Serving Joyfully Despite Infirmities
AS TOLD BY VARNAVAS SPETSIOTIS
In 1990, at the age of 68, I became completely paralyzed. Yet, for about 15 years now, I have joyfully been serving as a full-time minister on the island of Cyprus. What has given me the strength to remain active in Jehovah’s service despite my infirmities?
I WAS born into a family of nine children—four boys and five girls—on October 11, 1922. We lived in the village of Xylophagou, in Cyprus. Although my parents were relatively well-off, raising such a large family involved a lot of hard work in the fields.
My father, Antonis, was by nature studious and inquisitive. Shortly after I was born, Father noticed, while visiting the schoolteacher of the village, a tract entitled Peoples Pulpit, published by the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known). He started reading it, and he was soon engrossed in its contents. As a result, Father and one of his friends, Andreas Christou, were among the first on the island to associate themselves with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Growth Despite Opposition
In time, the two of them obtained more Bible-based publications from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soon, Father and Andreas were motivated to share with their fellow villagers the Bible truths they were learning. Their preaching activity provoked strong opposition from the Greek Orthodox clergy and others who felt that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a corrupting influence.
Many of the local folk could not help but respect these two Bible teachers. My father was well-known for his kindness and generosity. Very often he extended a helping hand to poor families. Sometimes he sneaked out of the house late at night and left wheat or bread at the door of needy families. Such selfless Christian conduct made the message of these two ministers even more appealing.—Matthew 5:16.
The result was that about a dozen people responded to the Bible message. As their appreciation for the truth grew, they felt the need to meet in various homes to study the Bible as a group. About 1934, Nikos Matheakis, a full-time minister from Greece, arrived in Cyprus and met with the Xylophagou group. With patience and determination, Brother Matheakis helped organize the group and assisted them to acquire a better understanding of the Scriptures. This group formed the nucleus of the first congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cyprus.
As the Christian work progressed and more people accepted Bible truth, the brothers felt the need for a permanent place for their meetings. My eldest brother, George, and his wife, Eleni, offered a room that they were using as a barn. This property, adjacent to their home, was repaired and converted into a suitable place for the meetings. Thus the brothers came to own their first Kingdom Hall on the island. How grateful they were! And what an impetus this proved to be for further expansion!
Making the Truth My Own
In 1938, at the age of 16, I decided to become a carpenter. Thus, Father sent me to the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia. With much foresight, he arranged for me to stay with Nikos Matheakis. This faithful brother is still remembered by many on the island for his zeal and hospitality. His unbridled enthusiasm and steadfast courage were necessary qualities for any Christian in Cyprus during those early days.
Brother Matheakis helped me tremendously to get grounded in Bible knowledge and to make spiritual progress. While I was staying with him, I attended all the meetings held in his home. For the first time, I felt that my love for Jehovah was growing. I developed a determination to build a meaningful relationship with God. Within a few months, I asked Brother Matheakis if I might join him in the field service. This was in 1939.
After some time, I returned home to visit my family. Being with my father for a while further deepened my conviction that I had found the truth and the meaning of life. In September 1939, World War II began. Many young men my age volunteered to go to war, but following the Bible’s direction, I decided to remain neutral. (Isaiah 2:4; John 15:19) That very year, I dedicated myself to Jehovah and was baptized in 1940. For the first time, I felt that I was free from the fear of man!
In 1948, I married Efprepia. We were blessed with four children. Soon we realized that we had to work hard in order to bring them up “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) Our prayers and efforts were focused on implanting in our children a deep love for Jehovah and respect for his laws and principles.
Health Problems Present a Challenge
In 1964, at the age of 42, I started to feel a numbness in my right hand and leg. Gradually, this spread to my left side. I was diagnosed with muscle atrophy, an incurable disease that eventually leads to complete paralysis. I was badly shaken by the news. Things happened so quickly and unexpectedly! Engulfed by emotions of anger and indignation, I thought: ‘Why did this have to happen to me? What have I done to deserve this?’ In time, however, I was able to absorb the initial shock of the diagnosis. Then I was overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. A number of questions were whirling around in my mind. Would I become completely paralyzed and fully dependent on others? How would I cope? Would I be able to provide for my family—my wife and our four children? I really cringed at such thoughts.
At this critical juncture in my life, more than ever before, I felt the need to turn to Jehovah in prayer and to share with him all my concerns and anxieties in full sincerity. I prayed day and night with tears in my eyes. Soon I felt consoled. The soothing words of Philippians 4:6, 7 proved very true in my case: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”
Coping With Paralysis
My condition continued to worsen. I realized that I had to adjust quickly to my new circumstances. Since I could no longer work as a carpenter, I decided to find a less demanding occupation that suited my physical condition and that still enabled me to make ends meet. Initially, I sold ice cream from a small van. I did this for about six years until my illness confined me to a wheelchair. Then I switched to various lighter jobs that I could manage.
Since 1990 my health has deteriorated to the point that I have been unable to do any secular work at all. Now, I depend completely on others, even for tasks that would be routine for an able-bodied person. I need help to go to bed, to wash myself, and to get dressed. To attend Christian meetings, I have to be pushed in a wheelchair to the car and then lifted into it. At the Kingdom Hall, I have to be lifted out of the car and into a wheelchair and then pushed inside. During the meeting, I have an electric heater next to me to keep my feet warm.
Despite the paralysis, though, I attend all the meetings quite regularly. I appreciate that this is where Jehovah teaches us, and being with my spiritual brothers and sisters is a real refuge and a source of support and encouragement. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Regular visits by spiritually mature fellow believers have been a constant aid to me. I cannot help but feel as David did: “My cup is well filled.”—Psalm 23:5.
My dear wife has been a wonderful helper all these years. My children too have been most generous with their support. For several years now, they have helped me with everyday needs. What they are doing is not easy, and as the years go by, it becomes more and more difficult to care for me. They are truly exemplary in cultivating patience and in expending themselves, and I pray that Jehovah continues to bless them.
Another marvelous provision from Jehovah to fortify his servants is prayer. (Psalm 65:2) In response to my heartfelt supplications, Jehovah has given me the strength to continue in the faith all these years. Especially when I feel low, prayer brings relief and helps me maintain my joy. Constant communication with Jehovah refreshes me and renews my determination to carry on. I am absolutely convinced that Jehovah hears the prayers of his servants and gives them the peace of mind they need.—Psalm 51:17; 1 Peter 5:7.
Most of all, I am reinvigorated every time I remember that God will eventually heal all who are blessed with life in Paradise under the Kingdom rule of his Son, Jesus Christ. Tears of joy have more than once streamed down my face as I contemplate that marvelous hope.—Psalm 37:11, 29; Luke 23:43; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Serving as a Full-Time Minister
About 1991, I realized after analyzing my situation that the best way to avoid giving in to self-pity was to keep busy in sharing the precious Kingdom good news with others. In that year, I started serving as a full-time minister.
Since I am disabled, most of my witnessing is done through letter writing. However, for me, writing is not an easy task; it requires real effort. I find it difficult to hold the pen firmly with my hand, which is weakened by muscle atrophy. Yet, through perseverance and prayer, I have been witnessing by letter writing for more than 15 years now. I also use the telephone to preach to people. I never miss an opportunity to talk about my hope of the new world and the Paradise earth to relatives, friends, and neighbors who visit me in my home.
As a result, I have enjoyed many encouraging experiences. I was very happy to see one of my grandchildren, with whom I studied the Bible some 12 years ago, make spiritual progress and show appreciation for Bible truth. Motivated by his Bible-trained conscience, he has remained loyal and steadfast on the issue of Christian neutrality.
I am particularly pleased when people to whom I write get in touch with me for further information about the Bible. Occasionally, some request more Bible literature. For instance, a lady telephoned me and thanked me for the encouraging letter I sent to her husband. She found the thoughts in the letter very interesting. This led to many Bible discussions with her and her husband in my home.
A Bright Outlook
Over the years, I have seen the number of Kingdom proclaimers increase in this part of the world. The small Kingdom Hall next to the house of my brother George has been expanded and renovated a number of times. It is a beautiful place of worship, used by two congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Father died in 1943, at the age of 52. But what a spiritual heritage he left behind! Eight of his children embraced the truth and are still serving Jehovah. In the village of Xylophagou, where Father was born, and in the nearby villages, there are now three congregations, with a total of 230 Kingdom publishers!
Such positive results have been a source of great joy to me. Now, at the age of 83, I echo with confidence the words of the psalmist: “The maned young lions themselves have had little on hand and gone hungry; but as for those seeking Jehovah, they will not lack anything good.” (Psalm 34:10) I am eagerly awaiting the time when the prophecy recorded at Isaiah 35:6 comes true: “At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does.” Until then, I am determined to continue serving Jehovah joyfully despite my infirmities.
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The first Kingdom Hall in Xylophagou, still in use today
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With Efprepia in 1946 and today
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I find joy in witnessing by phone and by letter writing