ORILLIA, Ont. – When your average driver pulls off the highway into a roadside truck stop, there are typically a limited amount of items they might be looking for. Fuel, food and use of the facilities usually claim top priority, but how do faith and fellowship rank on a trucker’s needs list?
Reverend Don Harrison, executive director of Open Road Chapels, looks to provide both practical and spiritual sustenance with a whole different approach to one-on-one counselling with truckers.
“Our philosophy is, people don’t care how much you know, they care how much you care,” says Harrison, who co-founded Open Road Chapels with his wife Suzanne 15 years ago.
“When you help people in a time of need they will listen to you, as opposed to trying to speak spiritually when they have a practical need.”
Practical issues can range anywhere from the loneliness of the open road to divorce proceedings to problems with a trucking company, all of which have an audience with Harrison or the full-time staff at each location. This practical approach has attracted many truckers to the company’s five permanent office trailers at Fifth Wheel Truck Stops across Ontario.
“A successful day would be a day that we have an impact on people that would be both practical and spiritual,” he says. “We do see men and women come to Christ on a regular basis. There’s a lot of people out there that have needs and they desperately need to know the Lord, but they have some practical issues that they need help with too.”
But for some, like 36-year veteran driver Stephen Turner, having an audience with Harrison can serve simply as a religious pick-me-up when away from his home congregation.
“Don’s ministry has been a great blessing over the past 15 years,” Turner told Truck News. “I can come out and tell Don about what’s been going on in my life, pray with him and then head out of here rejoicing.”
However, Harrison estimates that about 60% of people who speak with him have a limited religious background with the same percentage of “action” happening outside of the actual chapel.
“Most times people will find us either in the restaurant or elsewhere,” he says.
“The people who have real needs are the ones in the parking lots and in areas where they don’t have anyone to turn to. We quite often build bridges for drivers and people. Ultimately, if they have some issues they want to discuss, they can come out to the chapel where we can talk and counsel them.”
In the many years since he began offering spiritual support for drivers at truck stops, Harrison’s role has taken him well beyond the label of mere counsellor.
While in Calgary scouting for a permanent chapel location at the Blackfoot Truck Stop recently, he was able to help a trucking company locate a missing truck and arranged for a way to get the driver home.
He has also performed a number of weddings for Fifth Wheel staff, from managers to corporate staff and even their extended families.
“Over the years, the only thing I haven’t done is taken a guy’s truck and delivered his load,” he says.
Though if such a situation should arise, I suppose Harrison could ask himself the age-old question: When Would Jesus Drive?
For more information visit www.openroadchapels.org or call 877-850-0019.
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