There are no church bells ringing at Truckstop Ministries near Carlisle, Pa. The call to worship is chaplain Dave Hershey walking through the parking lot of a Pilot truck stop on a Sunday morning, inviting any trucker he sees to join the group for the 11 a.m. service.
“As an evangelist, that is what I do,” says Mr. Hershey, whose enthusiasm, bordering on frenetic energy, is at least piquing the interest of some who otherwise might have slept in on the traditional day of rest. “A trucker in the window to me is an open door. Everyone’s welcome, but I don’t want to force anything. I want to show I can help them.”
The Carlisle outpost of Truckstop Ministries is one of 74 chapels in 29 states. From Barstow, Calif., to Bordentown, N.J., truckers are gathering in meeting rooms, modular trailers and old movie theaters. There are other ministries and groups catering to truckers nationwide, too. Just down the road, at the Petro truck stop near Interstate 81, the Carlisle Truck Stop Chaplain Ministry meets in a trailer. However, Truckstop Ministries is the largest and most organized Christian outreach network on the highway.
Mr. Hershey and chaplain Leon Wells run their Sunday meeting in Mr. Hershey’s 28-foot Coachman motor home. Half a dozen drivers huddle in on this sunny Sunday, 24-ounce cups of truck-stop coffee in hand, to listen to Mr. Hershey’s sermon and talk about God, the road and life.
“I feel kind of like, for believers, this is a watering hole,” says Mr. Wells, a retired truck-driver-turned-pastor. “This is a place to come to replenish your faith and to hear the word without being preached at.”
Mr. Wells says that kind of support is crucial for many drivers, most of whom are men. Long days and nights on the road, away from family and community, can lead easily to bad decisions.
“When I speak to [truckers] I want them to know that I know,” Mr. Wells says. “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I know what goes on. I’m on the CB [radio]. I can share the Gospel with you and the truth of what the Bible says.”
Bruce Wilkins, a 54-year-old driver from Maine, carries a Bible with a red leather cover in his rig.
Mr. Wilkins, who has a tattoo that says “RIP Jesus” on his forearm, calls himself a born-again Christian who tries to go to church every Sunday, “even though I live on the road.”
“If I am not near a ministry, I put my Sirius radio on to Familynet,” says Mr. Wilkins, who made a return visit to the Carlisle ministry on a recent Sunday. “They have wonderful services. Then I will listen to contemporary Christian music. But I try to get to a Truckstop Ministry or to a church.”
Mr. Wilkins says he has collected Bible CDs from various ministers he has met on the road. He listens to them while driving.
“It helps put things into perspective,” he says.
Albert Salvatore of Daytona Beach, Fla., is on the road for six-week stretches. He also tries to get to a ministry on Sundays.