Editor’s Note: In the midst of last summer’s COVID pandemic, medical student Jordan Berka interviewed patients seen at a Bronx family health center, collecting personal stories from a diverse community. Today’s issue of Pulse is the product of one such interview. Rev. Rocke’s words are her own, edited, and approved by her for publication.
My name is Reverend Hyacinth Rocke, and I reside in the Bronx. I was born in Barbados. My husband died a little while ago, and I also just lost my mom. I have three children, four grandsons and one great-grandson. I am an associate minister at Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zionist Church in Mt. Vernon, New York.
My duties include visitation of the sick in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and elderly homes. I pray with them and lift them in song. I also have a prayer conference dial-in, and I’m a minister for bereavement. That’s helped me a lot in my own bereavement, even though it’s a little different when it hits home, especially when we’re in a pandemic. Nine times out of ten, before COVID came along, I was the one standing over the dying person, praying for them and seeing them go off. I wasn’t able to do that with my mom, but as time went on, I did get personal healing from my experiences as a minister.
Coming to America from Barbados in the early Sixties was very exciting. I considered this the land of opportunity. I came to study law, and I wanted eventually to go back to my native land, to help the people. I wrote to my dad constantly, telling him about America. My first summer vacation back home, my father, who was a school principal, had me address his school, and I spoke so well of America that everyone wanted to come here. At the time, I had no intention of becoming a minister. My parents wanted me to be a leader and go into politics, and my schooling revolved around that.
My father was a politician as well as a school principal. So he started me on that path from a very young age, training me to be like him. He always felt there was something special about me, that God had put his hand on me somehow. He always told my mom, “You know, we have to be careful how we raise her.” The political experience that I got from him and from going to school here helped me a lot, because it’s all centered on helping people, understanding people and serving people. God looked at my heart and said, “Well, if you could do this, then you can also do this for my Kingdom: You can build up my people and help my people.” That’s how he brought me into being a minister.
My father died before I became a minister, but I know he would have been proud of me. I always found myself gravitating to God’s house–finding a church that could minister to me and help me–but I never really pursued being a minister. I had this pastor in Massachusetts, where I lived for some time, working as an insurance specialist/underwriter. The pastor was going on vacation, and he told me that he’d prayed, and God had told him to let me preach the service the next Sunday.
And I’m like, “What? Preach the service?” In any event, I did it.
Oh, boy. You talk about nerves! I prayed, and I asked God to give me something to say. And he said, “Okay, preach that Psalm 23, and I’ll lead you through it.” And he did. I went back to my insurance work after that, but then one day, God says, “I want you to retire, and I want you to go back to New York.” I thought about that for one year. I did not want to come back to New York. I had a great job, and I was very happy in Massachusetts—you know, the church family, everybody was good, I had a lot of friends, my whole family was there. But I knew I had to come back here, and eventually I did.
As a minister I meet all kinds of people from all walks of life. The first one that comes to my mind is Benji. I was evangelizing the community in Massachusetts, ministering to a new member at a Dunkin’ Donuts one morning, and while ministering to her, I heard the voice of the Lord say, “Go to the railroad tracks and minister to a man I will show you.”
I went, and there he was. I said, “Good morning. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
He said, “Yes. And do you have a cigarette?”
I said, “No, but my friend inside does.” And so he came in, and he sat down with us. And I started to minister to him, and he started crying.
He said, “You just stopped me from committing suicide on the railroad track.” He said he was waiting for the train to come, and he was going to jump on the tracks. I was so shocked and amazed, because I didn’t get that part of the story from God. I immediately asked the man to give his life to Christ, and he did. At that moment, I did not know that he was a regular beggar at the bank in town. He was homeless. I took him to church, and I found a shelter nearby. And he lived there, and I would always visit him and cook him food. I would buy him clothing. And I gained many followers in his shelter. I’m grateful for Benji–I helped him through a tough time, and through him, I was able to help others. In my eyes, these people have beautiful stories, and someone just needs to listen to them.
How do I find the strength to do what I do? I have a lot of faith in God, and on top of that, my parents taught me about responsibility and trust. I’m always finding myself fighting for someone else.
That’s the drive, I believe, that God saw in me. It’s that. I might be down for a moment, but if I see somebody else down, I don’t let them stay down.