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Jerry Davich: ‘I needed to find my place in this world’

Jenny Bettenhausen with donated goods packed boxes destined for shelters Colorado her mother's home Burns Harbor Thursday Aug. 30 2012.

Jenny Bettenhausen with donated goods and packed boxes destined for shelters in Colorado in her mother's home in Burns Harbor Thursday Aug. 30, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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For more information, or to donate to the Jenny Bettenhausen Safe and Well Ministries, call (708) 323-7805, email JennyRBettenhausen@gmail.com, or write to her at 358 W. N. Boo Road, Chesterton, IN 46304.

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:49PM



Jenny Bettenhausen is trying to find her way in life, like so many of us.

The 39-year-old Chesterton woman was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease this past spring and, for whatever reason, it launched her on a “personal spiritual journey with the Lord,” she told me.

“I needed to find my place in this world and to see what is truly important,” she said.

Bettenhausen then did something I would never do, and I’m wondering how many of us would. On the Fourth of July, she sold all of her worldly possessions (for roughly $1,400) and headed to Colorado to help homeless victims of the wildfires there.

“I am being called to serve on the streets,” she told me.

Like I said, I could never do such a thing. It’s not my calling, I guess.

“There are so many homeless and addicted people who need to know someone cares,” she explained.

All of us seek our singular purpose in this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world. Too few of us discover it, I believe. Bettenhausen is convinced she has, though.

“I want to reach the unreachable,” said Bettenhausen, who has a 19-year-old daughter, Jade, and an 18-year-old son, Sam.

Once she arrived in Colorado in early July, via train, she found her way (or God led her) to the Set Free Ministry, church and homeless shelter in Colorado Springs.

“I had no idea where I was to go, or who to help. I walked completely by faith,” she said. “Although there were moments I was afraid, God gave me the strength of a lion.”

There, she popped a tent in the church parking lot while helping others who lost their homes in the wildfires.

“I had an opportunity to talk and pray with beautiful people who are lost, hurt, sick, homeless, addicted or veterans,” she said. “I never got the impression these people were lazy or crazy.”

Along the way, Bettenhausen has discovered that not everyone shares her compassion for others less fortunate. It can be a cold, cruel world, as all of us know.

“Sometimes I am so ashamed that I live in this world,” she told me, referring to how we mistreat each other on a daily basis.

And then she met Rachel and Sean Hays, who had to evacuate their Colorado Springs home for a few days and learned about Bettenhausen and her mission. They soon learned she was living in a tent and, after discussing it, they invited her to live in their basement after they returned home.

“We were apprehensive at first,” Rachel admitted to me. “I mean, we didn’t know who this woman was or her intentions. We have children, too, but we just put it in the Lord’s hands.”

Bettenhausen stayed there for a couple of weeks while continuing her mission to the homeless. It didn’t take long for the Hayses to relax their apprehension and enhance their appreciation.

“Jenny has become one of the greatest blessings that our family has ever had,” Rachel said. “She always has a home here if she needs one.”

Bettenhausen’s story reminds me of a wonderful movie I recently watched called “The Way,” a 2010 film with Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. (I highly recommend it.)

In it, a father (Sheen) heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son (Estevez) who died while traveling the lengthy and potentially dangerous “El camino de Santiago” trail. The father decides to take the pilgrimage himself in honor of his son. Along the way, he finds himself and his calling.

Bettenhausen has also found her calling while helping those in need and she recently returned to Northwest Indiana to gather more resources.

She is temporarily living in Burns Harbor with a friend and she’s in the process of buying a 1991 Toyota camper to travel to areas of the country that have been hit by natural disasters, such the wildfires in Colorado or Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf Coast.

“I would like to leave in the next two weeks,” she told me after working a stint at the Westchester Neighbors Food Pantry in Chesterton.

She’s a volunteer there, as well as a Chesterton Lions Club member, and a parishioner at Augsburg Lutheran Church in Porter. In other words, she’s practicing what she’s preaching.

“Jenny is a generous volunteer who’s always willing to help out,” said Dawn Ruge, a fellow food pantry volunteer.

Dawn’s husband, Jerry, a fellow Lions Club member, said his group even donated $1,200 to help pay for the camper Jenny intends to use for her traveling ministry. She plans on offering it to homeless women on the road, and also to cook for the needy.

“The shower is working and will be open to anyone who needs it,” Bettenhausen added.

Any donations to her cause will be recognized with a painted marking on the outside of the camper, so “everywhere I go, I will be sharing my home of Chesterton’s love with all,” she said. “The love and acceptance this town has shown me will always be in my heart, and I intend to share it with the rest of the world.”

So what do you think? Do you believe in Bettenhausen’s story, her godly intentions, her chosen “way” in life? In my own way, I guess I’m endorsing her with this column. But now you have the choice to be a part of her cause, or not.

What’s your way?

For more on this issue, listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.



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