Why I Reject Santeria as an Afro-Latina

As more Latinos claim their African ancestry as a point of pride and call themselves “Afro-Latinos”, I have begun to see a resurfacing of acceptance of Santeria and other types of Brujeria (witchcraft). This spirituality is typically practiced amongst women who call themselves “Santeras”, although men, “Santeros”, practice it as well. In their opinion, they are bringing healing and prosperity to themselves and others, by tapping into the strength of their ancestors and the gods of their people. For many Afro-Latinos, to claim Afrolatinidad means to embrace the religious and spiritual practices of our African ancestors. I am here to boldly claim that I do not accept any part of Santeria or any other religious/spiritual practice other than the way of Jesus Christ. I am not less Afro-Latina because I reject Santeria. Santeria is a dangerous practice that injures its followers’ minds, bodies, and most importantly, their souls.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Santeria, I’ll briefly explain what it is and what it means to its followers. You may use the beautiful resource that is Google to learn more if you’d like. Santeria, per Wikipedia, “is an Afro-American religion of Caribbean origin that developed in the Spanish Empire among West African descendants. Santería is a Spanish word that means the “worship of saints”. Santería is influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Its sacred language, a variety of Yoruba, is the Lucumí language”. 

Essentially, when Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves, they were forced to become Roman Catholics, as the Spaniards were Catholic. These Africans absolutely did not want to give up their religious practices, as religion is a massively important part of any culture. Therefore, they worshipped their African gods in secret, masquerading them as Roman Catholic saints. As the Catholics prayed to the saints, and still do, the Africans managed to maintain their religious practices while pretending to be Catholic.

Santeria has deep roots in my Puerto Rican family. My mother told me this summer that her mother used to force her to pray to little statues and photos of gods and to give them sacrifices and offerings, like food, money, and perfume. Also, because my grandmother often saw my mother as “bad”, which meant precocious and opinionated, my mother experienced a cleansing of sorts. An ancient ritual, intending to rid her of evil spirits, was performed on her in the bathtub and it disturbed her. As a child, my mother questioned these practices and saw them as fruitless. To her, these statues and photos were just pictures of dead or fictional people who held no power over her life. This tradition of Santeria was passed down to my mother much like the Spanish language or the practice of eating rice and beans. It was and is simply in our culture to worship the gods.

Thankfully the Lord has had His hand intensely upon my mother throughout her entire life and as a young girl, she developed a deep faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Through her knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s power, my mother became instrumental in leading her own mother to faith in Jesus Christ. My grandmother renounced all ties to Santeria. Since then, no one on my mother’s side has been connected to Santeria, to the best of my knowledge.

There is another person in my family who has practiced Santeria and has confessed to me that she saw spirits sometimes and that her daughter reported seeing spirits as well.  These spirits included an old woman and a young girl, who apparently pressed her face immediately against my family member’s when she appeared. Whenever she discussed these apparitions, she claimed that seeing spirits was “a gift.” I learned these things through her stories.

These are all personal anecdotes of how Santeria has harmed my family. You may be thinking, “Well, they just didn’t practice Santeria correctly. This doesn’t mean you have to reject it. Others can freely practice it without experiences like these.” You’re absolutely right. Every human being has a choice in what they believe and practice. God will not force Himself upon any individual; He is a gentleman. But, I hold the Bible to be the only true religious text and therefore must completely reject Santeria as a viable spiritual practice for myself and for anyone who is seeking to know the One True God.

Let’s take a look at the person of Jesus Christ. Historians agree that such a man named Jesus certainly existed. Whether or not He is the Lord, the Messiah, and the Son of God is the question. Many religious texts and practices agree that Jesus was a good teacher and some even go so far as to claim that He was a great prophet, but nothing more. What’s perplexing and should bring pause is that these religions feel they need to answer the Jesus question. Jesus is so singular that they cannot ignore His existence and ministry on Earth. His teachings are radical and confusing. Readers, you can reject Jesus as God, you can believe in Him as just a prophet, you can merely enjoy His teachings about helping the poor, but there is one thing you cannot do. You cannot ignore Jesus Christ as a person. If major world religions, such as Islam, have an answer for Jesus while still denying His deity, you must form an opinion about Him. Many people have said that Jesus is either Lord or an absolute nut/fraud.

Jesus Christ made some authoritative claims about Himself that have never been made by another person in history. Here’s one of them: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” – John 14:6

Wait, what? Jesus claimed to be the only way to know God, and also was God Himself. Who else has made such an outrageous claim? Mohammed claimed to be a prophet but certainly did not claim to be the Messiah or God Himself. All religions claim to point to the way, such as through a specific diet or abstaining from things like music and sex, but no one else has claimed to be God. This is a claim that we must investigate and take seriously because if He is correct, then all human life hinges upon this claim.

So let’s say that Jesus is just crazy and/or a fraud. What do we do with His other teachings and behavior? Jesus was a 1st century Jewish Rabbi. In His culture, associating with women was forbidden and a Gentile woman was like a dog. Jesus made it a part of His ministry to specifically reach out to women, even Gentile women. Two examples of Jesus showing love to Gentile women are found in John 4 and Matthew 15. To Jewish women, Jesus saved one of them from being stoned in John 8 and allowed a sinful woman to anoint Him in Luke 7, much to the shock of all of the religious leaders around Him at the time. As far as His teachings about the poor go, one simply has to read Matthew 5 in its entirety to see a man committed to societal equity and loving those who are vulnerable.

We cannot believe that Jesus is crazy while also accepting His teachings and praising His kind and forgiving behavior. The two are absolutely mutually exclusive. So if Jesus is not crazy, then who is He? He must be Lord, because He claimed no other title.

I could write for hours about why I believe the Bible to be true and why Jesus is God, but that would turn into a book. Note to self: write a book before you die.

Jesus claimed to be the only way to God and I accept that claim as the truth. If I accept Jesus, then I also accept the Hebrew Scriptures He preached from and referenced. The Bible is full of warnings against witchcraft or spiritual practices that don’t center around Christ. God warns us that we are not safe with mediums (psychics) or witches. He tells us this quite forcefully in Leviticus: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:31) and “I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people” (Lev. 20:6). Scripture clearly states that if a person is to know the One True God, the God of the Bible, they cannot have anything to do with witchcraft. It results in loss of relationship with God, which is what He wants with us. We cannot serve two masters. How can we claim to worship Jesus, who professed to be the only way to God, while also worshipping African deities? We must choose. I am not saying this. Jesus says this.

What will your choice be today? If you’ve been living life as a Santera or Santero and you want to talk more about Jesus or if you want to leave that life, please reach out to me! I’d love to talk about this more in depth and pray for you.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

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Dealing with the Demonic (Spiritual Warfare)

Heavy topic. There are so many varying opinions on this topic, that I’m hesitant to really dive into it. I’m still learning about spiritual warfare, so this won’t really be a guide to it, but more of an explanation of how it’s been manifesting in my life.

I suppose you could say that I’ve always dealt with the demonic. When I was a child, sleep paralysis plagued me. I saw dark shadows. I heard screams and voices. I always called out to Jesus and it stopped.

As I’ve grown in Christ, spiritual warfare has become a regular issue in my life. Typically before a great thing for the Lord happens, I experience deep spiritual warfare. Right after my baptism in 2014/before I led three people to the Lord, I was attacked with obsessive thoughts and fears.

Before I left for India in 2015, again I was tormented by obsessive thoughts and fears about Satan and the demonic. A demon even spoke through a family member and cursed me, telling me I will get raped in India and that nothing good will come of my trip. Well, I found my life’s purpose that summer, in India.

Again, like clockwork, obsessive thoughts have found their way back to me, this time in the form of hypochondria and literal ulcers in my stomach. Now, I’m not saying that this is totally spiritual, but it’s also not just mental or physical. I’m working through this. Satan definitely uses obsessive thoughts to torment Christians. That’s one of his tactics.

I’ve also had demons literally speak to me. They’ve told me that I’m a whore, I’m worthless, I’m a rodent, and I should go to hell. I’ve literally heard these growling, inhuman voices in my ear, typically as I try to sleep. Anything a demon says is a lie. Satan is the father of ALL LIES. John 10:10 tells us that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy and Jesus Christ came to give us life and give it abundantly. Remember that Scripture. It will give you encouragement.

That’s another way Satan attacks you. In your sleep. Sleep paralysis and insomnia can be a spiritual attack. I know for me, it always is. How do I know this? After rebuking the enemy and using the name of Jesus Christ, it ends and I can sleep.

 

How do we combat the enemy? Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the whole armor of God and pray in the Spirit at all times. We use the name of Jesus. We quote Scripture out loud. We do as Jesus Christ did, when He was tempted in the wilderness.

 

Be encouraged. If you’re dealing with the demonic, you’re not alone.

II Timothy 2:17 tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.

Fear is NOT of God! Rebuke it, give it to God, and go to sleep. ❤

Philippians 1:6 tells us that Jesus will finish the good work HE started in us.

Matthew 19:26 tells us that we, in our fragile and fleshly bodies can’t do this, but with God, ALL things are possible.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

When God Diverts Our Path (Literally)

This morning, I woke up so early to get to two doctor’s appointments. I rushed around the city, hopping on and off of buses, lugging around my heavy bag, and just wishing I could get back to my apartment.

But, God had other plans. Of course!!

As I made my way home, carrying my groceries and overnight bag (I had a sleepover last night), I was so consumed with trying to access RZIM’s live stream of Nabeel Qureshi’s funeral that I got on the wrong train. Realizing my mistake, I jumped off and stood somewhere on the street, waiting for the funeral service to load on my phone.

It turns out I was standing outside of a McDonald’s. There I saw a homeless woman with a sign, Diana. I felt God say to my heart, “Yes, you don’t want to miss this funeral live stream, but there is a woman who needs love.” 

I ended up buying her and her friend, Tyrone, a meal, sitting with them and talking about the crazy hurricanes and crazier Donald Trump. We just shared time and food together. I didn’t pester them with questions about their condition as homeless people. We just talked like people, humans, friends. As they left, Tyrone said, “Gabrielle. I’ll never forget that name.” 

 

Earlier that day, I was hungry and wanted to get a bagel from this deli, but I had no cash. Knowing that Dunkin’ Donuts would take my card for a $2.00 purchase, I went there and bought a bagel. A man, who used to be Muslim, sat down as I killed time by reading my Bible. He began preaching to me and encouraging me, reminding me that God will keep His promises. He will NEVER lie or not keep them. He will never forsake me. I needed that.

 

If I had gotten on the right train, if I had had cash on me, I would not have had these experiences. God let this happen so I could be ministered to and so I could minister to others.

 

Praise God.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

Nabeel Qureshi

Nabeel,
I knew you were going to a place where everything would be made right.
Your body would be restored.
Life would be renewed.

A place where pain no longer ruled
And sickness was a forgotten foe.
Where humans didn’t kill each other
Over religious beliefs or skin color.

Yet you didn’t want to go.
Not many of us do desire to leave
Although what’s awaiting some of us
Is divine glory beyond comprehension.

But, the cancer ate away at your body.
The doctors removed your stomach;
Left you bare.

I wonder if you remembered what food tasted like,
What it was like to drink something cool and refreshing.
Or had you become accustomed to the tubes
That kept you with us, although you were suffering?

Nabeel,
In this world, you left the old life for the new.
The only promise you had to cling to
Was the promise of God’s ever-presence.

We are not ensured health in this life
Nor wealth, although we try
To keep a firm grip on both.

Nabeel,
You showed me what it meant to be a Christian.
To suffer, to be sick, and to love Jesus regardless.
You’re in the Lord’s arms and that brings comfort.
But we’ll miss you and the work you did for the people you loved.

Nabeel,
You are enjoying everything new.
New body.
New mind.
New home.
We just wish you didn’t have to go.

 

 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. – John 11:25

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. – Philippians 1:21

My Thorn

My dreams often times run wild and free. My dreams…what are they? From where do they come? Is it just me in there? Or does my Father sculpt them? Perhaps it’s both blended together. God’s influence and my talents working as one. That’s the ideal, but is it true for me?

My worst enemy will always be me. Pulling against Him as He extracts the rotten growth. Those roots run deep. They’ve woven themselves around my heart and traveled between the curves in my brain. I pray and wait for Him to set me free.

But perhaps this is just my particular thorn. Everyone’s got one, I’m sure of that. When I grasp the rose that is God’s heart, my thorn cuts deeper in my palm, but I squeeze tighter. Regardless of the pain I let the blood trickle down. It’s not mine. It’s His. It cleans me as I hold on. My thorn forms the crown He wore.

I was blessed by my Lord with a big heart. It burdens me as I live, move, and have my being. This heart of mine, it isn’t mine anymore. I gave that ownership to another, to the Only. A heart for His purposes must not be filthy; it must be purified. But, it must always be broken.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

When Your Parents Divorce (For Adults)

This is hard. This is vulnerable. This is complete exposure, but if it helps one person, it’s worth it.

After almost 30 years of marriage, my parents are divorcing. The divorce will be final later this month. A divorce can take those two people through incredible ups and downs. There are moments of sadness, times of relief, and seasons of depression. After all this time? We’re just going to throw it all away?

What happened with my parents is their own personal business, but I will talk about what happened inside me during this time.

For years, divorce had been a constant threat in my family. Ever since I was a little girl, my parents would fight weekly, big blowup fights, and divorce was promised each time. It never happened. So, by the time I reached my current age, 23, hearing of a divorce would not be too much of a shock for me.

In fact, a few years ago, when my mother would call me while I was away at college, complaining about my dad, I encouraged her to do whatever she needed to do. Even if that meant divorce.

But in the past few years, things seemed to get a lot better. The screaming diminished. The insults were silenced. Relations improved. Or, so I thought.

When my parents announced in April that they were going to divorce, it took me a bit by surprise. I had thought that we were going to be a family forever. I had assumed that their relationship wasn’t that bad.

Through this time, unfortunately my parents deemed it appropriate to seek my counsel. I counseled my mom. I counseled my dad. Remember I’ve had zero relationship experience and these are my own parents. But, I did my best to give them Biblical counsel.

After my counsel was rejected, the divorce was pursued full-force.

I felt defeated. I felt vulnerable. I felt broken.

My parents were no longer my parents. They were real human beings who needed freedom from each other. But, I couldn’t see this at the time. At that time, I screamed, whined, and cried all the time.

“Great.” I thought. “My parents had a shit marriage and now I’m going to have a shit marriage.”

“Where will I spend the holidays? Well, it’s not like we had any real traditions anyway.”

“Do I have to pick a side?”

 

For a few months, I was on the receiving end of my dad’s complaints about mom and mom’s complaints about dad. I was asked for advice. For my opinion. I was given deep and dark information about many things I had no desire to know. Secrets from 1995 were revealed to me. Specific abuses were described.

My heart was broken. My spirit was abused. There were no boundaries whatsoever.

 

So, if you’re an adult, or even a teenager, and your parents are getting divorced, hear you this:

  1. Create boundaries. This is hard for each person and it looks different for every relationship. Check out the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
  2. DO NOT feel selfish for keeping distance for the sake of your mental health. You do not owe your parents anything. You don’t have to sacrifice your happiness for their sake.
  3. DO NOT give advice. It’s not your place, love. They need counseling. If they ask, say “I’d rather not talk about that.” or “It’s not my place.”
  4. Lean into your Abba in heaven for consolation.
  5. Remember that your parents’ marriage will not determine how your future marriage will be. Although their actions affect you, they do not rule you. You and God determine your life.
  6. Have faith. It gets better. It really does.
  7. Rest with your siblings. Bitch about your parents. Spend time with them. They are your biggest allies right now.
  8. Find your life apart from your parents. ❤

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

Using Freedom as License to Sin

Hey dear readers,

Lord, so many things have happened lately around the world. My heart mourns for those in South Asia and Texas who are suffering the ramifications of devastating flooding.

 

This morning’s post is going to be about something entirely different. It’s more personal, more painful. You all know I’m a Christian and I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Brother, and Heavenly Husband. I love Him so much and I want to do the right thing, but here’s something I’ve learned about myself recently.

 

I struggle with legalism. Yes, I know we all tend to be a bit legalistic, but my legalism was pretty bad.

 

From ages 15-23, I operated under a legal system in relation to God. I would force myself to do “good things” because I wanted to be good. I wanted Abba to love me more. I wanted to be a perfect Christian. As a result of this thinking, I would come into the presence of God without any sense of freedom and hardly from the posture of a loved child. It was always fear. I always felt like I was coming up short.

 

Lately, God has completely broken that. It honestly feels as if I’m getting to know God for the first time! I love it and am so grateful that He broke my legalism down. I remember the night He did this. It was two Sundays ago and I read Romans chapter 4 before bedtime. I can only explain what happened next as the Holy Spirit overcoming me, but all of a sudden I began weeping, sobbing, crying, llorando like never before. Suddenly I realized how much God loves me. Me! How He gave Christ for us and it is through faith alone in CHRIST’S work on the cross that we have forgiveness of sins and freedom. Now we can call Him, Abba Father!

 

Before this revelation, I went a bit wild for a few weeks. I’m not ashamed to admit it, because it was necessary for God to show me how a wild lifestyle was not the answer. I drank too much, watched inappropriate things on my computer, and considered having sex with an almost 40-year old man who certainly doesn’t love God. I literally considered it. It wasn’t just a passing thought. I was mere steps away from planning a tryst with this man.

I did this all in the name of freedom. Oh, since Christ loves us and saves us, we can have fun now, right? It doesn’t matter what we do because it’s all about Christ. Right?

 

Nope.

 

I got so low because of my behavior that Christ ushered in that Sunday night, loved me with his presence, and brought me to my knees before Him. Day by day, He is teaching me what it looks like to have a love relationship with Him, not a relationship built on fear.

 

Readers, our freedom isn’t license to sin. But, sometimes, we get so off track that God Himself has to snatch us up from ourselves and teach us what true freedom looks like. I don’t have the answer for that, but I’m excited to learn more about my Abba. My loving, patient, forgiving Abba. ❤

Moving Back to NYC! (#Adulting)

Well, it’s been a week since I’ve been back in NYC. I’ve done so many things:

 

  1. Saw Miss Saigon (I’m obsessed. See it NOW!)
  2. Indulged in happy hour at a hipster bar in the gentrified part of town (it’s still cute, doe)
  3. Got my first massage (I’ve been missing out!)
  4. Frolicked around Spanish Harlem (PR food is the best)
  5. Ate lots of arepas (#VenezuelaLibre)

After all of this fun, with my friends back to their normal schedules, I’m left sitting on my new bed, a couch in an apartment that belongs to a friend of a friend. I have no private space of my own in this place, but I like it. It’s spacious and in a “good” part of Washington Heights. “Good” means there are fewer PoCs and more hipster bars.

As I dash about the city from doctor appointments to job interviews to laundromats to Target (I need cheap furniture), I think about the past few months. My life was essentially on hold while living in Georgia. I was stripped from all familiarity, so to come back to NYC, my home, should be thrilling right??

Yes and no. I love NYC. My heart beats with the chug chug of the A train as I zip uptown to Wash Heights. I enjoy buying pastelitos and piraguas from the street vendors. (Support Latino street vendors!) I love being with my friends again.

But, something has changed.

I’m older now, not in number but in wisdom. I’m wary of this city. I know this city has the power to build but also to destroy to the point of desperation. I was there.

I pray that this city is kinder to me this time around. I ask God to expand my friend groups and to grow my faith community.

I’ll keep you guys updated.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

I Am Biracial (¡Guau! ¡No Me Digas!)

I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me, but somehow I can’t fit in.

Maybe it’s my hair that coils and springs freely.
My hair that moves wildly like an ocean wave crashing upon a Puerto Rican beach.
“Oh, girl you’re such a fiery Latina!”

Or perhaps it’s my skin color,
That mezcla of brown, yellow, and white.
“Your skin is so light, if you straighten your hair, you could pass.”
For white.
So you’re a Nazi.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t know this was a test. And what’s a passing score? White?

If so, I guess I’ve failed, because I got 50%.

And if this is a test, I was doomed to fail from the start.

Starting to think about my ethnicity the more you play games with it.

“What are you?”

What am I? A beloved daughter of the King.

You toy with my identity like we’re on the playground but half of me is on the wall waiting to be picked.

Which half? Depends on who YOU are.

People of color love to reaffirm my Puerto Rican “sassy” flavor.

And Caucasians are thrilled when they hear me speak. You see, I’ve been told I “speak well.” Speak well for what?

What do you think this is? Is my identity something malleable that you can stretch and stretch to fit your preconceived notions of what you think I should be?

Because I want to know when my ethnic identity became in any way related to our dependent upon you.

You need to know that I decide how I express my cultures. I choose which to identify with.

But you know, maybe I identify with both! That’s something we both know is unsettling to the idea of me in your head.

But, thankfully, even if I claim both cultures equally, shocking I know, you can still choose how you see me.

Because I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me
But somehow I can’t fit in.

And I don’t want to anymore.

Black Lives Matter – Bianca Roberson

Living in post-2016 election America has been interesting thus far. I find that I tend to bash the President and his followers on an almost daily basis. But, lately I’ve noticed that even mentioning his name, which I refuse to type here, is almost like when you experience acid reflux. It comes out of nowhere and burns you. So, I won’t mention him in this post. However I will preface this post with this fact: the President incites violence against people who are “other” almost every day with his hateful rhetoric and idiotic tweets.

Now that we know this is the climate we live in, let’s continue…

Recently, a young black high school graduate named Bianca Roberson was murdered by a white man on the street. According to various news articles, they had miscommunication about who was merging when and as a result, this white man experienced intense road rage. What did he do with his road rage? He shot her in the head.

Yes. He shot a young lady in the head because of “road rage.”

The news may call it road rage, but I say let’s call a spade a spade. It most likely had to do with the color of Bianca’s skin. Maybe he thought, “Who does this black girl think she is?” Only God knows what was in his heart, but I suspect this is true.

In his mind at the time, and probably before, Bianca’s life did not matter. He felt that he had the authority to pull the trigger on her existence, ending forever what beauty could have been. In that moment, he deemed that he was superior to her and that he could determine that her life should end, and end violently. When you shoot someone in the head, you shoot to KILL. I will say this until the day the Lord takes me: NO ONE has the right to take another human’s life, or even their own life. God is ruler over all. He created us and breathed His breath into our lungs. HE determines how and when someone dies, not us.

While reading news articles on Bianca’s murder, I’ve come across a few that state, “He was a good kid.” “He usually was calm and cool.” Enough of that.

 

Let’s discuss what we know about Bianca:

  1. She had JUST graduated from high school and was looking forward to attending college in the fall.
  2. She was coming back from purchasing college things with her family.
  3. She enjoyed playing basketball and had a joyful disposition.

 

Friends, the primary issue humanity has is that some people do not see other groups of people as equally human. We refuse to see the humanity in those who are different than us and as a result, we murder them, steal from them, rape them, and ignore their needs.

When we begin to see each other as equally human, equally valuable, equally special, things will change. But this value does not come from our accomplishments, our color, our language, etc. It comes from the fact that we are all created by God and made in His image. When we understand that we are image bearers of God, we will extend the arm of empathy, compassion, and justice toward each other.

 

Life is precious. Life is sacred. Life is holy. Respect and honor it, no matter what.

 

Black Lives Matter.

 

 

Gabrielle G.