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Ingrid Rosario on transcending cultural and social barriers

Having one of the most privileged voices in the world of worship, Ingrid Rosario earned her place of privilege in the heart of the American and Hispanic communities thanks to her musical quality and performance. That’s why her songs have overcome cultural and social barriers.

This conversation was conducted by Jaime Lázaro in Spanish and translated to English. Read the interview in Spanish.

Ingrid’s public career began when she recorded “Majesty” with Ron Kenoly in 1997. Almost immediately she was invited to join Women Of Faith as well as Benny Hinn’s Evangelistic Crusades which took her to Ecuador, Colombia, Spain, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, and Panama.

Ingrid Rosario has recorded with many worshipers and participated alongside well-known servants.

Having an affable disposition, and in frank and humble dialog, Ingrid answered each of our questions with emotion and joy, but also with nostalgia and sensibility.

As you read Ingrid’s interview, reflect on the following points:

  • Ingrid did not have the childhood or adolescence of so many kids from good homes. It seems that financial scarcity and her father’s absence from home marked her life. Could it be that it was these same needs that forged who she is today?
  • Following several events that attracted Ingrid to the Lord, one of them was unique. In the privacy of her bedroom, before her first church performance, in the church that welcome her, she asked God: Why did you choose me? Could it be that many get to this point and at the moment where they must decide between going forward or not they languish along the way, thinking themselves unworthy despite a genuine calling?
  • Most US-born, Hispanic children tend toward one or another culture. However, Ingrid identifies with both equally. Could it be that when you embrace the culture of the Kingdom, you embrace all cultures?

The Conversation

Where were you born?
Queens, New York, 1974

Did you study there?
No, at three years old my mom and I moved to Los Angeles, after my parents split. My mother decided to go to Los Angeles because she had a brother there who offered to help her. I was only three years old when we arrived. We did not last long in New York.

I imagine it was a difficult time for your mother
Yes. Those years significantly impacted my life, even though some people believe that children don't understand.

What impacted you the most about watching your mother suffer?
I saw in her a lot of sadness, but that's also what led her to know the Lord. During that time, TBN was strongly working in Los Angeles with Manuel Bonilla. My mom understood that the emptiness in her life could not be filled by a man. My father was the first boyfriend my mother had. The circumstances under which they met were very innocent for my mom. But my father did not have the same innocence. He decided to leave home so I imagine that my mother felt rejected, abandoned.

Are you the only child of both parents?
At that time I was the only child. When I was a girl, at five years old, I became ill with meningitis and was in very serious conditions in the hospital. For that reason, my father came to Los Angeles to see my mom and I. When this happened, they sort of reconciled. I understand now, being older, that adults are a product of our childhood. My father was abandoned by his mother when he was a child and was just repeating the pattern. I don't blame him, I've forgiven him, he died two and a half years ago. And I forgive him because I understand that a man or woman without God does not know how to live, how to make the correct decisions without Christ. I understand this, I felt compassion for what happened between my mom and dad. My mom lives here in Miami, close to me.

Was your mother authorized to be in this country?
Yes, she arrived with papers. Let me tell you a bit of the story. My mom is Colombian, raised from a very young age in Venezuela, where she would eventually become a citizen. Her father, my grandfather, always wanted to come to the United States. He worked in an air traffic control tower at the airport. He wanted to come to Los Angeles, but first went to Mexico, then Puerto Rico, returned to Mexico twice, and then went to Miami. He had an uncle that was a barber and back then barbers were eligible for visas, and that's how my grandfather, and thus my mother as a dependent, became a legal resident of the United States.

So you received your education in Los Angeles?
I studied while I lived there. From the age of three till 13 that we lived in Los Angeles. Then we moved here to Miami to live.

You've been here an entire lifetime.
Although I remember very well my time in Los Angeles, from where I have lovely memories, as that was where my mother met the Lord, and where I began my formation. At that time we began attending a Catholic church, then a Charismatic Catholic group and then an Evangelical church. That's where my mom decided to seek out God in a more intimate fashion. I always ask myself: "Lord, why did you choose me, I was raised without a father, in East Los Angeles, with low income, receiving government assistance?"

But you needed help.
Yes, but I don't understand how it is that he chose me. It was my never my dream to be a worshiper, singer, a recording artist. It was never my dream. More so because I did not think I could dream like that. My dream was to obtain a college degree.

But you want to college. Right?
Yes, I attended Liberty University in Virginia. And I have the goal of obtaining my Master's.

When did you first become aware of what was about to happen to you?
I was in Guatemala, I was about 30 years old, doing my devotional, before going to sing. I asked God, how is it that this happened to me, in this way, how is it that you chose me? I fell asleep and he took me to the kitchen of my home in East Los Angeles, when I was only eight years old. My little brother was already born, because my parents would get together and split up continually. Eventually my dad decided to leave for the last time and my mom received by mail an invitation to my dad's wedding. I find my mother crying in that kitchen in Los Angeles. I ask: Mom, what's wrong. She tells me to see, that my dad is getting married. At that moment, it was incredible, unthinkable. She grabbed a cassette of Danny Berrios and began to sing: "Glory to God, because in the midst of my problems, Glory to God, because there is power in Christ…" And I was watching her doing this. I had never remembered or thought of this memory until I asked the Lord.

What was it about that scene that marked you?
Her worship position. Surrendering to Him. In the deepest part of her pain, my mom took the most humble position a human being can take. Worship transcends everything. Let me tell you this. When I gave birth to my baby, I did not know my doctor was a believer. After I gave birth via C-section, she approached me to tell me that the baby was healthy, perfect, "but I want to take this time to thank you for what you gave me seven years ago through your music." Wow, what was she talking about? She witnessed to me about how my songs had ministered to her life.

When did you convert to the Lord?
When I attended the evangelical church I began to get involved with the youth group in Los Angeles. My neighborhood was getting ugly due to drugs and gangs. My mom has another brother that lives here in Miami. He went to visit us and offered to take us out of it when he saw where we lived. And now, the place is nice again, but at that time, I did not even notice. My mom was alone with my younger brother and myself. My mom was accustomed, comfortable to Los Angeles, even though she knew it was not the best place. I encouraged my mom. "Let's do it." I would tell her. I came by myself first, then my mom with my brother. It was in 1987 when I was about to turn 13. At first I didn't like Miami, because I was accustomed to Mexican culture, and it's different here.

Now I understand why you adapted here, because your mother is Colombian/Venezuelan.
Yes, but she hated the heat. She came here and a week later said: "Oh no, I'm going back, I can't stand the heat." She was unable to get a job, so she had to do whatever she could find. Again, we lived in my uncle's house. My cousins made my life difficult. Recently one apologized to me.

The question is when did you convert?
My mom began attending a local church. I was only a teenager, but this was a very important and crucial time of my life. My self-esteem was in the gutter. Everything that did not affect me while I was a girl, came back to affect me as a teenager: My father's abandonment, the rejection. I don't know if it was the hormones or what, but it was difficult dealing with this. I began to hang out with bad people that took drugs. God protected me because I accepted God in my time. I am thankful to my mom because she guided me in His path. The Word says that we must raise our children in faith with the Word of God, so that they will not depart from Him when they grow. All the fundamentals that I had from my childhood from Sunday School, from Christian television, that was my foundation on the Rock. When I wanted to separate myself from it, I couldn't. I remember my mother saying: "Let's go to church." And I responded "No." "You're going to go" she stated. I did not speak Spanish nor did I like it. Just imagine, God gives me a ministry in a language I didn't like. And this happens frequently in our culture. Children feel more American and have that pride. I now understand. I'm American, but 100 percent Latina in my heart, my way of being, my character. I'm both. So my mother would insist: "You're going to attend church with me, otherwise you can't go out with your friends." That was the Friday I converted to the Lord. The preacher was named Jose Zapico, he was from Spain and spoke with a Spanish that was difficult to understand. The good thing is that there was translation for the youth. The message was "Choose for yourself who you will serve." That's because we serve so many things and it can lead to either blessings or destruction. At that age I was starting to have thoughts of suicide, because I felt abandoned, rejected, we had no money, I did not have the clothes I wanted. You know, it was silly things, but at that time they were very important. I told myself, I've served so many things such as rejection, pain, hate against my father. However, I saw that things were going well for my mom, that she had peace, joy and was calm. I wanted to have that as well, I told myself. And from that moment on, I never looked back. I gave myself completely. I began with the youth choir and that's where I began to sing.

You had not sung before that?
I had before, but I was the girl that nobody noticed. I had the tape with the song that was sung the day I accepted the Lord, because it was the youth choir that was singing. When I got involved with the youth choir, we would practice that song. I said, I know this one and I performed it. I began singing really loud, so much so that it caught the director's attention. She said: Sing it again. That's when everything began. I remember my first solo in 1988, I was only 14 years old.

Was that when the desire to serve the Lord was born?
Definitely. But not to be a singer. Just to serve in whatever way, and I did so by cleaning the Church. We would host car washes for the choir, we would perform plays, whatever. And to this day, if my church calls, I go to serve.

Did you learn how to worship when you began singing in the choir?
I learned what worship really was when I attended the Baptist Church Emmanuel, but I really understood what worship was when the youth group leader gave me a book about the Tabernacle and how one enters a holy place. Nobody sat down with me to teach me how to prepare, the cleansing that took place. I was exposed to this by that book. I discovered there is an order.

What are the first and the greatest worship experiences you've had?
One day the choir director told me that in two weeks I was going to sing alone. I was new to the choir. She saw something in me and launched me. It was right before singing my first solo, before having the microphone in my hand. What came over me was supernatural. I knelt and began praying. I felt like David when he was anointed by Samuel. Nobody knew about that experience. I fell to my knees to sing, I really felt connected to the Lord. Worship connects you with your heart, it is not about your talent. And this didn't mark me to begin recording albums, this was just the beginning of an intimate relationship I was discovering, along with humility and surrendering myself to Him. It is an imperfect man that God uses. Even to this day I have so many imperfections that I ask Him: Why did you choose me? On another occasion, before the 90's, we lived in the projects in Hialeah, in a single mothers' shelter, when I was feeling sorry for myself for not having a father, I wept and wept, only worshiping in my room, and I literally felt his embrace, I physically felt his touch.

What was the first song that the Lord inspired you to write?
I recorded in this last album the first song that I wrote. I didn't do it in any of the first ones, but I did in this last one. Worship is very intimate. It was like a poem that I wrote to him and together with a friend put music to it. It's just piano and voice. It's one of my favorite songs.

How many songs have you written?
I am not a song writer. I like to co-write with others. But I believe I've written about 10 songs.

How many albums do you have?
Six. Five in Spanish and one in English.

How do you see your life in a few years as a worshiper?
I see myself going back to the beginning, working in a church, because even though I'm currently connected to a church, I don't work full time in my church, because we're always on the road and all that. But I honestly think there will come a point where I will return to the church, with all the experience I've acquired because I've not only been a singer, but I also feel like a missionary because being called to this is a career. After finishing university I went to India for my last semester. I thought I would return a missionary. I said: "Lord, whatever you want", "Wherever you want me to go, I will go". The missionary that took us asked whether we wanted to return and I told him that I would pray about it. I still had not met my husband. I was in university from 1994 to 1998. I really thought I was going to return to India. In my mind I was clear that I was going to return to India.

What happened?

When I returned, doors began to open with Integrity Music. They gave me the opportunity to sing with Ron Kenoly. Then I got the opportunity to travel and give presentations. I thought, but I'm thinking of going to India as a missionary. For me, that was more important than singing. It was the moment to decide whether it was my will or the Lord's. My dream at that moment was to work as a physiotherapist and in my church. I did not return to India and I placed all my trust in Him. I was not responding to fame, simply to doing His will. That same year, in 1998, I was singing as a special guest, without having recorded a single album, with Benny Hinn, Women of Faith, in very large events with thousands and thousands of people. I would ask myself: How did I get to be here?

For some reason I see worshipers who end up pastoring. 
I feel that I have so much experience, I've been exposed to some of the largest ministries in the world. Participating in events, concerts, leading praise bands, I think this has all been forming me not so much to become a pastor of a church, but to help support a pastor or a ministry that would have similar reach. I think I would be most useful working as a team. Because you cannot work alone and have the entire control of your "kingdom." Similarly, music can easily become your "kingdom" and I think I always need to be under an umbrella. I am very hopeful about what the ministry will be like, I even have the expectation of changing the name of the ministry which is currently called Ingrid Rosario Ministries, because I know I am going to be part of a group of people that will transform the world, the church. We need to bring something fresh to the church that will change music, biblical education. I don't know with whom, where or when, but I hope to be a part of that.

What is the difference between praising and worshiping?
In practical terms they are the same thing. I don't see a difference between them. To me, everything is worship. If you must label it or define it, let's say that praising is like an exhortation, a proclamation, but fundamentally, worship includes all of this. It is how you live your life, how you react to circumstances, how you honor him.

What do you believe is the role of praise and worship in the life of the church?
Culturally, music is very important to Latinos. And we can see in Los Angeles just as much as in Miami. Even though the rhythms are very different. And you can use different rhythms, but the important thing is the content. We must be focused on the Word, because we often want to focus on the prophetic, the apostolic, or we simply want the rhythm. We must sing to him, about the cross, about his grace, his love.

Do you think the church would be the same without praise and worship?
No. Something I recently discovered is that Jesus would sing the Psalms, when he was sharing the wine and the bread and when he was with his disciples. Music is very important to the church. I feel that there is a connection, because one remembers much better a good song from scripture, than a sermon. I am motivated to write, in the future, songs that are much more based on scripture.

How much do you think worship influences discipleship?
A lot, definitely.

It changes lives, it teaches?
There is no doubt. I feel as though much of my theology I've learned through song. Of course, I later go back to scripture and review the verses. I cannot write a good song without a biblical foundation. Maybe that is the reason I remember songs with Bible verses that I learned when I was young. Music with good content has influenced my theology and my search for the Lord. Worshipers, sadly, prepare themselves more as musicians, so they are excellent percussionists, pianists, etc., but they do not have the same hunger for the Word of God.

Do you think the culture of praise and worship has changed over the past 10 years?
Yes, it has changed. The influence of Hillsong, the Jesus Culture, of many American, European and Australian cultures. And they sing them in church even in English. Marcos Witt, who is still very respected, but the modern church is being influenced by this groups, and it is a good thing. They have great songs.

Tell me about the important elements of worship.
Worship is not music. Music is a vehicle, but the actual motor, the gasoline, what will get you there is not the structure but what is behind it. Worship connects you with God, through music, through art. I think we connect more with God when we're creative.

So then, do you think we can worship God with paintings?
Yes, I told you. It's a challenge to history. The purpose of our life is to bring glory and honor to God. So, when you live a life submitted to God's will, when I cook for my husband, I'm serving him. I've identified better with Christ when I've gone on a missionary trip and given a plate of food to someone there, not to listen to a word, or to listen to a verse, but simply to serve. I feel like Jesus, humbled, surrendered. To me, that's worship. Now, can we worship through art? Yes, because it expresses something beautiful. That is worship. We cannot limit any artistic expression for God.

Are you saying that the best form of worship is to love your neighbor?
Yes. That is a commandment. The sad thing about the church is that it is creating a church for itself. We're fattening up but not growing.

How do you think Latinos imagine God?
I would like for people to first understand that Jesus is God. I read certain books from men of God that are writing about the deity of Jesus, who is human but also God. A God that can be immense, but also personal. That is God. And we cannot put him in a small box, as religion often tries to do. I've sung in stadiums with thousands and thousands of people, but I like to equally go to a church with 10 members. I would love to have a house with a large kitchen, but I don't live for that, I am thankful for what I have. I am the first homeowner. I lived in an apartment, I had no air conditioning growing up. I am thankful when I can see my son walk in his house and feel cool.  I live to serve Him, not me.

With regards to the content of the songs, do you think they project God in a different manner?
The songs that I like project God differently simply because of the way it is expressed. Yes, a closer God is presented.

Have you ever identified with the pain of immigrants in the United States when you see their social reality?
It happens when I'm in Los Angeles. The reality of immigrants in Los Angeles has stayed the same. People that immigrate for a better life, that perhaps have even been able to bring their children, or perhaps not. I notice that those that don't have documentation live a very difficult life. They live to work, I almost don't see their happiness. But you put that same immigrant in their country, and they're a different person.

If we think they are an oppressed people, could it be because in their country they have more freedom than here?
Yes. Although much of it depends in their country of origin, the city and the denomination. I do notice that it is a people that feels oppressed.

Can you tell me how you would describe the presence of God?
He ministers to me in my house, in a stadium in front of thousands of people, in the shower, there is no limit. The expression of his presence has no limits. To me, he is something that's sweet and personal.

What message or influence would you like to leave in the life of a believer?
That they should feel hope. That they should know that God is an intimate, personal God. He is not a God sitting on a throne. Because one cannot have a relationship with God or express worship if they do not have a relationship with Him. One identifies who Christ is based on what you are seeking due to your needs, like a healer, a father, a provider, a refuge. I don't have my father with me, so he is my father. I have seen him manifested as such.

Have you been the victim of machismo in your work?
Oh yes.

Have you ever been marginalized?
Yes. But it's okay because I don't worry about it. I don't seek to be famous, nor accepted by people. I live my life in obedience to God and He opens the doors that He wants to open. Yes, I have been marginalized by pastors that are culturally machistas.

Have you ever been denied a presentation based on your being a woman?
I have not been personally told that. But you feel the indifference, when they give more weight and validity to a man's opinion over that of a woman's. I have sung in churches where they have told me that it is the first time they allow a woman to sing. It's a lot of pressure, but it's without concern, I know how to deal with that. I broke the cultural and economic norms of my family. It's alright.

Do you think that art has been increasingly incorporated in worship?
Imagine people worship God in the way that they know how and breaking all paradigms. There is a church here in Miami that as they are singing, there is a lady painting, the pastor has a collection of works of art of worship. It's also dance. I think there is more freedom now. I love all things artistic and creative.  I am astounded by the colors that God created. I see the sky full of colors and the knowledge that one can express that. God is the artist of all artists.

Can you name a few songs that have stayed in your heart?
"The Power of Your Love." "You are my Breath." "Let Your House Be Filled, Open The Sky." And my favorite is a Hillsong that is called "The Potter's Hand." Another is "How Great Thou Art." There is one in my last album named "Forgive Forever" that is very powerful; it changes lives.

Have you seen patterns or dynamics of globalization through which cultures share their musical materials?
Yes, the world is becoming very small. Everyone is using everyone else's stuff and I like that. I appreciate seeing how resources are shared. What I don't like is when the sharing occurs in only one direction. I like how American culture shares. In the case of Hillsong, the Hispanic community sings its songs in Spanish. But at some point, I'd like to see Hillsong sing songs composed by Hispanic worshipers.

Why do you think that the majority of worshipers that have been of greatest influence to the Hispanic community have come from outside?
I'm not sure exactly why that is, but in my case, I've had to accept that God has a purpose for everything. Even though I am American, and very proud to be, very thankful to this country in which I was born, I also had to understand that I am Latina and that it's a gift to be able to identify with both cultures. I am not sure why I was chosen, I wasn't the first and won't be the last. When I ask why, the answer I always get is that He trusts me. I don't steal His glory, I always seek more from his heart.

Has your situation of being an immigrant's daughter challenged you to overcome and stand out in this country?
When I went to university, almost 90 percent of the students were white and the rest African American, South Korean, and Latinos. When you are in those situations, you see who you really are. When I am in a place like that, I almost feel challenged to represent my culture; I am well prepared, I am educated. And even though I express myself in English, I like to identify myself with my roots and speak Spanish. I take it as an opportunity to teach my culture.

What do you think about women in ministry?
I think it is good. I believe we have a role to play in the church. I believe we are the conscience of our husbands. I believe we must be restrained, but with a voice, with an opinion. To have a support role but at the same time to do our own thing. The dynamic has changed.  

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