Salvation Army newbies roll with the punches, tackle challenges
They're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army Lts. Scott and Jennifer Ruse find themselves now in Minnesota--during "the most wonderful time of the year"--after relocating from their hometown of Wichita. "My dad's a Baptist p...
They're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army Lts. Scott and Jennifer Ruse find themselves now in Minnesota-during "the most wonderful time of the year"-after relocating from their hometown of Wichita.
"My dad's a Baptist preacher, and as soon as I had the opportunity-and every opportunity I had-I rebelled from it," he said of his late-in-life leadership role with the faith-based nonprofit.
"Shortly into my adult life, my brother was killed in an auto accident, and I became very angry ... and so I stayed away from church, Bible and the appearance of all that."
The Ruses are the latest leaders and pastors of the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army who joined the national nonprofit due to a chance meeting with a Salvation Army band member in Wichita.
The 45-year-old and his 41-year-old wife were married in 2003 after they first met at a biker rally where a Salvation Army band was playing in Kansas in 2011.
"I had turned away from everything I knew was right-to do it wrong-because that's how I could get back at life for making me angry-and did that for years and years," he said.
Scott Ruse said he was a heavy smoker and heavy drinker-"popping pills for a while even," he admitted-while trying to cope with life.
"I even tried to go to a church at one point who told me that because I had sin in my life, I couldn't play tuba in their band. I've been a tuba player since eighth grade, so I've always enjoyed playing music," he said.
"We done this Marines 'Toys for Tots' toy rally in Wichita, Kansas, ... and I just went to talk to the tuba player, and he invited me to come play at their church, which was a Salvation Army church ... and we just felt right at home and been going ever since."
A new start
Jennifer Ruse and her husband soon gave up drinking and quit smoking after their chance encounter with The Salvation Army tuba player.
"I am an only child, and I was basically raised by two parents that gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be ... and my dad actually raised me and told me, 'Don't you dare let anyone force their beliefs on you,' because he wanted me to be independent," she said.
"Occasionally, we went to church, but typically I only went on Easter because my grandpa required it, and we also got free Chinese lunch after if we went ... and even my father would sit there half-clowning most of the time ... so it wasn't something I ever took seriously."
The couple came to the Brainerd lakes area immediately following their graduation from a two-year program at The Salvation Army College for Officer Training in Chicago.
"It was just kind of funny how for me in the beginning I went from being on my parents' side of, 'Let me be who I'm going to be,' to now flipping to the other side of, 'I understand what God's about now, I understand what happens when you let him in your heart,'" she said.
"It took pretty much me hitting rock bottom when Scott and I were separated during a time where he had to be out truck driving ... and I literally just fell to pieces ... and I actually had to hit rock bottom in order to finally accept Jesus."
But it took some time before her husband felt called to the church. He said he has also worked at a pathology lab performing autopsies and biopsies, in retail sales, in the Army, as a door-to-door salesman, as a mechanic or-as he put it-"a jack-of-all-trades, master of none."
"My parents were nomads ... because they felt led by the Lord ... so we were always moving and in my upbringing of that, I just kind of stayed with that trend and just kind of bounced around doing different things," he said.
Jennifer Ruse said she worked as a cashier, in customer service, in photo labs, at an alarm company and even as a line-dancing instructor before their Salvation Army internship.
"I honestly spent rather the majority of my life just in some kind of call center environment, so not really ever working with people face to face-not a lot," she said with a chuckle.
She now works closely and in person with those in need at the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army, which provides food, clothing, energy assistance, youth programs, family mentoring, disaster relief and more.
"The way the Lord works it out is he allows us to experience things in our lives, so that we can learn to rely on him to get through them, but then we can also share those experiences with others who maybe are going through it or have gone through it," he said.
"And we can share how he helped us get through it, so even though my brother died in January of '92-and I became very angry at the world because of that-I now have a story to share with people where I can relate with some people who are going through something similar."
She said she was initially worried about how she would adjust to the colder-than-Kansas winter weather in Minnesota, but it's something that she can laugh about now.
"When we were at what's called 'commissioning'-same as graduation-they told us that we were going where there was an ice-fishing championship, and I looked right at him and I said, 'Alaska?' And he said, 'No, not Alaska,' and then he said, 'Brainerd, Minnesota,'" she said.
"And I was like, 'Oh' ... because from where I'm from, you don't have lakes that freeze over well enough for people to be out on them. ... But it's honestly something I have adjusted to."
Grant and Jaclyn Holloway were the previous leaders of the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army but were relocated to St. Louis.
"The Salvation Army moves officers-it's on average of about three to seven years-when they feel the corps, itself, could use a change or the officers could use a change," Scott Ruse said.
"They basically take into account who the officers are-their personalities and skill sets-and then take into account the need at a particular church, or 'corps' is what we call them, and then they try to fit the two together."
The Ruses want the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army to be a place of unconditional love or a place of acceptance, which was what they felt when they were first introduced to the nonprofit.
"You can only learn so much when you're in training and then you get out into the real world, and it's kind of like letting a kid go on a bike by himself for the first time," she said of adjusting to Minnesota and her leadership role.
"When we were in the school, we had on training wheels-we were going out and doing different things at different locations as practice, kind of getting a real feel for it-but it's so different from being in a teaching environment."
The Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army's annual kettle bell-ringing season starts each November and runs through Christmas Eve, but while the visible fundraiser is a hallmark of the holiday season, it is not the only way the nonprofit raises funds.
"When we first arrived, there were different things the prior officers had potentially set up or started setting up," Jennifer Ruse said of some initial lack of advertising and public relations savvy.
"We had a 'Christmas in July' sale that happened in our thrift store that was just within a week or two after we got here that I didn't know anything about until two days before. And my ladies' groups are asking me, 'Who's going to be at the sale this weekend?' And I'm going, 'What sale?'"
Scott Ruse said they are taking the bumps in the road in stride they believe are a normal part of the learning curve as with any organization's leadership change.
"There is so many things going on everyday that there's no way that you're going to be able to tell your successors everything. ... You can't have your hand held through everything, but it allows you to become who you're going to become as an officer," he said.
"But then it also allows us to rely on the Lord to get us through things and not just on ourselves."
He said this year's annual kettle bell-ringing fundraiser was ahead of last year's pace regarding donations.
"I was worried how I was going to adjust up here. ... But even the people around here who don't come to our corps are just so supportive of The Salvation Army ... knowing how new we are," Jennifer Ruse said.
"The people here-our congregation and even our employees-they honestly treat me with more care than my own family does, so to me, it is honestly like I have found such a loving, just caring, family environment that it has blown me away, and I mean that 100 percent."