JACKSON, Ga. — Being an over-the-road truck driver is not always conducive to attending church regularly or following the teachings of one’s religion. Because of this, one organization has set out to help drivers foster their relationship with God — or at the very least, help lead them down that path.
Truckstop Ministries, a Jackson, Georgia-based nonprofit organization, was founded in 1981 by truck driver Joe Hunter after he suffered a bad accident and converted to Christianity. Afterwards, he became an ordained minister. However, he quickly discovered that stopping to worship while on the road was no easy task.
“Our truck-stop ministry reaches drivers who didn’t have a place to plug into it,” said Traci
Isbell, general assistant and webmaster for Truckstop Ministries. “(Joe) started one Bible study at a truck stop in Atlanta, and for the first five years that’s all there was.”
Now, almost 40 years later, the organization operates about 72 locations and has operated as many as 84 active locations. Most of the active locations are in Georgia, Florida and California.
The ministry’s founder, “Pastor Joe,” died in 2018, and the ministry is now led by David Owen. Truckstop Ministries provides drivers with New Testament Bibles and CD versions of sermons by Hunter or Owen.
Isbell, who has been with the ministry for 14 years, said that when she first started the organization was opening its 64th location. She said it’s exciting to open a new location, to see the reports and see how effective it is.
At about 30 different locations, the ministry converts used tractor-trailers into chapels that are parked in the facilities’ truck parking lots. Isbell said some Flying J locations allow the ministry to use the TV room for about an hour each week. She said it really depends on the locations and the dependability of the ministry’s volunteer workforce.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on the ministry, Isbell said, adding that each of the 72 locations has responded differently to the crisis. She said at the height of the lockdown there were only about 19 locations open because most of the volunteers are retirees over the age of 65 who are at high risk.
“We mostly left it up to the teams and team leaders and let them decide if they wanted to stay open,” Isbell said. “We worked in conjunction with the guidelines and the truck stops. Some of our trailers did have to close, partly because the truck stops asked us to do so.”
The chapel in Kingdom City, Missouri, reopened the first week of May after being closed for about six weeks. A few drivers have trickled in since then, Isbell said, but they have mostly spent one-on-one time with the site’s full-time chaplain.
Isbell said that even though some locations may remain closed, the Truckstop Ministries prayer line is always open for drivers.
“We are trying to be there for the drivers as much as possible. We have answered emails, phone calls and have meetings when we can,” she said. “God is good, and so we have had surprising large and unexpected donations come through. So financially, we are doing well.”
One side of the ministry that has not affected by the pandemic is the missionary driver program. Isbell said the ministry has about 15 drivers who offer one-on-one ministry for OTR drivers, and all 15 have remained active throughout the crisis.
“They are regular truck drivers — that’s their job — but they are trained ministers and offer one-on-one ministry,” she said. “We have had really good success with it. They’ll share a meal or a cup of coffee with someone and share the gospel.”
Isbell said Truckstop Ministries has been modified over the years as the trucking industry has changed.
“We’ve had to change with it, or we will miss out,” Isbell said. “With electronic logs and stricter schedules, it is harder for drivers to stop, so we have been focusing more on our one-on-one ministries. It has been pretty exciting to watch it grow.”
She said the ministry is effectively using its Facebook page during the pandemic by recruiting volunteers and offering virtual services, adding that Bill Blackman has organized a virtual tent revival with arranged speakers for two or three weeks and an online message every Sunday. Isbell said they have received a lot of positive feedback from people who have watched the videos.
“Under normal circumstances, we have a lot of response from drivers, and we try to push out that we are here for them at least by phone,” Isbell said.
For more information, visit www.truckstopministries.org.