Growing up, I was a very shy girl. I preferred staying indoors and hiding from people, and I often felt worthless. I seldom interacted with others in public and feared that people would not treat me with dignity and respect. Let me share my story with you.
In August 1967, after a normal day as a healthy 18-month-old infant, I developed a high fever. I woke up the next morning with weak legs. Hospital tests in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where I lived, showed that I had contracted polio, an infectious viral disease that causes paralysis, mostly in children under five years of age. Physiotherapy did not help to strengthen my legs. Gradually, they withered and could no longer carry my weight. My father would repeatedly say I was “half a child” because of my disability. With my movement limited to a crawl and my self-worth damaged, I felt that I was confined to the lowest level.
Growing Up, Crawling on the Ground
I grew up in a compound with my mother and several other poverty-stricken families. Though people liked me, I yearned for the love of a father, which was not forthcoming. Some believed my condition was not a normal sickness but was the result of witchcraft. Others suggested that Mother leave me at the doorstep of a home that cared for children with disabilities. That, they reasoned, would free her from the burden of looking after me. Mother rejected that suggestion, and she worked hard to care for me.
Because I could not stand or walk, I had to crawl. But dragging myself across the ground and other surfaces caused injuries. To reduce my lacerations, I wore thick clothes. To protect my hands, I used slippers, which served as gloves. Later, I got U-shaped wooden blocks that better protected my hands. To move about, I reached out, placing the blocks on the ground, and shifted my weight forward. Then I swung my legs in the same direction, arching my back. Once I had moved a “step,” I reached out again to take the next laborious step. This put tremendous strain on my arms and shoulders. Moving around in this way involved so much effort that I rarely left our compound. I was not able to attend school or play with other children. I worried about how I would survive if my mother was not around.
I prayed to God, asking him to help me—and not to let me become a beggar. I felt that if I drew close to him, serving him correctly, he would care for my needs. Therefore, one day in 1981, I painstakingly ventured out of the compound to attend a church on the street where we lived. I felt uneasy because of the way people looked at me. The pastor did not welcome me, and he reproved my mother because I sat at a pew paid for by others. I decided I wouldn’t go there again.
How I Met My Heavenly Father
One morning in 1984, when I was 18 years old, I went upstairs to take my usual position for the day at a window. That’s where I watched the goings-on in the outside world. But then I decided to go downstairs into the outdoor area of the compound, which was usually empty. When I got there, I met two men who were preaching from house to house. They told me about a beautiful future where my condition would change. They read Isaiah 33:24 and Revelation 21:3, 4. Then they gave me the colorful brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! promising to come back and teach me more.
On their second visit, they told me that they would bring a newly arrived missionary, Pauline, to continue our discussion. They did so, and the relationship between Pauline and me became like that of a mother and daughter. My natural mother encouraged my Bible study with my “new mother,” who displayed self-sacrificing love, patience, kindness, and interest, always checking on my welfare. She taught me to read. Using the publication My Book of Bible Stories, she gently introduced me to the loving Father I yearned for.
What I learned from the Bible filled me with joy. One day, I asked Pauline if I could attend the meeting held by Jehovah’s Witnesses known as the Congregation Book Study,a which was held at the home of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses a block away from where I lived. Pauline said yes. The following Tuesday, she came and waited for me to take my bath and get dressed so that we could attend the meeting together. Someone said that I should tell Pauline to pay for a taxi for me, but I said, “I’ll walk there on my wooden walking blocks.”
When it was time to leave, my mother and our neighbors watched me apprehensively. As I made my way across the courtyard, some neighbors yelled at Pauline, “You are forcing her!”
“Jay, do you want to come?” Pauline gently asked me. This was the time to show that I trusted in Jehovah. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) “Yes!” I said. “This is my decision.” The neighbors watched quietly and changed their attitude as I approached the gate. As I exited the compound, they erupted in cheers.
How I enjoyed that meeting! It was so refreshing! Everyone welcomed me. No one looked down on me. I felt very comfortable. So I attended regularly. Shortly thereafter, I asked if I could also attend the larger meetings held at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was poor, and I had only two dresses to choose from and one pair of slippers. Still, I felt confident I wouldn’t be rejected by God’s people. And, of course, I wasn’t.
Getting to the Kingdom Hall involved “walking” to the end of the street and then taking a taxi to the bottom of the hill where the Kingdom Hall was located. The brothers would then carry me up to the hall in their arms.
Feeling that I had tasted Jehovah’s goodness, I wanted to take refuge in him. I made up my mind to attend regularly. (Psalm 34:8) During the rainy season, I would often arrive wet and muddy, and I would have to change my clothes at the hall; but it was worth it!
The 1985 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses told about my situation. After reading my story in the Yearbook, Josette, a Witness in Switzerland, was moved to send me a hand-pedaled tricycle wheelchair with nice mudguards and colorful rear reflectors. After that, I could move around with more dignity. Young children would marvel and say how much they liked to see me riding in my fancy chair. I had been raised up from ground level, and now I felt like a queen, respected and not disdained.
Taken to Great Heights
It was easy for me to progress spiritually because I was already living a simple and morally clean life. My chair enabled me to engage in the ministry, and on August 9, 1986, I got baptized. Baptism changed my life for the good, taking me to heights I had never imagined. I experienced inner joy and satisfaction, the feeling of self-worth, and confidence in myself because I now had a Father who loved me and I was surrounded by people who genuinely cared for me.
Looking for a way to repay Jehovah, I thought about regular pioneering but was not sure I would be able to do it. (Psalm 116:12) I prayed about it and decided to try it. I began to pioneer on January 1, 1988, and I have pioneered ever since. What a blessing this has been to me! I have loving brothers and sisters who help me to reach my monthly goal. And I have seen how Jehovah has supported me through his holy spirit.—Psalm 89:21.
As a pioneer, I was now moving around more actively, and my legs, though weak, were responding to stimulation. After some time, I went to a newly opened clinic, hoping to receive physiotherapy and an exercise program. However, a nurse there told me I shouldn’t bother coming because, she said, I would soon die. When her colleague expressed the same opinion, I felt discouraged. So I came home and prayed to Jehovah to help me cope with my feelings of discouragement and to provide some form of therapy.
The ministry proved to be one of the best forms of therapy for me. It provided me with plenty of exercise. Some years later, one of the nurses who told me that I would soon die was passing the Kingdom Hall and saw me. She was surprised to see me still alive!
Despite my condition, I have tried to stay very active in Jehovah’s service. The brothers commend me for my zeal and for coming early to the meetings. I always do that because it allows me time to greet my brothers and sisters and show my interest in them.
I have tasted Jehovah’s goodness, and I have seen many blessings in my life. I have had the joy of helping three people to baptism. One of them, Amelia, went on to attend the 137th class of Gilead. I have attended the Pioneer Service School, a wonderful provision from Jehovah, more than once! Jehovah has lifted my spirits, my self-worth, and my confidence. Now people respect me. I am no longer ashamed of myself. I have good friends in the truth, not only in Freetown, where I reside, but all over the country and throughout the world.
Nearly 40 years have passed since I learned of God’s promise of a new world where physical disabilities will no longer exist. The certainty of that promise continues to encourage me, and I eagerly await its realization. I have a waiting attitude because I know my God, Jehovah, will not delay. (Micah 7:7) My waiting has turned out to be a blessing. Jehovah has helped me deal with many problems and challenging situations. He has always provided help at the right time. I am truly happy and keep a bright smile because I was taken from the ground, where I used to crawl, to great heights I had never imagined possible.
a It is now called the Congregation Bible Study.