. We decided to live in Katako-Kombe, where there was already an established congregation. My parents worried about us because someone had told them that all Witnesses would be killed in 1975. When we refused to give up our association, they stopped sending us food, and we fell into great material need. I remember that on one occasion my young son collapsed from hunger after we had gone a day and a half without food. But then our Christian brothers brought us fish and meal. Later, my parents started to help us again, but our brothers never stopped giving us material aid.
In February 1975 my right arm became paralyzed and started to waste away. But I kept my faith and was determined to continue serving Jehovah with joy. I am happy to say that my arm later got strong again, and I can still move it today, which enables me to open my Bible and use the Society’s publications.
Courageous Before the Authorities
In 1977 the local commissioner accused me before the regional commission, which had just arrested a special pioneer in a nearby congregation. One day a soldier came for me with a summons. I prayed with my family, encouraged the congregation, and then went with him. Thanks to Jehovah’s spirit, I was able to give a courageous answer to the charges, and after a long discussion with the civil and military authorities, I was released along with the special pioneer.
Some months later, I was summoned by another commissioner, and again, with Jehovah’s help, I was able to defend the good news with joy and courage. I had a long discussion with this person, and at the end of it, he released me and personally pushed my wheelchair out of his office. Then he said quietly: “Come to my home this evening.” After a number of visits, I was able to start a Bible study with him. Eventually, I had seven home Bible studies with different persons in authority. Most of them attended the congregation meetings organized locally.
I asked Jehovah to help me, despite my sickness, to fulfill my vow to serve him with all my strength. Without officially enrolling, I tried to meet the requirements of an auxiliary pioneer. Jehovah helped me to succeed, so I filed an application for this service for the months of June to October. Then the Society accepted my application to be a regular pioneer, and I started this service in November 1976. In September 1977 my joy was complete when I received an assignment as special pioneer with the congregation at Katako-Kombe.
How was I able to accomplish this? I covered the territory in my wheelchair with the help of my dear wife and the brothers in the congregation. Sometimes I even went out alone on crutches. Once or twice I fell. Then I would just wait, immobile on the ground, until a passerby would help me get up and give me back my crutches. I always remembered the determination of the apostles and disciples of Jesus. (Acts 14:21, 22; Hebrews 10:35-39) Each time I fell, I prayed that Jehovah would not let me get discouraged but, rather, give me the strength to keep serving him. I kept in mind the marvelous promise recorded in the prophecy of Isaiah, that “the lame one will climb up just as a stag does.”—Isaiah 35:6.
The more I increased my service, the more I was able to overcome my physical handicaps. In 1978 I had the privilege of attending the Kingdom Ministry School at Lubumbashi, which involved traveling a total of 1,200 miles [2,000 km] by truck, boat, and train. Truly, for this trip Jehovah made full might abound in my case. (Isaiah 12:2; 40:29) Now I can even walk—with great difficulty—up to 300 feet [100 m] without the aid of crutches. I am convinced that Jehovah heard my prayer back in 1973 to give me the strength to serve him with determination.
In 1984, after seven years in the congregation at Katako-Kombe, I received a new assignment to work with the congregation at Lodja-Centre. A year later we started a new book study 7 miles [12 km] away, and soon we started another 20 miles [30 km] from that one. This latter one was soon recognized as an isolated group and in 1988 was accepted as a congregation, where I presently serve as an elder.
Pioneering has been very good for me, both spiritually and physically. Out in the service, on my crutches, I was able to accomplish the exercises recommended by the doctors. I am much stronger now than when I started pioneering, and my desire is to endure in this work to the end. I am anxious to see how Jehovah will help me to “climb up just as a stag does” at a time when I will no longer have to endure the sharp pains of this illness.
With all my heart, I thank our heavenly Father, who has given me strength, courage, and the full-time service. I am now 36 years of age, and after 11 years in the pioneer work, I hope to continue, whatever the future may hold. I am determined to use all my vital force in honoring and praising the great God Jehovah.