Nothing was going to keep Betty Lou and James Hruska from attending this year’s National Seminar on Evangelism (NSE) in Texas, not even when a devastating fire destroyed their home just four days before the event.
“We lost just about everything we own,” Betty Lou said. “Our entire life was there. My Salvation Army uniform burned.”
Betty Lou, a fourth-generation Salvationist, had just finished teaching Sunday school on that August morning at the West Park Corps in Cleveland. She was in the holiness meeting when she got a call from a neighbor who said that the house she and her husband moved into as teens, and had lived in for 48 years, was on fire. The congregation stopped the service to pray before the Hruskas rushed to their house five minutes away to find it engulfed in flames.
Just a few minutes after arriving, Betty Lou turned around and saw the entire West Park congregation, who had followed them, there to support her family.
“That was just amazing to me,” she said. “They stayed there and prayed for me and supported me. They’re like a family. That day, I knew I was blessed. During the storm, God is there. Those words have not left me.”
Betty Lou said she found out first-hand about the servant hearts of Majors Demetrius and Juanita Stanford, who had been at Cleveland West Park only a few weeks. Major Juanita comforted her over the loss of one of the family’s dogs, while others did what they could.
“Major Demetrius took off his tunic and dug in when they let us in the house and helped carry out treasures,” Betty Lou said.
That morning in Sunday school, Betty Lou had ironically taught from Matthew 25 and Jesus’ words about giving a cup of water to a stranger and being present for those in need.
“I had to accept that lesson for myself that day,” she said
Stay or go?
The Hruskas were told to close the house and wait for an assessor. The couple also had a decision to make. They were scheduled to attend The Salvation Army’s annual National Seminar on Evangelism at Camp Hoblitzelle near Dallas, Texas, in just days. Would they make the 24-hour drive or stay home, given the circumstances?
The couple prayed and “discussed the situation at length” before ultimately deciding to go, Betty Lou said. Their son met with the assessor while they were attending the seminar.
“We had to borrow clothes,” Betty Lou recalls. “I had the uniform I taught Sunday school in the morning of the fire.
“We looked at the seminar as God-ordained and God-sent because there would have been nothingelse, we could have done that week, but sit and mourn. We just decided to continue with the original plans and head for Texas and use that time to center ourselves and maybe heal a little bit and find what God had planned for us.”
The NSE delegates attended sessions focusing on spiritual development and disciple-making. They also took part in community outreach projects. Betty Lou was assigned to the Harbor Light facility in Dallas and, while she comforted others in their pain, the favor was returned by many of the residents who heard her story.
Betty Lou said that the seminar, which was held Aug. 6-13 at the Salvation Army-owned camp, is not necessarily for pastors or “someone with position, but for anybody who loves God” and wants to learn different ways to share their faith.
“If people are going to find out about Jesus, we can’t wait for somebody to do it for us,” she said. “It’s up to us. If you’re telling us that you’re a Christian and that you love Jesus, we need to be ready and be willing to share that with people because otherwise, we’re just being mean and ugly and keeping it to ourselves. That’s not what God wants; He wants us to share the good news and His love and the blessings that we have.”
Now living in their son’s home while they work out the details of getting a new home, Betty Lou said she and her husband made the right call in going.
“I’m so glad we went,” she said. “You’re never too old. I want to encourage people of any age. If God has put a feeling in you that you need to grow, then do it. Take advantage of whatever God sends your way.”
This year, several soldiers and officers from the Eastern Territory attended as delegates to the seminar, including Tony Calafaty, who works at the Citadel in Reading, Pa., and is a lay leader. Calafaty said the seminar’s speakers “provided me a lot more ammunition and ability to share the gospel.” Just some of the speakers were Commissioner Kenneth Hodder, national commander; Steve Carter, a former pastor at Willow Creek Community Church; and Greg Stier, an evangelist and founder of Dare 2 Share Ministries.
“It was a great event, a week full of worship and teaching,” Calafaty said. “I learned how to step up and share what the Lord has done for me. That’s what I’m doing. My goal is to casually share with people that God is available. He’s there for them. He can change your life.”
Calafaty, who works in supportive housing at the corps, said he often helps people who are desperate and looking for answers. The seminar emboldened him to share the gospel with people who are hurting.
“I often work with people who are looking to rehouse or to access shelter, so they’re in a spot where they’re really seeking help from God. I am using the gospel daily in simple ways by asking, ‘Do you have a relationship with God? Do you ever pray to God?’ We learned simple steps about how to share what God has done for us. That’s really what I took away from it.
“It was just an amazing experience. The camp, the staff, and the speakers were all great. The worship was amazing. It added to my desire to simply be like Jesus and tell the lost, ‘There’s hope.’”
Nicole Alvarez, a soldier and lay leader from the Queens, N.Y, Temple, said the seminar changed her perception about evangelism.
“For a long time, I thought evangelism was intimidating,” she said. “The cool thing about this seminar is that they taught many different ways to evangelize.”
Bringing back ideas
Alvarez, who also serves in creative arts, said evangelism is a calling that “every Christian should have because that’s ultimately how we gain more souls for the kingdom of God.” The delegates learned how to break down barriers, create relationships, and overcome awkwardness while sharing their faith.
“We learned so many good methods in the seminar that I’m definitely going to take back to the corps,” said Alvarez, who is also the assistant youth coordinator at Queens Temple.
Brandy Reese, a lay leader at the corps in Latrobe, Pa., said she “thoroughly enjoyed” meeting people and speakers from all over the country, especially Stier, who used his free app called “Life in 6 Words,” as a tool to remind people to pray for the unbelievers they meet.
“My corps officers sent me to this seminar because they want to start an evangelistic team,” Reese said. “It’s actually one of our corps’ mission strategy goals.”
Reese said the team will be called S.A.L.T., which stands for Salvation Army Life Team. Training begins in November and will involve visiting people who are shut-in or in the hospital.
“This team will be used to serve the community,” she said. “We will shovel walks, cut grass, pay for laundry, send encouraging notes, and just bless people.”
A place for youth
Captain Jessenya Wiand, an assistant corps officer in Elizabeth, N.J., said she attended the seminar hoping to leave with tools to better equip herself to spread the gospel, “I was not disappointed,” she said. Wiand was impressed by Stier who told delegates, “If you miss the youth, you miss the movement.”
“We don’t give our youth enough credit or any at all sometimes,” Wiand said. “They are more receptive to the gospel, they can spread it more rapidly through their use of social media, and they have been used by God to trigger massive revivals.”
Lieutenant Darell Houseton spoke about “obedient outreach” and the need to recognize and accept the help that God sends instead of feeling replaced. Wiand agreed.
“We are a part of a team, and we need to pass the baton so the race can continue,” she said. “This ties directly to our need to connect with our youth. I think about the youth I’ve encountered, including my own children. I see how lost some of them are who need to have people speak life into them. If these children,who already have support systems in place, are lost, just imagine how lost those who do not have this support are.”
Wiand said fall programs are starting soon and she wants to target the youth living in apartments next door to the corps in Elizabeth. She’s coming back from NSE with concrete ideas, such as plans to put a table outside with balloons, snacks, drinks, and flyers to invite the families that walk home from school to attend youth programs.
You have a testimony
“We can’t expect people to just come to us because of the shield on the building,” Wiand said. “Jesus went to where the people were, and we need to do the same. Our youth need to know that Jesus’ love is stronger than anything we are going through.
“I would highly recommend this seminar. The worship, the fellowship, and the teachings were wonderful. God was in every aspect, including our outreach.
Major Demetrius Stanford, Hruska’s pastor at the Cleveland West Park Corps, said the seminar featured a good mix of Salvation Army officers and soldiers and “the message of evangelism was presented to us all as one people of God.”
“Two things that stood out to me was the importance of being intentional in my relationships when representing Christ and to be ready to share His message through my story,” he said. “I have shared the same message from the pulpit. Our congregation has been empowered to share their story.”
For more information on the National Seminar on Evangelism, see your local corps officer.