A chapel in a trailer for truckers

May 15, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Surrounded by dozens of commercial 18-wheelers on the parking lot behind Truckers Inn in Jessup is a very eye-catching trailer.

Large crosses decorate the exterior of the immobile trailer, and big lettering on the side announces: "God's Trucking Ministry" and "Chapel."

Inside are eight wooden chairs grouped together and a lectern, where the Rev. James R. Brown often stands.

The ordained minister uses the trailer-turned-chapel to counsel and uplift men and women truckers who are constantly on the road and need spiritual guidance and a friendly shoulder. The first service was April 22.

Having spent 27 years as a trucker, Mr. Brown can relate to the truckers' hectic life.

"It's very hard, the time you spend on the road," the 50-year-old minister said, explaining how it affects family life. "I tried to be there for [three sons'] championship ballgames. I tried to be there for the big game and for the school activities."

The lonely hours spent on the road can lead truckers to alcoholism, drug abuse and divorce, Mr. Brown said.

"A lot of truckers have given up on life, really," he said, "because they've been on the road a lot of time and have given up on their marriage and family. They've lost their leadership in the family."

He added, "They'll tell me the problems they're having. . . . They just need somebody to talk to."

This nondenominational trucking ministry -- one of many similar programs nationally -- was created four years ago when lay chaplain Reginald Pelletier rented a room at the roadside inn to counsel truckers from across the country who stopped for food or rest.

The Howard County Baptist Association, a group of 20 local churches, financially supported the ministry.

When Mr. Pelletier resigned in January, the ministry's board of advisers chose Mr. Brown as director. He started Feb. 1.

A Maryland company donated the trailer last month and volunteers made $10,000 worth of renovations, including painting and lettering, Mr. Brown said.

Although electrical service has not been turned on inside the carpeted trailer, the converted chapel has gotten good reviews.

"I think it's very good and enhances the ministry there," said William O. Crowe, president of the ministry's board of advisers. "There seems to be an instant identity" with the truckers.

Trucker Paul Bradley of Illinois didn't think twice about entering the chapel recently when he stopped for lunch.

He shook the minister's hand and asked about services.

"People are always lost and need an answer," the 25-year-old trucker said. "If I'm here and need something, I will come here."

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Mr. Brown stays at the Truckers Inn in Room 123, which he rents for $300 a month. He's available for counseling around the clock, sometimes not going to bed until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. The rest of the week, he goes home to Hagerstown.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we are reaching people," Mr. Brown said.

In addition to ministering to truckers, the chapel attracts the homeless and transients. Mr. Brown and his 12 volunteers contact county social services and local churches to obtain help for them.

Before taking over this ministry, Mr. Brown worked at a similar truck stop ministry in Elkton, part of Transport for Christ International. He was ordained four years ago by the American Evangelical Christian Churches in Indianapolis.

For guidance, Mr. Brown turns to the Bible.

"That way you stay out of trouble. They can't come back and say, 'You counseled me the wrong way,' " he said.

Once the chapel, which accepts donations from truckers, becomes well-known, Mr. Brown expects 50 truckers to visit daily.

The volunteers, who include ministers from local churches, hold Bible study and Sunday services at the chapel.

Patricia and John Chandler, a Catonsville couple, hold Thursday night Bible study classes.

While Mr. Chandler drove tractor-trailers for 28 years, his wife stayed home and cared for their daughter, who is now grown.

"It was very difficult," Mrs. Chandler said, recalling how she'd hang up on her husband when he telephoned because he failed to arrive home when he promised. "God kept our marriage together."

Because truckers can't pull their big rigs onto a church's parking lot, the trucking ministry fills a void, she said.

"It's something that's desperately needed," Mrs. Chandler said. "What really motivates me, and touches my heart is when those truckers come in here for Bible study with weary eyes trying to see the Bible."

Mr. Brown said he hopes to start a second "God's Trucking Ministry" in Frederick soon and envisions similar ministries at truck stops across the country, as well as a ministry for truckers' wives.

"We'll take one at a time," he said.

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