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Getting To Know Series: “Sister Debbie”

By Kaelanne Jordan


At one point, Deborah ‘Sister Debbie’ de Rosia envisioned achieving other things in life. She, however, is now resolute that her life has been a life for God and given for the people of God.

She recalled, in an interview with Catholic News, seemingly poignant events that drastically shaped and changed her life in a positive way.

It all began when she was a teacher at St Joseph’s Convent School, Port of Spain. A teacher for 13 years, she approached the Ministry of Education to apply for a scholarship to study Dietetics in England.

“And when I reach the bottom of the stairs, the Lord said to me ‘Have you asked me?’. I said, ‘Ask You?’ So, I walked back into St Joseph’s Convent with that in my mind…. Do I have to ask You if I want to go to study? …So, at that point I decided to take it to God in prayer,” Sister Debbie recalled in an interview with Catholic News.

In hindsight, she opined that the invitation that year to visit Africa and Ghana on mission was “God’s cue” that He was leading her in a different direction. Reflecting, she asserted, “That wasn’t much of dilemma for me. My life was always very simple. So, wondering how I would live was not a preoccupation. God did what God wanted. And until now, it has never been a preoccupation,” she said.

As Sister Debbie tells it, God spoke to her in many ways. Before leaving the teaching service, Sister Debbie recalled laying in bed and hearing ‘A day is coming when not even the government will be able to pay you. I am Your source’.” She marvelled that God spoke to her three times, as He did with Samuel. “And God has been able to pay bills. I simply have to be wise in how I use what He supplies, but it’s God’s business,” Sister Debbie said.

Community in mission

It was after morning Mass at St Mary’s College, Sister Debbie was approached by a woman with a message. “And she said to me ‘God told me to give you this.’ I opened my hand and she put a $100 in my hand. I said, ‘God told you to give me this?’ And she said ‘Yes. And He told me as long as I’m working to make sure you have this every month.’ So, I said, ‘Okay, thank you’…. Right there He made this happen that He can provide for my needs.”

Evangelisation, Sister Debbie highlighted, is the crux of the Eternal Light Community, located at 62 Back Street, Tunapuna. “We feel very, very strongly that making Christ known is important. And if people have Jesus as their centre, as their anchor, the storms can come … whatever, there is someone, not just something, that will steady your life and open your eyes and your heart to bring you safely across the turbulent waters.”

The ministry is involved in prayer meetings, the archdiocesan national hospital visitation ministry, crusades, counselling, one on one ministry, education, … “what is there that we don’t do?” Sister Debbie quipped.

The Community also caters to the poor, distributing 2000 hampers monthly. They also work out of enterprise and in hotspot communities: Bagatelle, Diego Martin, and Sea Lots, Beetham. “At one time, we walked the streets of Laventille every Sunday morning,” she recalled.

Sister Debbie mentioned the Community hosted a camp for youth of Sea Lots last August. Thirty-seven residents aged 11–16 participated. Youth were exposed to sewing, scientific experiments, balloon craft, daily scripture, dancing, to name a few.

“We brought them out of their home, and they were at the Centre in Caroni, and we went from the Sunday night to the Friday evening. So that was a mixed experience but a powerful and wonderful experience,” she said.

She then shared some testimonies and challenges of the Community’s involvement with these communities.

People, not stereotypes

“I wanted them to know that they can sit at a table to eat, that they can use a knife and fork. I wanted them to know that they can have their own bed to sleep. Because when we visit their homes, their homes are so crowded, it’s obvious many people sleeping on one bed or on the ground. So, their experience was meant to help them to see that it is possible to have their own bed, not necessarily their own room, but certainly their own bed,” Sister Debbie explained.

She mentioned that the youth were “served” during the duration of the camp. “They didn’t have to get up and wash wares. We had people who were there taking care of their wares and lots of people from the prayer group there and others brought in meals, so they had some of the best meals that week they were there.”

Language was brought to the fore as she surmised their speech was not only “loud” but can be “absurd and obscene”. Sister Debbie referred to an incident one evening where some participants were involved in a disagreement with the Physical Education teacher.

“One day they went out and they wanted to call the boys in the village to play them and she said ‘No, you can’t do that.’ And so, they got together ‘We want justice’.” She highlighted it is this same call for justice when someone is shot in their community and residents light tyres or place debris on the roads.

Commenting on the incident at the camp, Sister Debbie underscored, she was “glad” it occurred as it presented a teaching moment for the youth to engage in conversation on the different ways to treat with problems. “…for them to know that they don’t have to follow a leader, they don’t have to band together for negativity. That there are different ways to have their voices heard.”

Sister Debbie spoke of two sisters who lived together and entered the camp not speaking to each other for years. Following a healing service on the Thursday night, “barriers were opened up.”

She deemed the camp a success. Camp participants were each rewarded $100.

Responding to the question of the existing threat or danger while working in these communities, Sister Debbie underscored she feels no different working in these hot spot communities than she does in other areas. She asserted the Community’s work is no way being hindered by residents. “I have never had anyone show me a bad face in any of the communities or ask me what am I doing here,” she clarified.

Sister Debbie shared she was recently greeted by a gentleman in Sea Lots who began, “I want to tip my hat off to you…for the first time in our history of Sea Lots, has anybody taken our children out to show them there is a different world …and I want to thank you’.”

She explained during her first visit to Sea Lots 2, she was met by gate keepers. “So, I went into it with about 20 or 30 people. I really don’t believe I need to inform them as community leaders. I believe it needs to be broken. So, I told 28 of them proceed. And then I went to the community leaders, and I asked them ‘What allyuh doing here, tell me about yourselves.’ And we struck up a conversation. Some of them, their parents dead, their fathers were involved in drugs… And we spoke for two hours. When we were finished one said, ‘Mother, if you would come in here with a crusade, we will bring the people out for you….’”

During the interview with Catholic News, Sister Debbie made it very clear, “if you ask me who the community leaders are, I can’t tell you who they are because I’m not dealing with them. I have made it very clear: community leaders must be leading to God. Anybody who is going to lead otherwise is not a leader.”

She mentioned that the Eternal Light Community will open a playpark in Sea Lots September 4. There is also talk of building a vocational school and a pool in the area.

From her involvement working with persons in marginalised communities, Sister Debbie opined these residents require love and acceptance. “That we begin to see them as human beings as anybody else. Don’t stereotype them because in every community you have negatives and positives. And once you can show them respect, then they are ready to listen and help develop their own dignity as human beings.”

Vocation vs State of life

Sister Debbie spoke of the many opinions of single life. “They would say ‘nobody want them’ foolishness, so it was never looked upon as a vocation. But I’m a single woman and I cannot say that I’ve regretted any one day of being a single woman….”

She then invited persons to consider vocations, particularly the call to single consecrated life. “I would also say to people, the harvest is rich, we have lots of workers, there is enough room in the vineyard for people to serve and if there are persons who are wanting opportunities to serve, tell them contact me,” Sister Debbie said with loud laughter.

She continued, “I will be waiting and ready for them to get on board. Not only does the Church need us, but the country needs us. And I’m not depending on governments for transformation. I believe the Church is the transformative agent because once they come to the table of the Eucharist….God is going to send them out….”