I Will ‘Climb Up Just as a Stag Does’
AS TOLD BY FRANCESCO ABBATEMARCO
“Why did God let this happen? Why me?” How many times I asked those questions! I couldn’t bear the idea of spending my life in a wheelchair, unable to use my arms and legs.
IN 1962, in a small town in the region of Basilicata, Italy, my life almost ended the day it began. My mother had a difficult delivery, and the doctor injected medications that had serious side effects. Three days later, convulsions shook my tiny body. My arms and legs were paralyzed, and my vocal cords damaged.
As I grew to adulthood, frustration with my physical condition overwhelmed me. I became irritable and often lashed out at the people around me. I felt excluded from the whole world, and nothing gave my life meaning. By the time I was 25, I was an emotional wreck. Not understanding why God allowed me to suffer so much, I came to a conclusion that seemed plausible—that there is no God.
A Different Outlook
One morning late in 1987, while I was sitting in my wheelchair outside, two well-dressed young men approached me. I assumed that they wanted to speak to my brother and told them, with much difficulty, that my brother was not at home. “But we want to speak with you,” they replied. That was a surprise because few people were interested in speaking with me.
“Do you believe in God?” they asked. I answered brusquely, “In my condition, how can I?” We started a conversation, and I found out that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They offered me a book entitled Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? * which I accepted with reluctance. They said that they would return. I hoped that they would not.
The two Witnesses returned as they had promised, and we resumed our conversation. I remember the Bible verses they read to me, Isaiah 35:5, 6: “At that time the eyes of the blind ones will be opened, and the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped. At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness.” Those words were beautiful but so different from the reality of my life. I couldn’t even stand up, let alone climb up like a stag. In any event, I agreed to study the Bible with them, but I did not believe that the Bible would help me with my problems now. As far as being free of my infirmities one day, that hope seemed unrealistic.
After a while, the Witnesses invited me to a meeting at their local Kingdom Hall. I do not remember what the Bible talk was about, but I will never forget the warmth and love that the Witnesses showed me. Instead of drenching me with pity, they made me feel truly welcome. That Sunday I knew that my place was at the Kingdom Hall, and I started to attend meetings regularly.
A Mountain to Climb
The study of God’s Word had an amazing effect on my heart. It was as if sap had started flowing again through a withered tree. I experienced feelings that I had thought were dead and buried. How wonderful to feel alive again! I felt the desire to tell others about the marvelous hope I was making my own. (Matthew 24:14) How, though, could I begin preaching? I made this desire a matter of intense prayer, asking Jehovah to show me a way.
In September 1991, a pioneer (a full-time evangelizer) was assigned to the congregation. One day at his house, I confided to him my desire to preach. I could not speak well, so we discussed my using a typewriter to write letters. My paralyzed arms were an obstacle. With the pioneer’s help, I tried many methods. I tried holding a pencil with my teeth and hitting the keys with it. Then, I tried using a helmet with a stick attached and moved my head to strike the keys. Nothing seemed to work.
Later, as we were discussing the problem, that same pioneer jokingly said: “You have a very nice nose.” I immediately tried hitting the keys with my nose and found that it worked. Finally, I was able to write. Imagine the effort it took to correct spelling errors with my nose! Soon we realized that using a computer would be much easier. But how could I get the money to buy one? I waited for the right moment and then spoke to my parents. Shortly thereafter, I was using a computer to write letters.
My Desire Fulfilled
I first wrote to friends and relatives, then to people who lived in my town and in surrounding towns. Soon I was corresponding with people all over Italy. It is difficult to describe the joy I felt every time I received a reply to a letter. In December 1991, I was approved as an unbaptized publisher of the good news. I also enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School, a school held weekly in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I received an assignment to give a talk, I carefully prepared it at home using my computer. At the meeting, a friend would go to the platform and read what I had prepared.
Ever grateful for the love that Jehovah was showing me, I knew my next steps of spiritual progress would be to dedicate my life to God and get baptized. I mustered up courage and spoke to my parents about my decision. They were not happy, but my desire to get baptized was stronger than my fear. With the support of Jehovah and my fellow Witnesses, I was baptized in August 1992. How happy I was to have my brother and my sister-in-law attend my baptism!
Changes in My Thinking
As the principles contained in God’s Word gradually became clearer to me, I saw a need to change negative personality traits. I realized that as a result of my physical condition, I had become possessive and selfish. I had to struggle to get rid of those flaws. I needed to be humbler and to fight my constant frustration over having to depend on others.
I also worked to stop feeling sorry for myself and considering myself a victim. I began enjoying the funny side of certain situations. One day as I was preaching from house to house, a little girl opened the door. One of the Witnesses with me asked her if her parents were at home. The little girl shouted, “Mommy, there are two men and a sick man at the door.” On seeing me, the mother was so embarrassed that she didn’t know what to say. One of my friends said: “Actually, we are two sick men and a healthy one.” We all smiled, and a good conversation ensued.
The Desire to Serve More Fully
After my baptism I served as an auxiliary pioneer for nine months, spending 60 hours monthly in the preaching work. Yet, I wanted to do more. Soon I began service as a regular pioneer, dedicating even more time to the preaching work. The first few months of pioneer service were hard. Many people thought I was at their door asking for money, and this embarrassed me and the Witnesses who accompanied me.
In addition, many in the congregation had difficulty understanding my speech and were not sure how best to help me. But with Jehovah’s help and the unselfish assistance of my spiritual brothers and sisters, in time the situation improved. People now think of me not just as a man in a wheelchair but as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who tries to help others learn of God’s purposes.
In July 1994, I was able to attend a special two-week training course for pioneer ministers. There, we studied the Scriptural principles that guide the preaching and disciple-making work. We also received practical training in the ministry. I had to overcome obstacles in order to attend, since the school was held about 40 miles [60 km] away from where I live. It was impossible for me to spend the night away from home, so the Witnesses took turns taking me to the school in the morning and home in the evening. At lunchtime one of them carried me up to the second floor, where we all ate together.
A Big Responsibility
In March 2003, I was appointed as a congregation elder. That assignment has required that I work hard in behalf of others. Now I more fully understand what Jesus meant when he said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) I work along with a marvelous body of elders, and they have helped me settle into my role. I feel appreciated by the whole congregation—especially the young ones—and they include me in their activities. They see how I have overcome obstacles to serve Jehovah, and many ask me for help in facing their own problems.
I have learned that a person’s physical condition is not the crucial factor in happiness. Rather, what matters is having Jehovah’s approval and doing his will. I am particularly grateful to him for the wonderful hope of soon being rid of my wheelchair. Yes, I look forward to ‘climbing up just as a stag does’ and to serving the true God for all eternity.—Isaiah 35:5, 6.
^ par. 8 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Blurb on page 22]
People now think of me not just as a man in a wheelchair but as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who tries to help others learn of God’s purposes
[Picture on page 21]
Preparing for a congregation meeting by using my nose to type