A taste of the Army

interview by Hugo Bravo

Lieutenant Melissa Bonet, pastor at The Salvation Army Ridgewood Citadel in Queens, N.Y., talks about her former career in pastry design, becoming a member of the Army for the first time in Clearwater, Fla., and why being “God—fearing” is a different mindset from “fearing God.”

I came to Miami in 1997 from Puerto Rico to study pastry design. Two years later, I started a culinary career that lasted over 20 years. The culinary world is a male–dominated industry. If women want to move up in it, they must prove that they can do everything without asking for help. At one point, I had my own business, and at the same time, I worked for a private clubhouse as a pastry chef, preparing food for athletes such as Derek Jeter and John Cena. I also spoke at high schools to teens interested in culinary arts. Young people are fascinated by famous TV chefs, but they don’t always see the time, effort, burns, and cuts the chefs suffer to get there. Culinary arts is still my passion and I hope that one day I will include it in my ministry.

My church before The Salvation Army had a ministry where we would cook full–course dinners and take them to a local women’s home. We would spend time listening to the women talk about their lives. Many of them had escaped abusive relationships. I knew their fears because at the time, before I had met my husband, I was also in an abusive relationship. I felt trapped, and worried about the safety of our children. Just like the women, I had been led to believe that, without our abusers, we were nothing. Talking to those women opened my eyes. I realized that I had to take my children and leave, just as they did, before my situation got worse.

Evil will try to tempt you through your passions. At one point, I strayed from the Lord. A woman who had seen my business advertisements asked me to make cakes for her parties. She promised new clients and work opportunities. But I didn’t realize that she was also involved in some non–Christian rituals and traditions, even though she claimed to be a Christian. Before I knew it, I was spending time with her and wearing the same type of jewelry and ornaments as she did. Thankfully, I pulled away from her influence and returned to God. It’s interesting how He prepared me for my future. Now I can see such negative influences in places like New York, where cultures and beliefs come from all over the world.

Neither I nor my husband had grown up in the Army, but we had visited the College for Officer Training in New York. When we returned to Florida, we began to attend a corps in Clearwater. I thought that the ministry would frown upon training us because we would then have to leave to serve in another territory. But they fully supported our unique path in The Salvation Army. I also noticed how active the wives of pastors were here. Wives of pastors I had met before were just doing crafts and arranging flowers. But here, women were pastors too; they were running the church and getting their own hands dirty. My husband and I knew that was going to be us someday.

Many of us may have had parents punish you. Pay attention or you will make God angry.” They said these things to make us God–fearing people. It is about having reverence for Him, knowing His power, and accepting that He is in control. Yet fearing the Lord gets passed down and we forget to remind our children that God is also love and eternal life. We spend so much time talking about what to avoid, that we sometimes forget to mention what we must look forward to when we are in His presence.

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