“Thrown Down, but Not Destroyed”
AS TOLD BY ULF HELGESSON
In July 1983, doctors leaning over me exclaimed: “He is awake!” A four-and-three-quarter-inch-long [12 cm] tumor had been removed from my spinal cord in a complicated 15-hour operation. I was left totally paralyzed.
A FEW days later, I was moved to a hospital nearly 40 miles [60 km] from my hometown of Hälsingborg, in the south of Sweden. There I entered a rehabilitation program. The physiotherapist said it would be extremely demanding, yet I was anxious to get started. I really wanted to walk again. By diligently pursuing a five-hour-a-day program of exercise, I made rapid progress.
A month later when the traveling overseer served our congregation, he and the other Christian elders made the long trip to hold the congregation elders’ meeting in my hospital room. How my heart rejoiced at this evidence of brotherly love! The nurses in the ward served the whole group tea and sandwiches after the meeting.
At first the doctors were amazed at my progress. After three months I could sit up in my wheelchair and even stand for a few moments. I was happy and fully determined to walk again. My family and fellow Christians gave me a lot of encouragement during their visits. I was even able to go home for short periods.
A Real Setback
After that, however, I did not make any further progress. Soon the physiotherapist gave me the painful message: “You will not get any better than this!” The goal now was to strengthen me to move about by myself in a wheelchair. I wondered what would happen to me. How would my wife manage? She had had major surgery herself and had needed my help. Would I require permanent institutional care?
I became deeply depressed. My strength, courage, and power drained away. Days passed, and I remained immobile. Not only was I physically paralyzed but I was also emotionally and spiritually numb. I was “thrown down.” I had always viewed myself as spiritually strong. I had a firmly rooted faith in God’s Kingdom. (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:10) I was convinced of the Bible’s promise that all diseases and infirmities would be cured in God’s righteous new world and that all humankind would be restored to perfect life there. (Isaiah 25:8; 33:24; 2 Peter 3:13) Now I felt paralyzed not just physically but spiritually as well. I felt “destroyed.”—2 Corinthians 4:9.
Before I go any further, let me tell you a little about my background.
A Happy Family
I was born in 1934, and my health had always been good. In the early 1950’s, I met Ingrid, and we married in 1958 and settled down in the town of Östersund, in central Sweden. A turning point in our life came in 1963 when we began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. By then we had three small children—Ewa, Björn, and Lena. Soon our entire family was studying and progressing well in the knowledge of Bible truths.
Shortly after we began studying, we moved to Hälsingborg. There, my wife and I dedicated ourselves to Jehovah and were baptized in 1964. Our happiness increased when our oldest daughter, Ewa, was baptized in 1968. Seven years later, in 1975, Björn and Lena were also baptized, and the following year I was appointed an elder in the Christian congregation.
My secular work enabled me to provide well for the material needs of my family. And our happiness grew when Björn and Lena took up the full-time ministry. Björn was soon invited to serve at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Arboga. Life, as it were, smiled on us. Then, early in 1980, I started to feel the physical effects of the tumor that was eventually removed in that major surgery in 1983.
Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis
When I was told that I would not walk again, life seemed to collapse around me. How did I regain spiritual strength? It was easier than I thought. I simply picked up my Bible and started to read. The more I read, the more spiritual strength I received. Most of all I came to appreciate Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I read it over and over again and meditated on it.
My happy outlook on life was restored. Through reading and meditation, I started to see opportunities instead of obstacles. I regained my desire to share Bible truths with others, and I satisfied this desire by witnessing to the hospital staff and others I met. My family fully supported me and received training in how to take care of me. Finally I was able to leave the hospital.
At last I was home. What a happy day that was for all of us! My family arranged a schedule that included my care. My son, Björn, decided to leave the work at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he came home to help take care of me. It was most comforting to be the object of so much love and concern from my family.
Coping With Another Setback
However, as time went on, my health deteriorated, and it was difficult for me to move. Finally, despite my family’s devoted efforts, they were no longer able to care for me at home. So I thought it would be best for me to enter a nursing home. Again, it meant changes and a new routine. But I did not permit this to be a spiritual setback.
I never let up on Bible reading and research. I kept considering what I could do, not what I could not do. I meditated on the spiritual blessings all of Jehovah’s Witnesses have. I stayed close to Jehovah in prayer and used every opportunity to preach to others.
Now I spend my nights and part of my days in the nursing home. The afternoons and evenings I spend either at home or at our Christian meetings. A municipal service arranges for regular transportation to and from the meetings and to and from my home. My devoted family, the brothers in the congregation, and the personnel at the nursing home look after me in a marvelous way.
Doing What I Can
I do not consider myself an invalid, and I am not treated as such by my family, nor by my Christian brothers. I am lovingly cared for, enabling me to continue serving effectively as an elder. I conduct a Congregation Book Study each week, as well as the weekly congregation study of The Watchtower at the Kingdom Hall. It is difficult for me to turn the pages in the Bible, so someone is assigned to help me do that at the meetings. I conduct meetings and give discourses from my wheelchair.
Thus I can still do many of the things I appreciated doing before, including making shepherding calls. (1 Peter 5:2) I do this when brothers and sisters come to me for help or advice. I also use the telephone, taking the initiative by phoning others. The resulting encouragement is mutual. (Romans 1:11, 12) A friend recently said: “Just when I’m feeling downhearted, you call to cheer me up.” But I too am encouraged, knowing that Jehovah is blessing my efforts.
Before and after the meetings, I have fine association with the children in the congregation. Since I am sitting in my wheelchair, we speak to one another at the same eye level. I appreciate their sincerity and straightforwardness. A young boy once said to me: “You are an exceptionally handsome invalid!”
By focusing on what I can do instead of fretting over what I cannot do, I have been enjoying serving Jehovah. I have learned much from what has happened to me. I have realized that we are trained and strengthened by the trials we go through.—1 Peter 5:10.
Many healthy people, I have observed, fail to appreciate that we must always take seriously the worship of our heavenly Father. If we don’t, our schedule of study, meetings, and field ministry can become mere routine. I consider these provisions to be vital to survival through the end of this world into God’s promised earthly Paradise.—Psalm 37:9-11, 29; 1 John 2:17.
We must always keep the hope of life in God’s coming new world alive in our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 5:8) I have also learned not to give up in the fight against any tendency to become discouraged. I have learned to view Jehovah as my Father and his organization as my Mother. I have come to realize that if we make the effort, Jehovah can use any one of us to be an effective servant of his.
Even though I at times have felt that I was, as it were, “thrown down,” I have ‘not been destroyed.’ I have never been abandoned by Jehovah and his organization, nor by my family and my Christian brothers. Thanks to my reaching out for the Bible and starting to read it, I regained spiritual strength. I am grateful to Jehovah God, who gives “power beyond what is normal” when we trust in him.—2 Corinthians 4:7.
With full confidence and complete trust in Jehovah, I am eagerly looking forward to the future. I am confident that very soon Jehovah God will fulfill his promise about a restored paradise here on earth along with all the wonderful blessings it will bring.—Revelation 21:3, 4.