The Jeannie Ortega of today, a devoted wife and Christian recording artist debuting her upbeat and lyrical first full-length Christian studio album, Love Changed Me, isn't the Jeannie Ortega of yesterday. Her turbulent childhood and her walk with Christ have shaped someone altogether new.
From thoughts of suicide, exposure to a religion that involved witchcraft, and being surrounded by an entertainment industry riddled with sex and drugs, Ortega would not allow Satan to distract her from the true purpose that God had for her life — not even the enticements that might accompany a Billboard Top 25 pop star with a certified gold song.
A major distraction in Ortega's life was the religion Santeria, a form of witchcraft that originated in Africa that involves the conjuring of spirits through chanting and the offering of sacrifices like food and drink. As a child the religion had been a significant part of Ortega's family life and was a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Faith, however, would lead Jeannie down a different path.
"My family pretty much grew up in it [Santeria]. It was a generational thing," Ortega told The Christian Post. "It's just kind of a family thing. It's like a family business. You just pass it down."
Ortega said she currently has a family member who is a "high-ranking" participant in the religion who has what Santeria calls "god children" throughout New York City. Ortega explained that her family doesn't feel that Santeria goes against God, but that God is first, then the spirits they conjure. Their ultimate goal, in fact, is to connect with God.
As a preteen, Ortega said that one day family members tried to "graduate" her in the religion so that she could become possessed by a spirit. During one Halloween "feast," where participants make offerings to spirits, family members tried to conjure up a spirit within her.
"There were all these people chanting over me in the middle of a circle. It was the first time I felt God, and I didn't know it was God at the time."
"I could feel an internal battle within me. I felt like there was something that wanted to come in — [but] there was something in me that was fighting back. I didn't know that the Holy Spirit even existed, really. So I didn't know that it was God, but there was something in me fighting back." Ortega said she ran from the house screaming.
Later in life, when Ortega came to know the Holy Spirit, she reflected on that moment and realized that it was the Spirit of Christ that had fought for her.
While she said that she grew up in a loving home, Ortega admitted that due to brokenness, there was turmoil. "So I would go to school, and because I was so angry — a bunch of things going on within the house — I was a bully from my elementary school years. And then I was bullied after that from junior high school," she said, explaining that she was rejected by jealous girls in her neighborhood because many of the boys took a liking to her.
"So I never had any place where I really felt like there was peace, that I belonged. So I struggled a lot with suicidal thoughts ... I contemplated suicide. I guess I saw it on TV and figured that was a solution to maybe bring peace at home. Just take myself out of the equation. Maybe people would realize that life is short."