BROWNSTOWN, Ill. — According to Mark Hewett, you can’t be a man’s counselor until you become his friend. That is the main goal for the Association of Christian Truckers, a group in which Hewett serves as a minister. The nonprofit organization was formed in 1976 to serve as a ministry to truck drivers.
“Throughout the years things have changed a little bit, but our ministry mostly consists of drivers coming off the freeway for free laundry, free parking, free snacks or coffee,” Hewett said. “Whatever we can do to help the drivers. We don’t push the Bible on them.”
Hewett, who was a truck driver for 15 years, was ordained as a minister in 2000. He has served in the ministry by singing and preaching, as well as running the organization.
“Immediately, when I talk to somebody, they pick it up right away (that I was a former driver) from my language,” Hewett said. “It is a fine line to walk, because you want to be a chaplain that has some answers; but at the same time, you want to be their friend.”
The Association of Christian Truckers is located in Brownstown, Illinois, at exit 68 on Interstate 70. Hewett said they have parking available for about 50 trucks, and are currently looking to expand, adding that in order to add that parking the organization will need some funding.
According to the association’s website, roadangeltruckerscenter.com, the group hosts “trucker jamborees with music, teaching, preaching, testimonies, drama and more, with lots of free meals” that provide opportunities for networking and fellowship other drivers.
Hewett said they never require drivers to give or donate any money, but some drivers donate anyway because, according to Hewett, they know the cost of what they are getting. Hewett calls the association the truckers’ “home on the road.”
“It has been a little less busy recently due to COVID-19,” Hewett said. “What I am seeing in the industry is mostly drivers on the emergency runs, working hard. The people who are hauling regular freight for all those people, what has happened is the rates are low and they are being gouged on prices, so it has been really slow. I expect this month to pick up because a lot of states are opening back up.”
The association’s staff includes Hewett’s wife, daughter and sister-in-law. Hewett said his sister-in-law is a former driver, adding that she does a lot of the construction on site. He chuckled, noting that she can both bake a cake and build a house.
“We can always use more volunteers,” Hewett said. “Everything we do is special. We are making masks for the drivers, and about as fast as my wife is making them, we are giving them away. We also have hand sanitizer for them. They can get a shower, laundry, snacks or coffee.”
Hewett said there is a staff person on site from 6 a.m. to midnight. The group also hosts Sunday worship services at
10 a.m. and Thursday-night Bible studies at 7:30 p.m.
Right now, the association’s biggest need is to resurface the parking lot, Hewett said, adding that the estimated cost is about $10,000. One way they are raising funds is through parking-spot sponsorships; anyone, including drivers, can sponsor a parking spot for about $25. This effort has raised about $2,400, Hewett said. Once the $10,000 goal has been reached, Hewett expects it to take only a month or two to finish the lot.
Hewett said the Brownstown center can be found on the Trucker Path mobile app, which locates parking for drivers. The center has been ranked in the app’s “top four” multiple times.
“It is kind of amazing,” Hewett said. “Our goal is that when drivers arrive here, they are better off when they leave. Hopefully, they can sleep peacefully here.”
Sam Pierce has been a journalist for more than a decade and has written for several publications including The Trucker, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Living Our Faith magazine. He enjoys spending time with his family including his two daughters. They like to watch movies, read books and build LEGO sets.