Nothing was going to keep Betty Lou and Jim Hruska from attending the National Seminar on Evangelism (NSE) 2022 in Texas, not even a devastating house fire that happened four days before the event started.
“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 at The Salvation Army West Park Corps in Cleveland, Ohio. On that August morning, she was in the holiness meeting when she got a call from a neighbor. Betty Lou was stunned to learn 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. Then the Hruskas rushed to their house, which was five minutes away, to find it fully engulfed in flames.
Just a few minutes after her arrival, Betty Lou turned to see the entire West Park congregation 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. In the midst of the storm, God is there. Those words have not left me.”
Betty Lou said throughout the ordeal, she discovered the servant hearts of Majors Demetrius and Juanita Stanford, Salvation Army pastors who had only been appointed to Cleveland West Park just a few weeks earlier. Major Juanita comforted her over the loss of one of the family’s dogs (two other dogs and three cats survived), while other church members did what they could to help.
“Major Demetrius took off his tunic and dug in when they let us in the house and helped carry out treasures,” Betty Lou said.
Ironically that morning in Sunday school, Betty Lou had taught from Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about giving a cup of water to a stranger and being present for people in need.
“That day, I had to accept that lesson for myself,” she said.
Stay or go?
The house was a total loss and the Hruskas were told to close it up and wait for an assessor. But the couple was scheduled to attend the Salvation Army’s annual NSE at Camp Hoblitzelle near Dallas, Texas, in just days. So, they had to decide. 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. One of their sons met the assessor while they attended 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 nothing we could have done that week but sit and mourn. We just decided to continue with the original plan and head for Texas. We used that time to center ourselves and maybe heal a little bit and find what God had planned for us.”
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The NSE delegates attended sessions that focused on spiritual development and disciple–making, but they weren’t in class all the time. They also took part in community outreach projects. Betty Lou went to the Harbor Light center in Dallas. While there, she comforted others in their pain. When many of the residents heard her story, they returned the favor.
Betty Lou said the seminar, which was held Aug. 6–13 at the Salvation Army camp, is for anyone who loves God and wants to learn effective methods for sharing 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.”
An uncertain future
The Hruskas returned to Cleveland to find more miracles ahead and evidence of God’s blessing. They cleared the remains of the home and found Betty Lou’s wedding rings in a pile of ashes, along with sentimental Christmas ornaments.
“We found treasures throughout that just encouraged us,” she said. “It was just little things along the way that showed us that God’s there. The message God has given me every step of the way is, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God has been present through this whole thing with us. He has guided us and walked with us and redirected us when we’ve needed that.”
After touring four other homes, the couple found a house they liked and moved in around Christmas. Once again, God was in the details. “There were little miracles along the way,” Betty Lou said. “It’s amazing how God works.”
The Hruskas started searching before getting their insurance settlement or knowing exactly how much money they would have for a new home. Betty Lou went online and found a nice house some 15 minutes from the West Park Corps. When the Hruskas went the first time for a tour, all the photos were off the walls, but they noticed a cross in the kitchen and a wall–hanging that read, “God, I may not have all that I want, but I have all that I need, and that I’m thankful for.”
The 2,800 square foot ranch–styled house featured a finished downstairs and was large enough for Bible studies and other church gatherings, as well as Betty Lou’s babysitting.
“I immediately had this feeling of peace come over me that this was meant to be our house,” she said. “It had a few things wrong, but nothing we couldn’t work with. It checked off everything, but the money was a little more than we wanted to spend.”
The buyer wanted to offer $189,000, extremely low for the neighborhood and more than the Hruskas could afford, so Betty Lou suggested they make a cash offer. She also wrote a note saying the Hruskas didn’t want something for nothing, but they really wanted the house and it made her feel like coming home. She also told the homeowner she didn’t know if this is where God was leading them, but she guaranteed the home would be filled with laughing children, family gatherings, and the love of God.
Betty Lou said the buyer called that night and lowered the asking price $10,000, a feat so amazing her real estate agent said she should teach others the skill of note–writing.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It wasn’t me. It was another miracle.”
The amount was still more than the Hruskas had and her agent suggested they counteroffer $164,000—$25,000 less than the original asking price. The offer was sent via email on Friday night and the Hruskas got an email at 10 a.m. the next day saying it had been accepted.
“It’s just amazing how God worked through this whole thing,” Betty Lou said.
Furnishings were another issue, but Betty Lou had money set aside from babysitting and she found several furniture pieces at an online estate auction. She did the whole thing for less than $4,000.
Throughout the process, Betty Lou said she has seen her Matthew 25 lesson from the morning of the fire “play out over and over.” People have given the couple gift cards, set up a GoFundMe page, and one day an unknown motorcyclist stopped and gave the Hruskas $300.
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A family of believers
Betty Lou, 68, said it’s hard to put into words what her church family means to her and Jim, 69. Some, including those she didn’t know particularly well before, have helped with practical things like organizing her new kitchen.
“They are more than just a church family,” she said, “they are family. They are our loved ones for sure. They are always asking how we are and what they can do to help. They tell us, ‘We want to be there for you.’ It just comes down to love. I love them and I would do anything for them.”
Jim said many women from the church have supported his wife and helped her organize the new house. “Everyone has been so supportive and loving,” he said. “We are just so blessed.”
Retired from working maintenance at the airport in Cleveland, Jim said the fire has helped him become “more dependent.”
“It’s pulled us closer,” he said. “I’ve always known that God is there and He’s supporting and helping me because the things that have happened in my life, there’s just no way I could have done it by myself. This situation here was even more intense and I felt a stronger presence of God, just pulling us closer to those supporting me and my wife. It’s been a growing experience.
“We’ve just been blessed by so many people who have been there and put in our path by God. At this point in our lives, God is putting a path right before us and opening our eyes to it.”
One of the people who left church to help the morning of the fire and has been a constant prayer warrior for the Hruskas is Diana Maurer, who has known the couple for more than 20 years. “She is someone that I could lean on for emotional support,” Betty Lou says.
The way the Hruskas have handled their trial has impressed Maurer.
“They’ve just got inner strength,” Maurer said. “They are solid in their faith and have trusted that God would work everything out. They never wavered. There were angels walking beside them through this whole process and they learned to trust in their faith in God.
“Betty Lou has been such a blessing to so many people. She has never wavered in her ministry or devotion to The Salvation Army in any way. I just admire her strength. They are wonderful people, and I can’t say enough about them.”
Another West Park congregant, Cheryl Lewis, also left church to help that fateful morning and has assisted with moving. She has encouraged Betty Lou not to dwell on the past because “something better is coming” for the family.
“I’ve never seen a couple who stuck together through thick and thin,” Lewis said. “They are amazing in their faith and their marriage.”
Healing through grieving
Major Juanita Stanford said the West Park Corps is full of “unbelievably loving people” who have provided meals, helped with cleanup, done laundry, and anything else the Hruskas have needed.
“You name it, folks have done it,” she said.
“One of the things we have learned through this process is that ministry in the family of God takes all forms and we were reminded of that. It’s not that there’s one job that’s more significant than another. Everybody has a part to play in the family of God and in ministering to each other and everyone tried to do that. It’s a testimony of God’s grace for sure.”
Betty Lou admits the road hasn’t been easy. When the tears come, she allows them for healing purposes.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t grieve for what we’ve lost,” she said. No stranger to tragedy, the couple’s adult son suffered a stroke two years ago and they lived in his house during their ordeal.
“I grieve for our dog and for the house we lived in for almost 50 years. I know they’re just things, but a lot of them were precious. I grieve for that.
“But I can’t stay in that place. I take the time that I need to grieve and then I turn it around and I look for something that is uplifting and will make me feel better. I ask God to help get me out of that place and He is faithful. God is good.”