Peaceful place for weary truckers

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INNISFIL, Ont. – While on a long-haul trip, away from family, the open road can sometimes seem a cold and lonely place for truckers.

For some, the answer for solitude is the truck stop ministry movement.

The Canadian movement began 51 years ago when Torontonian, Jim Keys, started helping truckers by providing over-the-road safety films for the industry. It evolved into a mobile chapel of sorts travelling across the country and now, the big rig chapels have parked permanently at a number of different truck stops throughout Canada.

Dennis Finnamore, Canadian director for Transport for Christ (TFC), says the ministries are there for the trucker in whatever form the trucker is comfortable with.

“We provide non-denominational church ministry services to truckers. We have been well-received by the drivers and the truck stops and we aren’t going to try to shove anything in their faces, we are there if they need us,” says Finnamore from the Canadian head office in Lower Brighton, N.B.

With many miles behind him and having once owned his own trucking company, Len Reimer, TFC lead chaplain at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont., says he knows what truckers go through on a day-to-day basis.

“Our industry isn’t always kind to our drivers. The stress is high, the pressure is high, there are deadlines to meet and safety aspects to consider – I’ve seen it all,” he says. “It’s an understanding they are looking for. It’s one thing to hear someone say something, but when you can sense they have been through it themselves, it means more.”

Having wanted to do something worthwhile with his retirement, Reimer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I care for these people and hope my years of experience will help them,” Reimer says. “I love this too much, I really need to make myself go home some days.”

In this ever-changing industry, says founder of Open Road Chapels, Don Harrison, truckers have a lot to contend with, and unlike many other professions, personal and professional lives seems to be combined permanently.

“Our mission is out of a spiritual approach but we live out our faith in realistic ways. We believe it is an expression of compassion and concern for people, while promoting a positive atmosphere within the industry,” says Harrison.

It isn’t just spiritual guidance that Harrison and Reimer provide but an opportunity for truckers to talk with someone and sometimes, they say, truckers just like to know someone is there.

“Just about the only thing I haven’t done is take the guy’s truck and deliver his load,” Reimer laughs. “It has been received well by the truckers, many of them will change their itineraries around a little so they can be here for a church service.”

Tim Powers, vice-president of retail and rest operations for the 5th Wheel Truck Stop, says ministries are also a great presence for the truck stop.

“Most of the chapels are near the truck parking lot and the Chaplains keep an eye out over the lot for distraught drivers,” says Powers.

It’s a two-way street, he says.

Often the site chaplain will help pour coffee during peak times or sit with the patrons which helps to promote a friendly atmosphere.

“The truck stops have given us an open hand and we protect that very much,” says Harrison.

Powers sees an upward movement for the truck stop ministries.

“Every driver has a microphone stuck to their cheek and they are constantly trading stories, so more and more people are hearing about it and realizing it is ok to use these services,” Powers says.

Across the U.S. the ministry movement is quite different.

“Some differences are cultural, but the big difference is in the numbers,” says Harrison.

Beth Fusakio, director of communications with the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, says truck stop ministries are being noticed and people are using them.

“Truck stop ministry talk has really picked up in the last few years,” says Fusakio. “I think it is a nice way for drivers to relieve some of the tensions and anxieties that build up while driving.”

A ministry is a necessary presence at a truck stop, says minister, James Carden, of the Truckers Chapel Outreach in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“Truckers have all the usual problems to deal with, plus the added guilt and burden of not being home to take care of them,” says Carden. “And then, in some cases, a merciless company or a dispatcher that doesn’t seem to care so these people are stressed. They need an outlet, and that is what we are for them.”

Carden says the way to make a difference in the industry is to help create an environment where the caring truck driver will touch the lives of fellow drivers.

So after a long day of driving pulling into a truck stop for fuel, a rest room or a cup of Joe, could be much more than that – a caring conversation, a place to nurture your spirituality and somewhere to be alone with your thoughts.

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