WALCOTT, Iowa (BP)—Truck stop chaplain Larry Pruitt quickly turns away from the reporter’s question as a truck driver approaches his booth during the “Truckers’ Jamboree” -– a festival held each July at the I-80 Truck Stop in eastern Iowa.
“Would you like a free Bible?” Pruitt asks the tall man who stoops under the awning to look at the Trucker’s Chapel booth.
The trucker accepts the New Testament and the free popcorn that Pruitt’s wife Peggy has popped. He also accepts a few tracts and looks over the free literature, such as a nationwide guide to Christian radio stations and a CD Bible lesson for truckers.
Truck drivers are a priority ministry for God’s Family Baptist Church in Grand Mound, Iowa, where Pruitt is the pastor. The church sponsors two truckers’ chapels along Interstate 80 in Scott County.
The I-80 Truckstop is billed as the world’s largest truck stop — with hundreds of amenities for truckers and travelers. The 200-acre facility has more than fuel and a restaurant. It encompasses several fast food restaurants, a truck wash, a trucker’s store, a museum of trucking, a dentist’s office, barbershop and a trucker’s lounge with a wide-screen television. It even has a separate building for washing a dog.
On Sunday mornings the truckers’ lounge is converted for an hour or so to a chapel with worship led by chaplain Darrell Conner, a member of New Life Baptist Church in Davenport, Iowa.
At the Flying-J Truckstop in Davenport, chaplain Jim Collier, a member of God’s Family Baptist Church, speaks to truckers each Sunday morning in a mobile chapel that is pulled onto the site from a nearby Mac truck dealership, Twin Bridges Truck City, which donated the trailer and outfitted it as a chapel for the ministry. Collier is assisted by chaplain Jerry Bellman, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Muscatine, Iowa.
The Sunday services, which generally attract from five to 10 truckers at each location, are held from 9-10 a.m. The chaplains lead the music, read Scripture, field prayer requests, pray and then deliver a short Gospel message, seeking to be informal and relevant to the lifestyles of the truckers.
Glen Cope, president of Trucker’s Christian Chapel Ministries, based in Enon, Ohio, assists with truck stop ministries across the nation in partnership with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.
Cope was working at the truck stop ministry booth on July 20, the opening day of the Trucker’s Jamboree, when he and one of his associates, Rich Desmond, were able to lead a female trucker named Rosetta to Christ.
“She was searching, hanging around the table. She said she did not know the Lord,” Cope recounted. He and Desmond “shared Scriptures, presented the Gospel and she prayed to receive Jesus.”
Conner said they see sometimes as many as 35 professions of faith in a year’s time through the trucker’s chapels. They never know from week to week how many drivers will stop by the chapel. Many times they never see the person again, although there are some who are able to come by on a somewhat regular basis.
The chapel ministry is supported financially by the Great Rivers Baptist Association, based in Bettendorf, Iowa, and the Baptist Convention of Iowa, based in Des Moines, along with donations from truck drivers during the chapel services. Pruitt voiced gratitude for the free use of the truckers’ lounge at the I-80 facility and the donated mobile chapel at the Flying-J location.
“It is a wonderful ministry and the needs far outweigh what we are doing,” Pruitt said. “There needs to be more done. Those truckers need more than just a Sunday morning service. They need someone who cares about them all week long.” Pruitt said he prays for the day when a chaplain could staff the truck stops 24 hours a day.
“You never meet a driver that doesn’t have some problems at home,” Pruitt added. “They are hardly ever at home. You just feel for them.”
Ty Berry, Baptist Convention of Iowa evangelism and pastoral care team leader, noted that there are chaplains in other truck stops in Altoona and Nebraska City, Iowa.
“This is a great mission opportunity for Iowans right here in our own state,” Berry said. “Truckers come through here from all over the country.”
Richard Nations is publications editor for the Baptist Convention of Iowa.