The Truckers Chapel Outreach Ministries operates out of a trailer at the TA truckstop in Cottondale, Ala.
When you’re hauling long distance, family time, relaxation and diet are not the only aspects of life that can be neglected. What many would call an essential part of coping with the everyday – your spiritual life – can sometimes suffer as well.
Several roadside chapels across the nation are on a crusade to provide truckers with much-needed spiritual refuge and guidance.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., The Refuge has been leading the campaign to provide truckers with a place of worship for three years.
“Truckers are away from home too much,” says volunteer chaplain Gordon Laninga. “Because of this, they deal with many family problems, loneliness and other troubles associated with being separated from the ones they love.”
Located next to the scales at the 76th Street truckstop on Highway 131, The Refuge is unique because volunteer chaplains are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of the chaplains have also been truck drivers at some point during their lives.
“You never know when someone will need guidance, and it would be disappointing to truckers not to find someone here,” Laninga says. “The fact that most of us have been truckers allows them to say, ‘Yes, I have been there, and I know what your life is about.'”
Although Laninga was never a driver himself, he has been working at the chapel since its inception. He says that although many of the men he counsels are Christians, some of them have never accepted any form of religion into their lives.
“I would say that about 75 percent of the people I see are Christians and are just looking for advice and to strengthen their relationship with God,” Laninga says. “Some who come in just sit down and say that they don’t know why they have come. It is some of those who I have helped to convert to Christianity.”
As a retired pastor, Laninga says he has never been as thrilled with the ministry as he is with his job at The Refuge.
“This is the most excited about church I have ever been,” he says. “In being here, I had hoped to be a blessing to others, but I feel most blessed.”
The chapel operates largely from donations provided by local churches, Laninga says. The owner of the truckstop invited the chapel to come because of its ability to deter immoral activity that goes on at truckstops.
Last year The Refuge opened its doors to more than 2,000 truckers and averages six per day.
On the West Coast, Dave Quignon, pastor of the Transport for Christ Chapel in Sacramento Calif., spends five days a week ministering to truckers at the 49er Auto-Truck Plaza near the junction of I-5 and I-80 at West El Camino Avenue.
Known as “Chappy” to friends and visitors to the Chapel, Quignon has been operating his five-days-a-week nondenominational mission out of a converted semi truck for 11 years.
“I usually see about seven truckers a day,” Quignon says. “It seems like everyone is trying to fix somebody these days, but we are here to love the people. I don’t have the answers. God has the answers.”
Quignon lives at his chapel Sundays through Thursdays and goes home to his family the rest of the week. While at the chapel, Quignon sleeps in a back room of the semi.
“You have to be called and committed to be out here. I am a missionary, and most of the ministry I do is one-on-one,” Quignon says. “The whole spectrum walks through the door, and we’ll pray together or whatever they need.”
Quignon offers Bible studies on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“So many truckers just need to debrief. They need to have someone to talk to so they can get rid of their pressures,” Quignon says. “If you don’t have that release, you go crazy. I don’t consider this ministry to be a luxury; it’s a necessity. What truckstop chapels are doing is crucial to the well-being of the trucking industry.”
Truckers aren’t the only ones benefiting from Quignon’s ministry. He has also helped the lot lizards that frequented his truckstop.
“There have been several prostitutes that were insistent on frequenting our stop,” Quignon says. “One woman told me repeatedly to stop being nice to her. I finally sat down with her and told her that God would provide another way for her to live. She broke down crying and never returned.”
Quignon has a website for further information on his ministry and others at www.transportforchrist.org.
Pastor James Carden, who operates a Christian ministry out of a trailer at the TravelCenters of America truckstop on I-20 at exit 77 in Cottondale, Ala., takes a different approach to the ministry.
A big part of his work is now done via audio cassettes and CDs.
“Last year we put out over 8,000 tapes and disks of positive ministry messages,” he says. “This enables us to reach many more people than we would otherwise, as we are ministering to the largest mission field in the United States, the transportation industry.”
The chapel has sent CDs to the Iron Pony Express drivers in Iraq and Kuwait, and some of the materials also have reached Haiti.
Carden started the chapel in 1999 with few resources.
“The Lord told me there was a need for a chapel at the TA,” he says. “So I spoke with management, and they told me that as long as it wouldn’t impede traffic, I could have any spot I wanted.”
At first, the chapel didn’t even have chairs or Bibles. However, thanks to the kindness of countless friends and neighbors, things soon changed, and today, says Carden, 98.7 cents of every dollar raised for the ministry comes from truck driver support. About 100 truckers a month visit the chapel, Carden says.
“I hadn’t planned on doing this full time when I got started,” Carden says. “But it has grown so much that now we have drivers who call us from all over the U.S., and we stay in touch with them whenever they are out on the road.”
The Truckers Chapel Outreach Ministries is open Tuesday through Sunday, with Sunday services at 10 and mid-week services on Wednesday nights. The chapel also has a website at this site.
Carden says his ministry is important because truckers are up against the same problems faced by everyone else in the country, but with the added guilt of being away from home.
The truckers he counsels often feel they are not in control of their lives, he says.
“So many drivers find themselves faced with an impossible time schedule,” Carden says. “Truckers don’t have a way to get into a local congregation and grow. They must be provided with a way to mature in their walk with God and become the person that the Lord has called them to be, but in order to do that they have to have people around them who will strengthen that.”
Live and Learn
Outreach program offers distance education course on the Bible
You can turn your truck into your own private chapel with recorded Bible classes from The Truckers Chapel Outreach Ministries in Cottondale, Ala. Pastor James Carden says the program is designed to bring the Bible to life.
The program consists of about 40 hours of instruction covering 30 chapters that pertain to knowing and understanding God. The course covers material from the entire Bible, including the angels, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ ministry and redemption.
With a choice of recordings, drivers can listen to the particular lesson for as long as they want and then mail in the course work to a personal counselor who reviews each piece of work individually. The total cost of the course including the diploma is $300, but Carden recommends enrolling in the first semester’s worth of 15 chapters before investing the full amount.
The Georgia Bible Institute accepts the course as a full first year’s course credit, which is the equivalent of 16 college credit hours. The program currently has 46 members.
“The Lord began pointing out to me that the reason drivers were having a hard time with their life was they didn’t have a foundation in Christ and didn’t have a way to get a foundation,” Carden says. “Not a week goes by that we don’t get a positive testimony on our course. Life works when you have the Lord in your heart.”