Truckers get help steering clear of temptations Chaplain offers prayers, counseling

August 03, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

When hungry, tired-of-the-road truckers pull into the Truckers Inn in Jessup, they devour hearty meals. Besides the usual meat and potatoes, they can help themselves to Reginald Pelletier's "soul" food.

In Room 168 on the bottom floor of the truck stop, the lay chaplain runs God's Trucking Ministry and serves spiritually fulfilling "dishes": 24-hour counseling, prayer sessions and encouragement.

A former trucker himself, Mr. Pelletier, 45, knows that life on the road can be lonely and stressful. That combination can cause truckers to turn to drinking, drug abuse, adultery and other temptations, he said.

Nearly four years ago, he began the ministry to satisfy the spiritual needs of traveling truckers, who usually don't have time to attend church. If they do go, "they can't take 75 feet of trucking rig on a [parking] lot," Mr. Pelletier said.

"I try and give them spiritual food that will carry them throughout the week," said Mr. Pelletier, whom truckers have nicknamed "The Truck-Stop Preacher." For the road, he hands truckers Bibles, audio tapes, his newsletter and religious magazines.

He holds worship services at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays at the Truckers Inn, and Bible studies Tuesdays and Thursdays. He has baptized seven truckers from across the country, counseled about 350 and witnessed 126 profess their faith.

"People's lives are being changed," he said. "It's not because of me. It's the Lord that changes them."

He lives in two small rooms at the truck stop -- one a bedroom, the other an office crammed with a computer, television, copy machine, books and audio tapes. He's studying to become a certified minister by taking at-home correspondence courses through the Southern Baptist Convention Seminary.

God's Trucking Ministry joins a growing number of similar truck stop ministries in several states, said the slim, bearded man.

Mr. Pelletier always tries to welcome the truck drivers. Wearing a Western tie, black jeans and cowboy boots, he said, "I always try and dress for the truckers. I'll wear a suit periodically."

Within two months he hopes to begin holding services in a converted 18-wheeler. An anonymous person donated the rig, which was transformed into a 20-person chapel at a cost of $10,000. He's also trying to establish an outreach trucking ministry on Interstate 70 in Frederick.

An advisory board oversees his interdenominational ministry, and the Howard Baptist Association, a group of 19 churches, donates $200 monthly to help it survive. Last year, he earned $19,000.

William O. Crowe, the Baptist group's director of missions, calls Mr. Pelletier's ministry unique.

"Having gone through the experiences of a trucker, he can empathize with them," Mr. Crowe said. "I think he does a tremendous ministry for them."

Mary Denise Beard, 33, said the lay chaplain "has been a port in the storm" for her and her trucker husband, Gary, 43, who live in Concord, N.C.

The couple credit the survival of their marriage to Mr. Pelletier's counseling. Mrs. Beard, who is lucky if she sees her husband once a week, said, "It's not an easy life."

"We think a lot of Reggie," she said. "His ministry is really a blessing."

Trucking was Mr. Pelletier's livelihood for 19 years. He delivered furniture and produce across 48 states and Canada in his $13,000 18-wheeler. On the road, he often drank, fought and cursed, he said.

He said he quit trucking because he felt spiritually empty. "At the end of 19 years of trucking I had the same thing I had when I started: nothing," Mr. Pelletier said.

The Nashua, N.H., native was in Columbus, Ohio, with only a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket, when he decided to come here to begin the ministry.

Aware of the inn at U.S. 1 and Route 175 from his days as a trucker, he returned. After obtaining permission from the inn's management, he began the ministry.

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