ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Ted Keller had just finished singing a stirring solo at a community New Year’s Eve service in 1986 when he realized he was doing it for all the wrong reasons. His entire career in church music had been largely for his own glory, he said, rather than God’s.
Keller’s conviction was so strong that he left the ministry entirely for about seven years. But he returned in 1993 -– this time as a chaplain to the trucking community from a base at a local truck stop.
“God’s given me a burden for these truck drivers that drive all across America,” Keller said, noting the 3.5 million truck drivers have been described as the largest unreached people group in America. “The mission field God’s called us to is to be a part of what He’s doing to bring these men and women to Jesus Christ.”
Keller and his wife, Tammy, were honored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) Nov. 9 as Mission Service Corps Missionaries of the Year. They are among approximately 2,200 missionaries currently receiving endorsement, training and other non-salary ministry support through NAMB.
Working out of a mobile chapel housed in a tractor-trailer rig at the Columbia 20 Travel Center truck stop in Columbia, S.C., the Kellers provide counsel and encouragement, lead Bible studies, and otherwise minister to truckers, their families and others in the trucking community. Last year alone they saw 54 individuals make professions of faith in Christ.
The Kellers said they found their way to the ministry first as volunteers at the truck stop, and they later were asked to confront the call to leading the ministry full-time.
“He said, ‘I’ll never do that,’ but God wanted him to and that’s when he surrendered,” Tammy said.
Part of the motivation also came from family. Tammy’s father was a career truck driver and also an alcoholic desperately in need of Christ. And on the night of their commissioning as MSC missionaries in 1994, they saw him make a life-changing profession of faith.
“We had truck drivers and people all over the country praying,” Tammy said. “He hasn’t touched a drop since.”
The Kellers deal with a range of problems on a daily basis, with much of their ministry related to the intense loneliness often experienced by drivers. Tammy also is able to minister to women and families, some of whom homeschool their kids on the road.
“When you have husband and wife team and you’re cooped up in that truck day after day constantly, it’s real tough sometimes to not have a break. So I’m there, and God uses me to speak to the wife,” she said.
In just a few of their encounters:
— Ted was able to minister to a driver burned over 95 percent of his body in an accident. He eventually died, but Keller visited daily while he was in a burn center in Augusta, Ga. The chaplain had experienced 37 days in a coma himself while recuperating from heart surgery, and he knew from experience that patients often are able to hear even when they appear unconscious. He also was able to minister to the family, and a trucking company even paid his expenses to travel to Canada to lead the funeral.
— One trucker came into the chapel with a gun and said he was going to kill his stepdaughter. Ted was able to share the plan of salvation with him, however, and he left with a new faith in Christ. “His whole countenance changed,” Ted said. Added Tammy, “I’ve never seen that happened to anybody before.”
— Another driver was one of the most unlovable and arrogant men they had ever seen when they first met him. But he had found a Bible in California, saw their chapel and wanted to talk, and eventually prayed to receive Christ. Today he is preparing to take his seventh trip smuggling Bibles into a largely unreached nation.
The Kellers work in association with Transport for Christ, one of a number of organizations providing ministry to truck drivers. For more on their work, visit www.chaplainted.org. To learn more about NAMB’s Mission Service Corps program, visit www.answerthecall.net/msc.