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Mobile chapels to soothe truckers' souls

Courtesy Whispering Hope Chapel, Transport for Christ

Whispering Hope Chapel is located on Intersate 20 in Columbia, S.C., and offers truckers a place to stop and worship.

In a secular season when one jolly old soul is hailed for transporting presents in a sleigh, a Christian outreach program is again reaching out to the guys who haul the rest of the stuff.

This is the 60th year for Transport For Christ, a Marietta, Pa.-based evangelical organization operating 34 North American truck stop chapels in 19 states and five Canadian provinces. They aim to keep our nation’s highway rollers holy.

“Today’s interstate truckers face a host of difficult personal and physical challenges,” said TFC spokesperson Jane Evans. “They’re confined to their rigs for long stretches at a time, far from their homes and families. A lot of times they really just need someone to talk to. Anyone feeling the stress of the road is welcome, but we really reach out to our truckers.”

The chapels were established in 1951 and, much like the truckers they aimed to serve, they were out on the road. It wasn’t until 1986 when the first permanent chapel was established at an Interstate 81 truck stop near Harrisburg, Pa.

Evans said they invite truckers to worship in a place where many of them often feel most at home: the inside of a truck. It costs $20,000 to $30,000 to convert an old rig into a house of God.

All the chapels are painted alike so they become familiar to weary truckers. Evans says the TFC’s goal is to locate a mobile ministry within one driving day of anywhere in North America.

“The drivers know we’re there and they look for us,” she said. “Our chaplains were involved in more than 67,000 contacts last year.”

To most every American, the open road has always meant freedom. To truckers, it can be the exact opposite.

“It can be very lonely,” said 56-year-old Nelson Martin, who for the past 35 years has driven interstate trucks an average of 125,000 miles a year from coast to coast. “I have 10 grandkids and really miss my family.”

Truckers have a saying that the only thing they don’t deliver is babies. For instance, Martin is hauling eggs throughout the Northeast from near his home in Meyersdale, Pa. You may think about chickens when you have eggs, but you probably don’t think about guys like Martin.

“The schedules and the miles can be grueling,” he said. “You have to have these eggs delivered by a certain time, no matter what the weather or the traffic problems.

“It can be real sad for guys to be far from home when there’s an emergency or family trouble. There are temptations of prostitution and the urge to drink or take drugs and that can get you fired. These chapels can be real lifesavers and I mean that in every sense of the word.”

Bob Thompson is the owner of the Perkins Restaurant at the original location for the TFC truck stop in Harrisburg. He says the chapel has a spiritual sanitizing effect.

“The chapel really helps keep the illegal activities at bay,” said  Thompson, also a TFC boardmember. “Prostitutes have told police they aren’t comfortable working the areas where the chapels are. The chapels set a tone that lets the drivers know this is a place that’s trying to run a respectable business that cares about their well-being.”

Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., contributor who blogs at www.EightDaysToAmish.com. 

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