Not the hand, just the instrument

Rocky Okimaw is an example of devout faith for his parish and community

Rocky Okimaw is not like most teenagers his age.

The 18-year-old gives ten percent of each of his pay cheques to charity and to the Church. He always has at-the-ready a number of Scripture passages that he relies on to guide him in his daily life. He constantly offers his prayers to those around him, and his mother is quick to note many miracles friends and family have attributed to Rocky’s prayers.

But the First Nations teenager seeks no recognition, living a humble and hidden life in the northern Cree reserve of Driftpile.

The Bible passage that he takes as his motto is ‘Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.’ For Rocky, it’s a reminder to always “thirst” to do the right thing in every circumstance and at every moment. In all areas of his life, he tries to surrender all things towards the fulfillment of God’s will.

“Everything that He’s done for me, the person I am now, that’s all God. I always say, ‘I’m not the hand, I’m just the instrument’,” he reflected. “I never question God, I never question anything that happens, because I know it can only happen if God allows it to happen.”

Rocky gives the first reading at Sunday Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church.

Rocky was born and raised in Driftpile, and has been attending his home parish of St. Rose of Lima since his earliest days. The Scriptures say one must be a like a child to enter the kingdom of God. And as a child, Rocky’s faith had the intensity, zealousness and innocence unique to adolescence. He lacked all worldly doubts and discussed his faith constantly. Once, in his early youth, he heard the Scripture verse from the letter of St. James about confessing our sins to one another. He immediately took it to heart and starting asking his fellow classmates at school if they would like to hear his confession.

“When I was younger, I would talk about God constantly. I would always talk about my faith and invite my friends to church on Sunday. I got the nickname ‘Jesus boy’,” Rocky recalled. “The way people would say it, it was meant to bully, but I liked it. It was funny.

“When I was younger I felt God’s presence a lot, I didn’t know about the problems of the world. Then after I hit puberty, life began to get more difficult and I became aware more of the complexities of the world. Not that I have less faith now, but when I was younger, there wasn’t worldly doubts that occurred in my mind or that people would tell me about.”

As a child Rocky desired to be a priest, particularly a military chaplain. This was especially thanks to a book his mother Claudette read to him about “soul savers”, persons who share their faith with those who are sick and dying, which Rocky found very inspirational.

An aspect of the Faith that particularly appealed to Rocky was the Christian calling to help the poor and less fortunate. When Rocky received his First Communion, he made a promise to his parish priest that, when he started working, he would give ten percent of every pay cheque to the poor.

Since he has begun working in his late teens, Rocky has upheld that promise. Each payday, he transfers ten percent of his earnings to his mother Claudette, who sends it to that same priest – Fr. Peter Anochirim, and he forwards the money to a number of religious orders that help the poor.

“I’m living up to that promise. Little me would be proud for sure,” Rocky said.

Rocky Okimaw

Even with a faith of such intensity, Rocky has still faced several struggles and trials in his life – ones that would surely challenge others greatly in their faith. Rocky’s dad passed away when he was only 9 years old, after a long battle with alcoholism and liver cancer. In his final years, his father was constantly back and forth from Driftpile to the hospital in High Prairie, and in his last months he was taken to Edmonton to receive more extensive care.

Instead of despair, Rocky has found ways to reaffirm his trust in God through these challenging times.

“I feel like some might lose their faith in rough times, they’ll stop focusing on what God wants of them. I’ve been through rough times; but a saying I like is: ‘God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers’,” he said.

“I like to think of it as – God is love, and love is a lot of things. So when you love someone, you want them to be their best selves and push them a little bit. So I guess God at some point gives us pushes, gives us challenges. Life is a test – we’re all being tested. And I’ve had some really bad experiences, and there were times I wasn’t strong, but I’ve kept my faith.”

Rocky and his mother Claudette Okimaw assist as godparents at a baptism in Driftpile.

… There have been many moments in which Rocky has come to know first-hand the miraculous things that God can work in peoples lives.

Once when he was a child, his cousin Denzel who sometimes suffered from seizures, collapsed and fell unconscious while they were out playing. He and a friend carried Denzel back to his mother’s home. She called an ambulance and told the boys to wait outside. While the other friends went on to continue playing, Rocky sat alone at their backyard swingset and began to pray.

“I was just praying and asking God to heal Denzel, that he would be healed of his condition altogether,” he recalled. “Denzel’s mom had texted my mom a few days later saying he had recovered, and I didn’t think much of it beyond that.

“Then a couple years down the road, we were out camping and Denzel told me he appreciated me praying for him, and that when he was unconscious, he had a kind of dream or vision, where he saw me on the swingset. He said it was like looking through thermal goggles, you could only see colours and the form of things, and he said that there was a light around me on the swingset and he heard me praying. And he hasn’t had any issues since that time.”

This was one of several miraculous healings that Rocky’s friends and family members have contributed to his intercessory prayers.

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the December 2023 edition of Northern Light