Transport for Christ

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Transport for Christ

by: Phil Barkman

 

They’re lined up for miles along Holmes County roads; people, people everywhere. They sit in their cars in parking lots, in lawn chairs lined up in yards, and filling their front porches. Blankets are spread out on the grass, and little boys wrestle while their sisters chase butterflies. Dad fires up the grill and Mom brings out the snacks. The air of anticipation becomes palpable.

At the intersection of County Road 201 and US 62, both the parking lot and the grassy areas are full of people. There is the murmur of conversation as people chat with their friends and family or become acquainted with the stranger seated beside them. People always come out to see parades, but how many folks does it take to line 22 miles of roadway?

And then, the red and blue lights of the Sheriff’s Department squad car flicker through the trees.

“There they come!” shouts a young boy, and all eyes turn to the East where US 62 curves down the hill out of Berlin. The cruiser coasts slowly down the hill, and 50 yards behind it is the first rig, the gleaming Transport For Christ tractor-trailer. Strung out for miles behind it, like rolling, roaring links in a chain, come more trucks; tractor-trailers, straight trucks, tankers, stock haulers, log trucks….

The quiet of the summer evening is dispelled by the bellow of powerful engines and the swish of rubber on blacktop. Air horns play their symphony, some shrill, some deep, some reminiscent of a train engine passing by. The staccato hammer of Jake brakes echoes through the surrounding hills, competing with the whine and rumble of rising RPMs as the trucks round the corner and pull themselves up the steep incline, and the smell of diesel smoke perfumes the evening air.

The assembled crowd watches admiringly; the trucks have been meticulously prepared for this event. Waxed paint gleams and polished chrome sparkles in the evening sun. Later, as darkness falls, this stream of trucks becomes a parade of lights and a dazzling testament to the imagination of the owners and drivers.

The crowd is an interesting mix of people: friends and family of the drivers, truck enthusiasts, retired drivers, and those who just enjoy the camaraderie of a festival.

Especially fortunate are those locals who have the opportunity to ride along. With windows rolled down, they wave enthusiastically to the assembled crowd, trying to spot family members and friends. With several thousand people along the 22 miles of the parade route, there are many familiar faces to be waved at.

This is the annual Transport For Christ event in Holmes County, Ohio. TFC was started by a man named Jim Keys in Canada in 1951. His father had been a truck driver, and being familiar with Youth for Christ, Keys felt led to begin a ministry to and for truck drivers. He began this work in the Toronto area; and as time passed and God blessed the ministry, a U.S. branch was begun. The U.S. offices were originally located in Michigan, and were later moved to Akron, OH, and then in the late 1980’s were moved to their current location in Marietta, PA.

Much of the information for this article was received from Gary Nussbaum, who became involved with TFC in 1982 and has been serving full-time since 1989. When he first began with TFC, the organization had five mobile chapels on the road. One was located in Canada, one worked the West Coast, another was in Oklahoma and surrounding states, and there was one each in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the United States.

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For the first thirty-five years, TFC’s chapels were mobile, rolling from truckstop to truckstop in their quest to reach those cowboys of the open road. Finally, in 1984, a truckstop owner in Harrisburg, PA, asked TFC to locate a chapel permanently at the plaza. The reason for the request was quite simple;

“Every time you come here, you become a deterrent to evil.”

After much prayer, the decision was made to take a mobile chapel off the road and locate it permanently at the Harrisburg truckstop. Over the next few years, the same decision was made for all of the mobile units. TFC discovered that by making the chapels permanent, the effectiveness of their mission was tripled. Operational costs dropped dramatically, and it became much easier for individuals to become involved as volunteers.

A few chapels are located indoors at truckstops, but most of them are in truck trailers that are parked on the grounds. There are now chapels located at 36 truckstops in the U.S., six in Canada, two in Moscow, Russia, one in Zambia, Africa, and one in Brazil.

TFC has worked hard to develop good relationships with trucking companies and truckstop and plaza owners, and they welcome requests for their chapels at new locations.

TFC’s statement of purpose is simple: “Leading truck drivers, as well as the trucking community, to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.”

TFC is a non-denominational organization which adheres to biblical principles and is Christ centered in all respects. The individuals involved are driven by the vision to provide an effective ministry to truck drivers throughout the world wherever there is a significant trucking industry, and the goal is that no truck driver should have to drive more than a day without being able to find a TFC chapel.

Each chapel has a full-time chaplain and numerous volunteers. It takes approximately eight volunteers to make a chapel viable; trucks come and go all hours of the day and night, and TFC wants to have a staff member on site as much as possible. Nurturing and discipling new believers can be a challenge. The transient nature of driving a truck reduces the opportunity for a driver to meet with fellow believers on a regular basis, so staff members try to be available as much as possible. There is an 800 phone number that drivers can call 24/7, and a Bible study is available that they can take with them on the road. These can then be sent to a TFC staff member to be corrected and commented on. There are always Bibles on hand at the chapels for those drivers who don’t have one.

TFC has a website (transportforchrist.org) that contains a wealth of information for truck drivers, those wishing to become involved with the ministry, and those who simply wish to stay informed on what the ministry is doing.

Chapel locations, hours, and service times can be found online. There are links to other sites that are of interest to those in the trucking industry; jobs, training, testing, law, insurance, owner/operators, and ministry opportunities are just a few of the subjects that can be accessed via the website. There is also an on-line application for those interested in serving either part-time or full-time with the ministry.

A Drivers Wellness website is also available with resources to assist and encourage drivers, with a free daily wellness blog for email subscribers.

A few of the chapels are now beginning to develop their own websites, enabling drivers to find out about upcoming activities and to become acquainted with the chaplain at that particular location.

TFC has also become involved in the battle against human trafficking. Joining with others in the trucking industry and the organization Truckers Against Trafficking, TFC recognizes the opportunities that drivers have to combat human slave trafficking. As Traffickers move their victims across the country, truck drivers are in an excellent position to spot this sort of activity and help put a dent in this heinous crime.

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Gary and his wife, Pearl, have found their involvement with TFC to be incredibly fulfilling.

“Back when I was ten years old, I felt the call to be a missionary, and at the same time, I wanted to be a truck driver. But God knew … He gave me the desires of my heart–driving truck and now, chaplain to the truckers!”

TFC publishes a monthly magazine called Highway News And Good News, featuring interesting and encouraging articles, excerpts from the daily logs of chapels across North America, and a column called Drivers Wellness Focus. A free online subscription is available. It also lists the locations and phone numbers of all the TFC chapels, along with the name of the chaplain.

It doesn’t take a degree in theology or in counseling to become a chaplain or a volunteer. There are, however, a few essentials: a living relationship with Jesus Christ, a basic understanding of the Scriptures, a listening ear, and the desire and ability to share the Word with those in need.

Being a chaplain is both a challenging and a rewarding experience; they never know who is going to walk through their door next. It may be someone who has never believed in Christ and is just curious, it may be a believer who is struggling in his relationship with Christ, and sometimes it may be a driver who is just stopping by to offer encouragement to the staff. An average of 33,000 drivers stop by the chapels annually.

Gary relates an incident that occurred while he was the lead chaplain in Lodi. He was speaking to a driver who had stopped in, and in the course of the conversation, Gary explained the plan of salvation to the driver, who believed in and accepted Christ right then and there. Then the man told Gary what had happened.

“This has become our fuel stop, so this is the fifth time that I’ve been in this truckstop. Every time, I’ve had the feeling that I need to come in, and I had to grip the steering wheel to keep from doing so, but tonight I couldn’t hold on any longer.”

TFC not only ministers to those who are having difficult times or are not believers, but they are also a source of encouragement to those Christian drivers who regard the open road as their mission field.

“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).

Sometimes we take the trucking industry for granted, or become annoyed when a slow-moving rig pulls out in front of us. But as we look around, almost everything that we see apart from nature has at one point or another been on a truck. The building materials for our homes and businesses and all the items that fill them were delivered by truck. Our food, our clothes, and all the parts for our vehicles rode in the back of a truck. The roads and bridges we drive on and every other aspect of infrastructure in this country was transported to its destination in the same manner. The books that we read, our electronic devices, and our leisure time games are all delivered courtesy of a truck driver.

There are approximately 3.4 million truck drivers in the U.S., and in 2013, professional drivers drove over 275 billion miles. Most individual long-haul drivers average 100,000 to 110,000 miles per year. In 2014, the trucking industry hauled 9.96 billion tons of freight, which is 68.8% of total U.S. freight tonnage.

Leon Hostetler, owner of Pine Pallet, has been friends with Gary Nussbaum for many years and has been involved with TFC since 1995, the year that Leon first entered a truck in the parade.

Leon, being a truck driver himself, sees firsthand the contribution that TFC makes to truck drivers.

“I see a lot of hurting drivers out there, and I know they (TFC) are there for them. Many drivers are gone two, three, even four weeks, have nobody to talk to, have no family or miss their family… and had a bad day! Everything went wrong today, they didn’t get loaded … Then they can go to the chapel, and there’s a chaplain sitting in there that can talk to them and pray for them. It’s just somebody they can connect with and unburden themselves to.”

Leon is acquainted with a number of the chaplains and enjoys stopping by the chapels occasionally just to chat and offer a word of encouragement.

“They’re… sitting in there; they don’t know who’s going to be walking through that door next … You have to have a listening heart and a listening ear.”

Leon is now on the parking committee for the annual show and parade, along with Allen Hostetler and James Miller. There are usually about ten individuals involved in the parking, which can be a bit challenging. Bobtails (semi-tractors without trailers) are parked in one area, tractor-trailer rigs in another, and companies with multiple trucks that they’d like to have grouped together. The members of the parking committee are up to the challenge, though, and in both Kidron and Mount Hope, the flow of trucks proceeds quite smoothly.

Holmes County and Ohio businesses are well represented in the event, but the interest reaches far beyond Ohio. Not only are there rigs from neighboring states, but trucks from as far south as Florida and as far west as Kansas and Nebraska are displayed in the parade.

Allen Hostetler moved to Ohio from Kansas in 2001, entered a truck in the parade in 2004, and became actively involved in TFC shortly thereafter. Along with being on the parking committee and assisting with the parade lineup, Allen also arranges for the pick-up and delivery of Bibles to the chapels in the eastern half of the U.S. An organization called Truckers Friend Network donates Bibles to numerous ministries in the trucking industry, TFC among them. When a chapel is in need of more Bibles, Jim VanFarowe of Truckers Friend Network brings them to the Chapel at Beaver Dam, Ohio, Allen picks them up there, and they are then delivered to wherever they are needed. To date, approximately 200,000 Bibles have been placed into the hands of those hungry for the Word.

Allen enjoys trucking and the opportunities that it provides for reaching out to others.

“It can be a lonely occupation; there are a lot of guys that don’t have a family, and when you’re driving and thinking about your problems, sometimes you just need someone to listen.”

Allen recounted an experience he had with just such an individual. Walking to his truck at the truckstop in Scranton, PA, he noticed a man sitting on a bench, weeping. Allen approached and asked if he was ok. The man looked up, tears streaming down his face, and poured out his heart to this sympathetic stranger. His life was falling to pieces around him; he had just found out that his wife had maxed out the credit cards and then left him. Allen listened to his story, encouraged him, and prayed for him.

“This is my way of doing mission work,” states Allen, and while we often think of mission work being done in foreign countries, there is a vast mission field in our own country, in our own backyard. The drivers who pick up and deliver to our companies, the drivers among our family and friends–they all need encouragement and prayers. It is a lonely, dangerous, and highly stressful occupation; these men and their families need the love and support of the community.

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So there is much more than noise and lights to this rumbling caravan of trucks that winds its way through the Holmes County countryside. This annual event is a time for drivers and their families and friends to get together and share with each other. It is a reminder to the public of the mission of TFC, and it encourages support for the organization.

The 2016 event will be on July 8 and 9. The Friday evening parade will begin in Kidron and end up in Mount Hope. The Stockdale Family will be singing in Kidron at 5:00 PM prior to the parade, and the Joe Mullins Radio Band will be performing in Mount Hope after the parade, at approximately 8:30 PM. Food will be available at both locations. The majority of the trucks in the parade remain parked overnight in Mount Hope and are on display throughout the day on Saturday. An auction on Saturday will raise funds for TFC; the items to be auctioned off are donated by local individuals and businesses. Breakfast is served, and food stands are busy dishing up their specialties, including the ever-popular barbecued chicken.

The Saturday event also includes exciting activities for kids, with jump houses, caricatures, and a bike obstacle course.

TFC also holds an annual fundraising banquet on the second Saturday of March at the Amish Door Restaurant in Wilmot, Ohio. The meal is sponsored by local businesses and individuals and is free to those who attend, although an RSVP is required. For those who wish to become better informed about TFC’s work, this is an excellent opportunity to do so. Testimonies are shared by those whose lives have been changed through their encounter with TFC chaplains and volunteers, further highlighting the work that God is doing through this organization.

An annual TFC truck parade is also held at the fairgrounds in Lebanon, PA,  on the last weekend in June, an event hugely popular in that region.

Website – transportforchrist.org

Facebook – Facebook.com/Transport4Christ

24-hour Truckers Prayer Line – 1 (877) 797 – PRAY (7729)

TFC International Office – (717) 426 – 9977

 

Phil Barkman is a freelance writer and can be reached at 1201midnightwriter@gmail.com or P.O.Box 302 Winesburg, OH 44690.