Drivers hear the gospel, receive ministry at truck stop chapel
August 10th, 2016 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
With more than 3 million truck drivers in the U.S., reaching them with the gospel is like hitting a moving target. But forced by either the laws of man or the call of nature, truck drivers have to stop sometime. Those who stop at the Pilot Flying J truck stop in New Caney will meet Don DeSimone, who is quick with a “Hi! How are you? It’s good to see you.”
Just by his presence every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at the Pilot Flying J truck stop at US Hwy 59 and Hwy 242, DeSimone begins the conversations that lead to discussions of eternal significance. Those opportunities have multiplied in the two years The Church at 242 has partnered with Transport for Christ International, a ministry reaching truckers in North America, Russia, Zambia and Brazil with the gospel.
Established in 1951 TFC was as mobile as the people it sought to reach. A converted tractor trailer served as a chapel and truck stops became temporary way stations. Sixty-five years later, TFC has chaplains and permanent chapels at truck stops in 45 U.S. states and around the world.
One of the newest chapels will be delivered in September to the Pilot Flying J truck stop, where it will blend in with the 150-170 tractor-trailers parked in the back lot each night. The Pennsylvania-based ministry transforms a tractor trailer into a meeting space that will seat about 20 people. The New Caney unit will be the first with central air conditioning and heating.
For The Church at 242, the permanent chapel is an answer to years of prayer and a means for advancing the two-year old ministry that has seen at least three people come to faith in Christ. The truck stop’s media room currently serves as a chapel for Sunday morning services.
About 20 years ago, Dennis Parish, pastor of The Church at 242, watched the truck stop being built and prayed God would establish a ministry for the sojourners who stop there. Unbeknownst to him, DeSimone, a retired air freight sales representative owner and member of the church, felt called to minister to the trucking community.
They said the Holy Spirit led them, along with Parish’s son, David, minister of music at Magnolia Baptist Church, to partner with TFC. The creation of TFC@242 marks the first time a church—Parish’s congregation—has partnered with the ministry. The church and a growing network of like-minded churches and individuals took on the challenge of raising the $20,000 necessary to build, transport and set up the chapel.
Once in place, a chaplain will be on duty 24/7 and the chapel will never close.
The ease with which they gained access to the location only confirmed their calling. David Peake, Pilot Flying J general manager, recognized the venture as a win-win situation. As a Christian he heartily welcomed the opportunity to offer Christian ministry to the drivers. As a business manager he recognized the benefit of partnering with an organization that had a vested interest in the safety and well-being of his customers.
Hoping to expedite the weeks-long process of gaining corporate approval for the establishment of an on-site TFC ministry and chapel, Peake wrote to corporate headquarters asking for approval. Within 24 hours it was granted.
From this way station on US 59—a major trucking highway connecting Mexico and Canada—the TFC@242 chaplains have met people from 42 states and five countries.
The TFC mission statement—“Leading truck drivers as well as the trucking community to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith”—is exemplified by the chaplains. Walking through the snack foods aisles and the laundry and shower facilities, DeSimone greets employees by name. He knows their stories. They know he cares. A friend of one of the employees is on the verge of making a profession of faith, he said.
He’s ministered to a variety of people, including a trucker crushed by his infidelity to his wife; a husband and wife whose truck is their livelihood and, sometimes, the source of their marital struggles; and a driver from Buffalo, NY, who feared losing his relationship with his 16-year-old son.
DeSimone prayed with them all and encouraged them with a word from God. He remains in contact—a key element of the TFC ministry.
The world is stopping at the Pilot Flying J truck stop in New Caney and a growing list of chaplains have enlisted to minister to them. Even as this way station is being equipped for gospel ministry, the TFC@242 ministry team plans to locate four more chapels across the state.
“This is their oasis,” Dennis Parish said. “They’re hungry, tired.”
Faith in Christ, the chaplains said, gives the truckers hope for the road ahead.