Coping With Trials Strengthened Our Trust in Jehovah
As told by Ada Dello Stritto
I just finished copying the daily text into my notebook. I am 36 years old, but writing those few lines took me two hours. Why so long? My mother will explain.—Joel
MY HUSBAND and I were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1968. After giving birth to two healthy sons, David and Marc, I had our third son, Joel. He was born prematurely in 1973 at a hospital in the town of Binche in Belgium, about 40 miles [60 km] south of Brussels. He weighed only 3 pounds 12 ounces [1.7 kg]. When I left the hospital, Joel needed to stay behind to gain more weight.
Weeks later when our son still showed no signs of improvement, my husband, Luigi, and I took him to a pediatrician. After he finished examining Joel, the doctor said: “I’m so sorry. Joel seems to have all the problems his brothers do not have.” There was a long silence. At that moment, I realized that our little boy had a serious health problem. Then the doctor took my husband aside and told him: “Your baby has trisomy 21,” which is also known as Down syndrome.*
Saddened by the pediatrician’s diagnosis, we decided to consult another medical specialist. He carefully examined little Joel for nearly an hour without saying one word. To Luigi and me, it seemed like an eternity. Finally, the doctor looked up and said, “Your child will be very dependent on you.” Then, with kindness in his voice, he added, “But Joel will be happy because his parents love him!” Overwhelmed by emotion, I cradled Joel in my arms, and we took him home. By then, he was eight weeks old.
Fortified by Christian Meetings and the Ministry
Further medical tests revealed that Joel also had a serious heart malformation and a severe form of rickets. Because his heart was too large, it pressed against his lungs and made him prone to infections. Before long, when he was four months old, Joel contracted bronchial pneumonia and had to return to the hospital, where he was quarantined. It was agonizing for us to see him struggle. We wished we could hold him in our arms and caress him, but for ten distressing weeks, we were not allowed to touch him at all. Luigi and I could do no more than watch, hold each other, and pray.
During that ordeal, we continued attending the congregation meetings together with David and Marc, then aged 6 and 3. For us, being at the Kingdom Hall was like being held in Jehovah’s caring hands. During the hours we were there, surrounded by our Christian brothers and sisters, we felt that we were able to place our burden on Jehovah, and we experienced a measure of inner calm. (Ps. 55:22) Even the nurses who cared for Joel remarked that they noticed how our attending Christian meetings helped us to keep our balance.
During that time, I also begged Jehovah for the strength to go out in the field service. Instead of staying at home crying, I wanted to talk to others and tell them why my trust in God’s promise of a world without sickness gave me strength. Every time I was able to share in the ministry, I felt that Jehovah answered my prayers.
“This Is Amazing!”
What a happy day it was when we could, at last, bring Joel home from the hospital! But the very next day, our joy turned to sadness. Joel’s condition quickly worsened, and we had to rush him back to the hospital. After examining him, the doctors told us: “Joel has at most six months to live.” Two months later, when he was about eight months old, the doctors’ prediction seemed to come true, for Joel’s condition deteriorated. A doctor sat down with us and said: “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing more that we can do for him.” Then he added: “At this point, only Jehovah can help him.”
I returned to Joel’s hospital room. Though I was emotionally distressed and physically drained, I was determined not to leave his bedside. Several Christian sisters took turns staying with me, as Luigi had to take care of our two older boys. A week passed. Then, suddenly, Joel had a heart attack. The nurses rushed into the room but could do nothing to help him. After some minutes, one of them said softly, “It is over . . .” Exhausted, I broke down crying and left the room. I tried to pray to Jehovah, but I could hardly find words to express my pain. Some 15 minutes went by, and then a nurse called out to me, “Joel is recovering!” She took me by the arm and said, “Come, you can see him now.” When I returned to Joel, his heart was beating again! Quickly, the news of his comeback spread. Nurses and doctors came to see him, and many exclaimed, “This is amazing!”
At Four Years Old, a Surprising Step
During the first years of Joel’s life, the pediatrician often repeated to us, “Joel needs lots of love.” Since Luigi and I had especially experienced Jehovah’s loving care after Joel’s birth, we wanted to surround our son with loving care too. We had many opportunities to do so because he needed our assistance in everything he did.
Every year for the first seven years of Joel’s life, we dealt with the same sequence of events. Between October and March, he suffered one health problem after another, and we had to take him back and forth to the hospital. At the same time, I endeavored to devote as much time as possible to our sons David and Marc. In turn, they became very involved in helping Joel to make progress—and with surprising results. For instance, several doctors had told us that Joel would never be able to walk. But one day when Joel was four years old, our son Marc said, “Come on, Joel, show Mummy that you can do it!” To my amazement, Joel took his first steps! We were delighted, and we prayed together as a family to thank Jehovah from our hearts. At other times, even when Joel made only a little progress in one area or another, we always commended him warmly.
Godly Training From Infancy Bears Fruit
As often as possible, we took Joel with us to the meetings at the Kingdom Hall. To protect him from germs that would easily make him ill, we put him in a special buggy that was enclosed with a transparent plastic cover. Yet, even sitting behind that cover, he enjoyed being with the congregation.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were a source of strength to us, surrounding us with love and giving us practical support. One brother often reminded us of the words at Isaiah 59:1: “Look! The hand of Jehovah has not become too short that it cannot save, nor has his ear become too heavy that it cannot hear.” Those reassuring words helped us to trust in Jehovah.
As Joel grew, we endeavored to make serving Jehovah a big part of his life. At every opportunity, we talked with him about Jehovah in such a way that Joel would develop a bond of love with his heavenly Father. We begged Jehovah to bless our efforts so that godly training would bear good fruit.
As he entered his early teens, we were grateful to notice that Joel loved to share Bible truths with those he met. While he was recuperating from major surgery at age 14, I felt so happy when Joel asked me, “Mum, can I give the surgeon a Live Forever book?” A few years later, Joel had to undergo further surgery. We well knew that he might not survive it. Before the surgery, Joel handed his doctors a letter that we had prepared together with him. It explained his stand on the use of blood. The surgeon asked Joel, “And do you agree?” Joel firmly replied, “Yes, Doctor.” We were so proud of our son’s trust in his Creator and his determination to please Him. The hospital staff was very supportive, which we deeply appreciated.
Joel’s Spiritual Progress
At age 17, Joel symbolized his dedication to God by water baptism. What an unforgettable day that was! Seeing his spiritual progress fills us with deep joy. Since then, his love for Jehovah and zeal for the truth have not diminished. In fact, to everyone he meets, Joel likes to say, “The truth is my life!”
In his late teens, Joel learned to read and write. It took huge effort. Each little word he managed to write down was a victory. Since then, he begins each day with a consideration of the daily text from Examining the Scriptures Daily. After that, he painstakingly copies the scripture text in one of his notebooks, which by now form an impressive collection!
On meeting days, Joel makes sure that we go to the Kingdom Hall early because he wants to be there in time to give a warm welcome to all those entering the hall. During the meetings, he enjoys giving comments and sharing in demonstrations. He also helps care for the microphones and performs other tasks. Every week, if his health allows, he accompanies us in the preaching work. In 2007 it was announced to the congregation that Joel had been appointed as a ministerial servant. We shed tears of joy. What a kind blessing from Jehovah!
We Sense Jehovah’s Helping Hand
In 1999 we faced another trial. Our car was hit by a reckless driver, and Luigi was seriously injured. One of his legs had to be amputated, and he underwent several major surgeries on his spine. Again, by trusting in Jehovah, we felt the strength that he gives to his servants in need. (Phil. 4:13) Although Luigi remains disabled, we try to look at the positive side. Because he is unable to do secular work, he has more time to look after Joel. This allows me to set aside more time for spiritual activities. Luigi can also give more attention to the spiritual needs of our family and to those of our congregation, where he continues to serve as the coordinator of the body of elders.
Because of our uncommon circumstances, we spend a lot of time together as a family. With the passing of time, we have learned to be reasonable and not to expect more than is possible. On the days that we feel discouraged, we express our feelings to Jehovah in prayer. Sadly, when our sons David and Marc reached adulthood and moved away from home, they gradually stopped serving Jehovah. We hope that they may still return to Jehovah.—Luke 15:17-24.
Through the years, we have sensed Jehovah’s support and have learned to rely on him in every challenge we face. The words found at Isaiah 41:13 are especially dear to us: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’” Knowing that Jehovah firmly holds our hand is a source of comfort. Indeed, we can truly say that coping with trials strengthened our trust in our heavenly Father, Jehovah.
Trisomy 21 is a congenital defect causing mental retardation. Chromosomes normally come in pairs, but babies born with trisomy have an extra chromosome on one of the pairs. Trisomy 21 affects chromosome 21.
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Joel with his mother, Ada
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Ada, Joel, and Luigi
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Joel enjoys welcoming brothers and sisters at the Kingdom Hall