Going to the chapel

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Five years ago, Ken Pilgrim – chairman and president of Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim Pride Corp. – ran into the Rev. Joe Hunter in the parking lot of the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. They struck up a conversation about Hunter’s work with Truckstop Ministries Inc. “Pastor Joe,” as he’s known throughout the industry, has devoted his life to setting up truckstop-based chapels across the country.

Soon after Pilgrim returned to Pittsburg, he arranged the transfer of his coach motorhome to Hunter’s headquarters in Jackson, Ga. The gift was a godsend to Hunter, enabling him to travel between his various chapels, but it also was a way for Pilgrim to connect with the worthwhile project.

Truckstop Ministries has more than 70 chapels in 28 states. Their mission is to serve as a spiritual refuge for truckers. The nondenominational chapels and chaplains not only offer a Sunday worship service, but sometimes are the saving grace, last resort and sanctuary of a driver in distress. Other services include a 24-hour trucker prayer line, radio program, monthly newsletter, tape ministry, e-mail and phone Bible study, website and chaplaincy programs.

Pilgrim, who’s always been empathetic to the burdens of long-haul drivers, believes the dedicated chaplains ministering to the specific needs of truckers help make a difference. “I saw Truckstop Ministries as a way to provide moral support through literature, radio programs and counseling that I couldn’t do on my own,” he says. “The needs are tremendous, and this is one way I feel called to help out.”

He says there’s no way to measure the impact of just having someone on the other end of the phone. “Joe’s helped suicidal truckers, truckers going through divorce, struggling with addictions, despair and loneliness,” Pilgrim says. He’s been with the chaplain when the calls have come straight to his cell phone. “Joe’s on call 24 hours a day. He never turns down a trucker in need.”

While most of his 2,000 company drivers are short-haul, Pilgrim says the opportunity to help truckers from all areas of the industry is what attracted him to Truckstop Ministries. “Drivers hear about it and appreciate that someone’s doing something to help make their life a little easier,” he says. “We’ve got truckstops that have everything a driver could need – food, showers, entertainment, fuel – and with this ministry, there’s spiritual nourishment as well.”

The shoestring operation is 80 percent funded by trucker donations, but there’s opportunity for corporate sponsorship. To learn more, go to www.truckstopministries.org.