New Brainerd officers took unlikely path to the Army
Lts. Scott and Jennifer Ruse are the newest leaders of The Salvation Army in Brainerd, Minn.
They are not your typical Salvation Army officers (pastors). They joined The Salvation Army late in life after spending most of their 15-year marriage living without God in their lives.
They first met The Salvation Army at a biker rally in their hometown of Wichita, Kan. A Salvation Army band was playing at the event, and Scott – a lifelong tuba player – struck up a conversation with one of the band members.
“He told me that the band owned an expensive tuba that nobody was playing,” said Scott, 45. “About 10 years before, I’d tried playing tuba in a church band. But they wouldn’t let me play because they said I had sin in my life. After that happened, I was done with church.”
The next Sunday, Scott and Jennifer attended church at a Salvation Army location in Wichita. It was unlike any church they’d ever visited.
“A woman came walking up to me with her arms wide open, saying she’d been waiting for me,” recalled Jennifer, 41. “Her greeting brought me to tears, and everyone else there treated us like family. From that Sunday forward, we never stopped attending.”
Soon the couple got sober, quit smoking, and gave their lives to God.
Lts. Ruse arrived at the Brainerd Salvation Army in June right after graduating from The Salvation Army College for Officer Training in Chicago, which is a two-year program. They hope to create a church with the same atmosphere they experienced when they were introduced to The Salvation Army.
“I want people to discover what we did the first time we walked into a Salvation Army church – unconditional love,” Jennifer said.
Below, Lts. Ruse explain more about what kind of church they hope to build, why they became officers (pastors), and what they think of northern Minnesota so far.
Until you both met The Salvation Army in 2011, neither of you had attended church as adults. Did you ever attend as children?
Jennifer: I did not. My parents were very free-thinking people. They believed in God, but they did not believe a person had to go to church to express it. The only time I ever went to church was with my grandpa on Easter Sunday because he would take me to a Chinese buffet afterward. (Laughs.)
Scott: I did attend church. I come from a close-knit Baptist preacher’s home. My dad preached at churches all over. By the time I turned 18 years old, I’d lived with my parents at 20 different addresses. Once I became an adult, I left the church and rebelled the first chance I could. I started living life for me and nobody else.
How did The Salvation Army change your mind about church?
Jennifer: We never felt judged. We felt an overwhelming feeling of belonging. I had never experienced that kind of acceptance.
Scott: They didn’t shove anything down our throats. It felt like family. It felt like we’d been going there for years.
In order to become Salvation Army officers, you had to sell everything you owned and be debt-free. Describe that process.
Scott: It was miraculous. We got rid of $100,000 worth of debt in just eight months. We sold our house, car, motorcycle – even our Chihuahua. The first buyer to contact us for each thing we sold paid cash for it on the spot, at asking price. It was absolutely God’s work.
What will first-timers discover in your church?
Jennifer: A place of acceptance where people can come as they are. If you are running late and show up in your pajamas, I don’t care. We just want to see you. We want to support you in your faith journey.
What do you think of Brainerd so far?
Scott: I love it. It’s like a smaller version of Wichita, where the drivers are nice, everyone is friendly, and strangers say hi. Brainerd really is our kind of place. We’ve never been city folk. We’re country folk.
Jennifer: Here it’s like down-home southern hospitality, but up north. Everywhere we go, people are asking, “How can I help?” And I love that there is nature everywhere. Even though the Brainerd Salvation Army is located downtown, in just a few minutes you can be in the woods or on the water, surrounded by beauty. It’s absolutely incredible.
The Brainerd Salvation Army is a safe haven for thousands in the Brainerd Lakes area, providing food, clothing, energy assistance, youth programs, family mentoring, disaster relief, and many other services. You can get involved by volunteering or making a donation. To hear more stories like this one, you can subscribe to our eNewsletter where you’ll receive monthly updates on how The Salvation Army is changing lives in Minnesota and North Dakota.
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