ROBERTSDALE, Ala. (BP)–Along Interstate 10 in south Alabama sits a chapel with a shape, size and design that reveal much about its ministry.
Situated at exit 53 at Oasis Travel Center in Robertsdale is a trailer that no longer hauls refrigerated items but now serves as a place for emitting the warmth and light of Jesus Christ.
Called Exit 53 Chapel, this trailer is a church for truckers — the first of its kind for Southern Baptists in the state.
The truck-stop chapel, a ministry of the Baldwin Baptist Association, “provides an opportunity for truckers to be able to worship in an atmosphere they feel comfortable in,” said Rick Barnhart, associate director of missions for Baldwin Association. Plus, they know their rigs will be secure because they’re parked nearby.
David Blanton, chaplain of Exit 53 Chapel, understands their concerns. He is a trucker himself, hauling explosives and radioactive materials for the trucking firm Tri-State Motor Transit, based in Joplin, Mo.
Blanton lives in Irvington, 43 miles from the chapel, and his home church is Travis Road Baptist in Mobile. He has been involved in chaplain ministries for 14 years, helping start a trucker chapel in South Carolina and another in Wisconsin.
Exit 53 was selected as the site for the Alabama chapel because “it’s where the Lord told me to go,” Blanton said. He calls the travel center “one of the most pleasant truck stops (where) we’ve ever done a ministry.” It sees heavy traffic and is a place where drivers like to stop to spend some time.
The chapel began three years ago in the travel center’s television room. In April 2005, it moved outside into a loaner trailer. Then, in November 2006, the chapel opened in the present trailer, donated by Ralph Stewart of Ralph’s Trucking in Baldwin County. Volunteers renovated the interior to include air conditioning, a public address system, office space and a small chapel area.
At 9 and 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Sundays, services are held in the chapel, which is open the whole day. Students of Pensacola Bible Institute in Florida help with the ministry, conducting services on Sundays when Blanton is on the road. Blanton’s wife, Melissa, also serves, ministering to women truckers.
Larry Patterson, director of missions for the Baldwin Association, said a future goal is for Blanton to be chaplain full time.
Baldwin Association churches provide resources and materials for outreach, including items that filled 300–400 gift bags given out to truck drivers at Christmas. Through that outreach, one trucker accepted Christ as Savior, Blanton said. A number of other truckers have been saved since the chapel’s formation.
When a person receives Christ, Patterson said, an attempt is made to contact a church in the area where the individual lives so that ministry to him or her can continue. He told of one trucker who left a letter for the chapel ministry, indicating that he had contemplated suicide before asking Jesus into his heart while at the travel center.
Blanton and others also minister to the truck stop employees. The travel center, he added, is a very gracious host, letting him pass out Bibles and tracts and talk with people in the parking lots and restaurant.
Jan Barnett, a manager at the travel center, said having a church in the parking lot has had a positive effect on employees and the atmosphere in general.
For more information, visit www.truckersoutreach.org.