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From rags to roses
If Raymond Ockille had not gone to church while liming with friends, his life may have turned out very differently. This Sea Lots boy used fighting as a survival tool. But he changed direction to become a pastor and national youth director for the Open Bible Standard Churches of TT. To hear him tell his story of turning his life around can leave you in awe. And he’s done just that in his new book about his journey, called Rag To Rose, to be launched this Saturday at the Government Plaza Auditorium, Port-of-Spain.
“When I share my story, people look at me and ask—You?” Ockille said.
Perhaps it is hard to envision him as a one-time hardened fighting man when you listen to the present-day rumbling of his laughter or the calmness of his voice.
He shared his story to give a lesson of hope to those who may have followed a similar path—with the message that there is a way out of negative lifestyles.
While society may have viewed Ockille back then as a ne’er-do-well—a “piece of rag”—Ockille said he realised that within himself there was space to grow. He described his experiences in his book Rag to Rose to illustrate how possible it is to shift one’s mindset and deal with challenges.
He said the “rag” mentality goes beyond thug life; it is a negative perception often based on assumption, an unawareness of what is really happening.
“This book is not only for Christians, but for everyone. It helps people to navigate around fear, around anger. There are adults who have been affected as youths; now, what can they give?” he said.
Recalling his own childhood, Ockille said at age 10, his grandfather put him out of the family home in Biche.
He moved from country life to the toughness of Port-of-Spain, living in Sea Lots with his mother.
“They used to call me Headly because my head was big for my body, and Donkey Eye because my eyes were big. They used to say I had friendly knees because they were touching each other. I was not a physically robust person, not fitting the script of an athlete,” he said.
“I knew what it was like to live in Sea Lots. It was mangrove. Gravel was used for pathways and my house was over water. You had to fend for yourself, although there were relatives. I was bitter and angry, but always did things for Mummy.”
He suffered migraines because he suppressed his emotions.
His empowerment came after he was involved in a fight and won. His attitude thereafter was that he was untouchable—his new attitude was to “take in front before front took him.”
“It’s all about choices,” he said.
Like his friends, Ockille carried a concealed weapon. Then one day, they passed by a crusade and one of his friends jokingly asked if he could change.
“Yes,” Ockille replied.
By then he was already contemplating the quality of his life, as one of his rivals had told him his choice was either death or prison, should they face each other again.
At the crusade, hosted by Rev Desmond Austin, Ockille took the microphone to testify. “The Saturday following that, I saw the beauty of life, I felt a responsibility,” he said.
A drop-out at Form Five, he then returned to school, this time at YTEPP, to improve his skills. He today has under his belt a certificate in tailoring from John Donaldson Technical Institute.
He also attended Bible School where he said he learnt to dispose of false pride. “The challenge is to unlearn, and to relearn,” he said.
Now this pastor for the Sea Lots area coordinates national youth activities that target empowerment and education.
When he is not interacting in his capacity of youth director, he visits secondary schools or can be heard on Radio Isaac on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Despite his already heavy schedule, he wants to add another project that is related to male development. “Men need to have more conversations,” he said. “The internal conflicts, the issues, cause hindrance—and they need to know how to resolve it.”
Again, he was speaking from experience. Although he celebrates his transition to a spiritual place, he needed counselling to manage his past.
“To maintain the freshness of a rose, it needs sun, it needs water—Not a one-off,” he said.
The rose mentality, he said, allows the inner beauty to blossom, despite failures and disappointments.
Rag to Rose book launch: June 10
Venue: Government Plaza Auditorium, 48-58 Edwards Street, Port-of-Spain
Price: $250 (includes book, t-shirt and refreshments)
Email: [email protected]
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