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Late businessman’s children bring his chaplaincy vision to fruition

JOPLIN, Mo. (BP)–A father’s vision for his company didn’t happen in his lifetime, but thanks to his children, the vision has become a reality.
A business and industrial chaplaincy ministry has been launched in the Joplin, Mo., area — through the David L. Sitton Memorial Endowment Fund, provided by Sitton Motor Lines, Inc., and administered by the Missouri Baptist Foundation.
“The chaplaincy ministry is something my dad had always wanted for his company,” said Cindy Tignor, daughter of the late David L. Sitton. “This seemed to be the right timing. It was wonderful when God put it all in place.”
Keith Jackson, a Joplin native with experience as a pastor and hospital chaplain, received endorsement as a business and industrial chaplain with the North American Mission Board in late 1997.
The mission of the industrial chaplaincy is to provide spiritual and emotional support and encouragement to individuals in the workplace.
Jackson’s ministry operates out of a variety of settings, including an office in the renovated Spring River Baptist Mission Center and three businesses in the Joplin area.
He typically spends most of the morning in the office, and afternoons are devoted to visits to the companies supporting the chaplaincy. Sitton Motor Lines, employing about 550 truck drivers and 85 office personnel, receives daily visits, and two other business are visited at least once a week.
After the endowment was established and the Sitton ministry was well under way, Jackson approached others about taking part in the project. Level Ride Manufacturing in Diamond, employing about 20, joined the chaplaincy ministry in September. Ozark Machine in Webb City, employing about 55, joined in November.
“All three businesses have Christian administrative teams,” Jackson said. “They’ve been very supportive, very helpful. That makes my ability to do the ministry much easier. All the teams have been very encouraging.”
Tignor, like her father before her, sees a need for the industrial chaplaincy.
“In the trucking industry, there is a different atmosphere,” she said.
“Drivers are not home every night, and this causes a strain on family relationships. In addition, today, lots of people aren’t associated with a church. This is a real opportunity for Keith to visit with these people on a one-to-one basis. The chaplaincy is a tool where we can tell them the gospel.”
Jackson varies his industry visits according to need. At Sitton, he does most of his ministry in the drivers’ lounge, which is equipped with televisions, telephones and showers. Drivers are there waiting on trucks to be serviced or for families to pick them up.
“I try to be evangelistic and be open to sharing the gospel,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing a Christian can do.” At the other two companies, Jackson visits with office personnel and walks through the plants for visibility. At the same time, he is conscious of not hindering any work that is going on.
“I try to be very approachable,” he said. “That’s important for a chaplain. But I also try to go to them because that’s what Christ did.” In addition to on-site visitation in the workplace, Jackson is available for counseling involving spiritual and emotional needs, including counseling workers with marital, family and personal issues.
“In the trucking industry, marital problems are a big factor because of the driver being gone for such long periods of time,” Jackson said. “Once in a while, it will be a family matter, maybe dealing with children or discipline.”
Other aspects of his ministry include prayer, Bible study, referral services and letters of spiritual encouragement or sympathy to the employees. He also makes it a point to visit the employees or their family members who are hospitalized.
Another area, crisis counseling, has been used recently, and Tignor is appreciative of the support Jackson’s ministry provided. “It’s really been amazing,” she said. “We had a couple of drivers die from heart attacks, and Keith was there to handle the families, even to the point of having to inform them of the deaths. He’s been great. He knows just what to say to them.”
As the ministry grows, Jackson hopes to enlist the help of volunteer chaplains, and perhaps even another full-time chaplain. His experiences up to this point have shown him that the need is there.
“I’m really amazed with the employees of these three businesses,” he said. “They’re very receptive. It’s been a growing thing for them to be aware I’m available.”
Tignor is pleased with Jackson’s efforts, and she encourages any business to try a similar ministry.
“The drivers like having him around,” she said. “My dad would be absolutely thrilled for Keith to be the chaplain. The drivers really can relate to him and feel at ease.”

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  • Debbie Sanders