Safiya finds 'home' in Spiritual Baptist faith

Safiya Hemenez says it's liberating that women in the Baptist faith are shown respect, and are often leaders in the church. - Photo by Roger Jacob
Safiya Hemenez says it's liberating that women in the Baptist faith are shown respect, and are often leaders in the church. - Photo by Roger Jacob

AFTER years of searching, Safiya Hemenez has found community, love and fulfilment through the Spiritual Baptist faith. The former Jehovah's Witness shared her journey with WMN.

Hemenez, 34, originally lived in Chaguanas but moved to Port of Spain at age seven. She said she had a fun childhood and grew up around an extended family.

"So it would be my aunts, uncles, grandparents, mother...

"I was usually inside. I was very shy and I still kind of am. I would read, I would teach my dolls, I had pets...My aunt is a seamstress so she would usually teach me to sew and I would sew dolly clothes or help her do stuff."

She recalled being "very much involved" in the family's Jehovah's Witness practises and beliefs, but as she got older, "I started to wonder: 'What else is there (out there for me)?'

"I wanted to learn a lot more."

There was a time she was unwell, and despite numerous visits to different doctors, no one could figure out what was wrong with her.

"I would sit down on the step and I would pray. I would tell God, 'I don't know what is going on with me but I need you to guide me. I want you to carry me somewhere that you want me to be.'"

Safiya Hemenez finds community, love and fulfilment in her Spiritual Baptist faith. - Photo by Roger Jacob

Around that time, one of her friends was hosting a fitness camp and invited her, in hopes it would help her feel better, but to no avail.

She tried visiting a doctor again, who misdiagnosed her with cancer.

"I cried. I real cried. I called my friend immediately and walked home crying."

But her friend told her she would take her to a place where she could get spiritual help.

She was taken to see who are now her spiritual parents in the faith.

"I know some people think you have to do all these things, but it was very simple. After a week, the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with me and I felt great."

Her spiritual father then invited her to come to his church – St Ann's Mystical Healing School, Couva – and she accepted as she had desperately been "looking for somewhere" to call her spiritual home.

"I asked a lot of questions because it was new to me. The way he broke things down and explained things – the first time I heard him preach, I said, 'This is for me.'

"The drums, the vibe, how I felt in those surroundings...From that day, I never looked back."

By age 21, she fully transitioned from being a Jehovah's Witness to a Spiritual Baptist.

She said while growing up, she was always warned to stay away from Baptists and to never join that faith.

"That's what you are taught. (You are taught that) Baptists do obeah and all Baptists bad and it's not God they're worshipping...And it is because many people don't know the dynamics of the faith. But when you really get into it, you would see that it is not like that.

"It is about your God and you; it is about how you interact with your God."

The process of moaning (prayer and fast in seclusion/isolation) in the Baptist faith is very important. It is through this members are given their spiritual names and gifts, told what attire they must wear to church, among other things.

Hemenez said while she was nervous at first, it was a really enriching experience.

"I truly enjoyed it. That's your closer walk with God and that was my time to pour out my heart to God. It was about prayer and fast and having a closer connection to my God.

She said her family still do not fully accept her faith but she has asked them to at least respect it. She has moaned twice so far.

"(Family member) would always ask, 'When you coming back to Jehovah?' I always say, 'I love my faith; I am not turning back.'

(Another family member) was like, 'You know how much (sic) (many) people died on that moaning ground?' And I am like, 'Where are you getting this (incorrect) information from?'"

She said members of her faith are very supportive and always helping each other.

Safiya Hemenez - Photo by Roger Jacob

"If one person is down, you must find somebody to help you up. The connection and bond is really strong within the congregation.

"You feel the love they have for each other and it makes you want to serve God even more, and I was searching for that. I was searching for somewhere I felt accepted and welcome.

"From the first day I was there, I felt at home."

Asked what it was like moving from not celebrating holidays and birthdays to doing so, she said it was a learning and "nice" experience.

But she always had a love for Christmas.

"So I would cook and some of my family members would indulge; others wouldn't."

She had never celebrated her birthday before, and when her spiritual family found out, they said, 'We are going to have a birthday party for you.'

"It was about ten of us and they bought me a cake and we celebrated and I was like, 'Okay, this is how this feels...' It was nice.

"Now, I am celebrating everything," she said, smiling.

There are times where she reflects on how she, too, once viewed the Baptist faith and cannot believe it.

"Everybody always thinks Baptists do obeah. I do not know how to do those things!" she said before bursting into laughter.

"There was a Baptist church (near my family home) and as a child, I would sit down on the step listening to the drums. All this time, I didn't know it was God telling me to go to (the) Baptist (faith). I even used to wonder how I would look with a head tie so I would tie my head, and now here I am tying my head every Sunday for church."

She partially could not fathom her family's reluctance to accept her faith since her grandmother was also a Baptist.

She now teaches children at Sunday school at her church and is fondly called "Teacher Safiya." Coincidentally, she said, after attending St Rose's Girls' RC and Daniel's College of Excellence, she did a certificate in early childhood care at UWI, St Augustine. She has also studied human resource management and credit union management.

Women are shown respect and are, very often, leaders in the Baptist faith. This, Hemenez said, feels liberating.

"It feels so good...There are (women given the spiritual titles of) evangelists, nurses, mothers, teachers, and you can do so much.

"Everybody really has a part to play. It's not about just coming and sitting down and listening to one person. Women get a chance to share (lessons/sermons), the youth, other men..."

Since joining this faith, she said she has become a more open-minded and understanding person – something for which she is grateful.

She said she knows what direction she is meant to go in life and is well on her way along that path.

In addition to her spirituality, she also makes African clothing as well as beaded jewellery for her business, Cleosoul - Soul Creations.


"Safiya finds ‘home’ in Spiritual Baptist faith"

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