CALGARY, Alta. - Passionate and articulate about life, faith and the open road, Jake Froese - also known as Preacher Man - makes trucker stereotypes vanish as completely as the steam rising from our c...
CALGARY, Alta. – Passionate and articulate about life, faith and the open road, Jake Froese – also known as Preacher Man – makes trucker stereotypes vanish as completely as the steam rising from our coffee mugs.
At a Road King truck stop in South Calgary, Froese looked back over the last decade of his life, a journey taking him from the pastorate, through depression and nervous breakdown, to a rediscovered purpose behind the wheel of a truck.
Froese was a pastor in various Alberta Mennonite congregations for 16 years.
A self-described over-achiever, he pressured himself to succeed. “I needed to be really good at (pastoral work), but along came situations that weren’t going to show immediate results. These heightened my anxiety.”
Along with the demands of church leadership, Froese noted that further education and a positive experience with hospital crisis work served to heighten expectations he had of himself. “Further education led to losing my energy, it put more pressure on me,” he said.
He described acceptance of a part-time interim conference minister position in the early 1990s as “a perfect example of what people do when they are burning out-they take on more.”
In 1995, this temporary position ended, but Froese had also reached the end of his endurance. “I was burnt out and had a nervous breakdown. My body just quit,” he said.
After two months on disability, Froese realized he couldn’t handle sitting at home. “Nothing but trucks came into my mind. I wanted the road. I wanted freedom,” he said.
“Either I was going to get in front and be killed by one, or I was going to drive it. I just knew I needed that open road.”
Having possessed a chauffeur’s licence since he was 18, Froese had a good idea of what the driving life could offer.
Yanke, an international trucking company based in Saskatoon, took him on. The risk proved worth it for both Yanke and Froese.
“Trucking was therapeutic,” he said, describing his 10 years of trucking in two distinct phases. “The first five years or so was therapy,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in a ministry. I just needed to get away from people. In the last five years, I’ve been reflecting more and thinking about ministry.”
In reality, Froese’s ministry never ended. Other truckers quickly began referring to Froese as “Preacher Man” and initiating discussions about faith and life.
“It probably started right away,” he said. “Guys would ask, ‘You’re a preacher?’ I didn’t hide my story, and you wouldn’t believe the conversations I would have. If they want to call me Preacher Man, I need to honour that. It may be their only connection to God. People are looking for models, someone or something to believe in. It’s part of the universal spiritual search.”
As for maintaining a healthy family life and spirituality on the road, Froese is positive. “Family life is better now than it ever has been,” he said. There are no pressures when the family is together. “It’s celebration and fun when I come home.”
Trucking also occasionally allows Froese to visit his adult children living out of province while en-route.
As for maintaining a connection with God, Froese noted the importance of silence, prayer, Bible reading, books, music, and meaningful encounters with other truckers.
After 10 years – and a perfect on-time delivery record – Froese is thinking about the future.
A sense of calling to ministry and regular congregational life are once again serious questions occupying his thoughts. Recent surgery to clear a clogged artery also has Froese considering getting off the truck seat.
Froese and his wife Verna, however, are in no hurry to make a change.
“I am very aware of the danger of getting back into ministry and feeling the need to overachieve again,” he admitted, although he has agreed to be part of an Alberta writing team for Mennonite Church Canada’s 2008 Lenten worship materials.
His frequent absences from their home congregation – Trinity Mennonite Church in Calgary – have had the side benefit of allowing Verna to take on a greater role in the congregation and develop her gifts as a Sunday school teacher.
Although the road is long, Froese is thankful to still be on it. He spoke highly of the support and encouragement he receives from family, the church and the Yanke trucking company. But it is clear that through it all, his unshakeable companion has been his Lord.
“God didn’t abandon me,” he said.
– Reprinted with permission from Canadian Mennonite.