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7/3/97 He’s become a familiar face on local riverboat casino

GODFREY, Ill. (BP)–Trennis Killian is a regular on the local riverboat casino. He spends hours there, and most of the employees know him by name.
But Killian isn’t a patron of the Alton Belle casino at Godfrey, Ill., and he’s never spent a dime there. Instead, he spends his energies ministering to the 850 workers and taking every opportunity to share the gospel.
“There are hurting people there that don’t really have anybody to turn to,” said Killian, pastor of Godfrey’s Bethany Baptist Church.
Killian also hopes his ministry at the Alton Belle will catch on with others across the state. He pointed to the 10 riverboat casinos in Illinois as the potential for a meaningful ministry.
“We need to let people know that it is being done, and it can be done in their area as well,” Killian said. “I’m talking about Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, Peoria, Dubuque, Quad Cities, East St. Louis and Metropolis. This is an up-and-coming ministry.”
He’s making an impact. Killian wears a pager, and the first call he received was from a woman who worked at the casino calling on behalf of a co-worker. This woman had a pregnant teenage daughter who was planning an abortion. The woman calling had tried talking the girl out of it, but to no avail.
So, she called Killian. “We got ’em hooked up with a local crisis pregnancy information center, and as far as I know a healthy baby was born,” he said.
That’s just one of the many opportunities Killian has had to minister. On another occasion, he was eating breakfast in St. Louis when he got a page from a slot machine supervisor. A woman had just spent $9,000 in a $25 slot machine and was threatening suicide.
She was gone when Killian arrived, “but that was very encouraging because the management called me in a situation like that.”
Merv Cruthis, assistant director of security at the Alton Belle, is one of Killian’s biggest supporters and played a key role in getting permission for the pastor to serve as chaplain.
“He fits here like a glove,” Cruthis said. A chaplain can’t just have an attitude “that you must save these people” from what they’re doing, he said. “I’m sure they would rebel against that.”
Cruthis pointed out that “many of the employees have a problem with what’s going on as far as the gaming part.” He said 5-10 percent of the customers are gambling addicts, and “we hate to see that. It’s nice to have a chaplain around they know they can go to and talk to.”
Killian began the ministry in August 1996 but said God had been working on him for a while before that.
Saved at 32, Killian worked such jobs as a bartender and bouncer before his conversion. He’s not proud of his background but now sees that the Lord is using that to his advantage in casino ministry.
“I would not be able to go into that environment, and especially not be able to be accepted in that environment, if I didn’t have that in my background,” Killian said. “It has helped me considerably. Lots of people there have become much more receptive when they found out what my background was. They’ve got to feel that you can relate to them.”
Killian’s attitude about the casino has changed considerably in the past few years. When he came to Godfrey three years ago and first saw the Alton Belle, all he could think about was throwing a stick of dynamite toward it.
One of his church members picked up some information on casino ministry while at a conference in Mississippi, and that was Killian’s first exposure. He wasn’t interested at the time, but the issue kept surfacing over the next year, he said.
In August 1995, he attended a Home Mission Board-sponsored conference on gaming and met John and Linda Landrum, who minister in casinos in Gulfport, Miss.
It was during that conference when Killian went on a riverboat casino for the first time. Expecting to feel surrounded by a black cloud of sin when he stepped on the boat, Killian was surprised at his reaction.
“I saw people. All I saw was people,” he said. He started getting a burden for them, and last August he went on the Alton Belle for the first time with John Landrum.
They talked to Cruthis, who asked Killian to submit a purpose statement.
Before he knew it, Killian got the go-ahead to launch the ministry. He usually goes to the boat twice a week, and at first spent a couple of hours there each time. Now, it often occupies four or five hours of his time, “because people keep coming up to me and talking,” he said.
He has a few guidelines he must follow. He can’t try to talk anyone out of gambling, and he can’t discourage employees from working there.
That’s not always easy. Killian knows many Christians who work on the boat in order to provide for their families. Sometimes they ask his opinion about their employment. He gives them his standard answer: “God could have a reason for you working here.”
Those are words he abides by himself. He said he doesn’t fully understand why he’s involved in the ministry but believes he’s doing the right thing.
“You’ve got to see the ministry,” Killian said. “If you don’t see the ministry, there’s no hope for you.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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