Faith in ActionMagazine

Q&A: Bonnie Camarda

In 1967 and at the tender age of 15, Bonnie Camarda left the political turmoil in Cuba with her family to start a new life in Madrid, Spain. She later graduated from the University of Madrid with a degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in administrative science.

Bonnie-webCamarda moved to the United States to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. She also received a master of divinity degree from the Luther Rice Seminary in Jacksonville, Florida.

After having a successful business career internationally, Camarda returned to the U.S., where she served as a pastor in Philadelphia. In 1984, she became an advisory board member with The Salvation Army in Greater Philadelphia. Since 1999, “Rev. Bonnie” has served as the divisional director of partnerships and government relations for The Salvation Army’s Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division (PENDEL). In the following interview, she reflects on her first visit to Cuba in 33 years.

Before you traveled to Cuba in February with the New York Staff Band (NYSB), your last visit had been in 1983. In your view, what has changed there since then?
There’s definitely a wider acceptance today of Americans and their culture. And the people are open to The Salvation Army.

When you left Cuba to live in Madrid, did you understand the severity of the political climate that you were leaving?
I didn’t quite understand that I might never see my father and other family members again, or understand the complexity of becoming an immigrant. We already had family who had left for Spain, such as my grandfather, who stressed that he wanted us to live there with him.

How has growing up in Cuba and in Spain influenced your ministry today?
It has helped me see people through different lenses. It gave me an aspect of culture that I didn’t have as strongly in Cuba. In Spain, I lived in a Hispanic culture and in a European culture. And travel between European countries was easy.

How important is music in Cuban culture?
It’s important. And it’s something that The Salvation Army can help Cuban soldiers do more of to lift their spirits and their corps. For example, when I visited the College for Officer Training, they had one guitar and one flute, which belonged to the teacher. The New York Staff Band left a beautiful drum set in Cuba for the soldiers, but I would have liked to have given them something myself. Here in the U.S., guitars aren’t expensive; we could have brought a few to Cuba.

What else did you notice about the College for Officer Training?
There weren’t many Bibles in the college. They are hard to get in Cuba. Here in Philadelphia, we are trying to organize ways to send Bibles, instruments, and even vitamins, which are also in short supply, to the Cuban people.

What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about Cuba?
Because the government provides education and health care, that all the peoples’ needs are met. Actually, in return for that education, graduates are legally required to work for the government for two years. As a matter of fact, the Cuban people are hardworking and have a great sense of entrepreneurship.

How would you like to see The Salvation Army help Cuba?
First of all, the Army can help the younger generation learn to play instruments and teach them the importance of music in Salvation Army culture. And secondly, work with Lt. Colonel Julio Moreno, the divisional commander, to help support the Central Corps and its building project.

What was the highlight of your trip with the NYSB?
Apart from being with family whom I thought I would never see again.* I would have to say it was Saturday night at El Teatro De Miramar, when the NYSB gave its first performance. The people in the audience, although many were poor, wore beautiful clothing and welcomed us with joy. They took it all in, and danced the Conga with the visiting officers. In a room full of Cubans and Americans, I felt that we were all the same—human beings who followed Christ and who wanted to do His work.

*Rev. Bonnie’s dad, sister, stepmother, two cousins, a niece, and a 90–year–old aunt welcomed her upon her return to Cuba. They took her to see markets, landmarks, and the church where her parents were married.

by Hugo Bravo