How one ex-trucker is helping bring faith and hope to drivers on the road
Swing by the T/A truck stop off I-75 in Jackson, Georgia, and you’ll see a food court, gas pumps and rows of big rigs in the parking lot.
But then a peaceful song catches your ear and you follow it to a bright neon cross and a tractor trailer with “Truckers Chapel” in big letters across the side. Open the door and you see a dozen or so truckers from all over the country, filling the air with hymns.
A church at a truck stop? Actually, it’s more common than you might think. But only because I ran into trouble back when I was a trucker myself.
I’d been driving a big rig for three years, and I could make runs from my hometown of Dublin, Georgia, to just about anywhere without a map. But inside, I felt lost. Those long days and nights on the road were lonely. Sometimes I could barely keep my eyes open.
One night a fellow trucker offered me some pills to stay awake. I didn’t say no. The pills put me on edge. I worked even longer hours, grew distant from my wife, Jan, and our young son.
One night I blacked out at the wheel. The truck ran off the road, tipped onto its side and skidded into a ditch. The load spilled out of the trailer. Amazingly, I wasn’t hurt. But I was suspended for two weeks.
It was a wakeup call. As soon as I returned home from my first run after the accident, I went to a local Baptist church for the first time in years. I thought someone told the pastor I was coming because every word of his sermon hit home. I had been neglecting my family, my friends, even my own health. Finally, the pastor came down from the pulpit. “I’m meeting you halfway,” he said. “Will you travel the rest?” I stood up and met him at the altar.
From then on, I would find a church on the road and go to a Bible study at home. Praying with others gave me a bigger boost than any pills ever could. The hardest thing was finding a church in a strange city. And there was rarely room to park my big rig.
After I quit running over the road and started running more locally, I got the idea to start a Bible study at a big truck stop in Atlanta. My wife loved the idea. I called the manager of the T/A stop in Atlanta, expecting him to laugh, but he offered up some space.
That first meeting, about a dozen people showed up. One guy didn’t say a single word until the very end, when he came up to me. “I was running low, Chaplain Joe,” he said. “You filled up my tank.”
“How ’bout Texas?” “Got anything out in California?” The requests for chapels at more truck stops kept coming in. I called truck stops and found local ministers to lead the services, and I bought Bibles by the case and gave them out to drivers.
Two trucking companies even offered to pay my salary—to quit trucking and serve as the president of Truckstop Ministries. In many of the locations, we set up converted tractor trailers so that drivers will have a place to worship together whenever they stop by.
Today, Truckstop Ministries has 500 workers in 77 locations nationwide. Our rigs aren’t the only things that need refueling. Our spirits do too.