From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Truck-stop chaplain ministers to highway cowboys
Mon, 17 Jun 2002 14:40:27 -0500
June 17, 2002 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: Photographs are available with this report.
A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*
Truck drivers, who rule the highways with their big rigs, are really just
regular folks. The human face of their industry is no different than that of
any segment of working life in America.
That is the assessment of the Rev. Bruce B. Maxwell, a United Methodist
pastor who is a chaplain to some of the thousands of cowboys and cowgirls of
the highways and open roads.
Maxwell provides a ministry of presence through the Breezewood
Trucker-Traveler Ministry, offering prayer, counsel, hospitality and
emergency help at two Pennsylvania truck stops. He has been carrying out
that ministry for 10 years, based at a truck stop in Breezewood, Pa.
The ministry works with the truckers, their families, travelers and local
employees that stop in Breezewood daily. "Providing a pastoral presence in
this environment, we pray to see the love of God in Christ at work changing
the heart and providing for a need in person's life," Maxwell says.
Truck-stop and traveler services exist throughout the country, sponsored by
a wide variety of denominations and faith traditions. The Breezewood service
is one of three trucker-traveler ministries sponsored by the Pennsylvania
Council of Churches.
Maxwell does not mind performing his ministry surrounded by 18-wheelers and
other behemoths of the road at the Gateway Travel Plaza and The All American
Petro Travel Plaza, the two primary truck stops in Breezewood.
Two things make the ministry worthwhile, he says. "When I encounter someone
who, by the fruit of their own spiritual journey, shares a blessing with me,
or when God places me at the right place and the right time to be of help
and blessing to someone in need - (that) makes this job a source of great
Some professions, like groups of people, carry negative stereotypes. The
most common misconceptions about truck drivers are that all of them are
womanizers, have children scattered across the country and are unkempt.
"There are numerous stereotypes about truckers, which begin to break down
when youth groups, church groups and civic groups participate in an outreach
project to the truckers," Maxwell says. Those types of projects include
hospitality tables or assembling traveler care packages. "Truck drivers are
people - some holy and beautiful, some angry, lonely and hurting," he says.
Truckers are like the rest of us, Maxwell says. "There are people in any
area given of life who are hurting and lonely. The struggles of truckers
revolve around the solitude and isolation of their existence, and seeking
fellowship and connection with others can be a great need." Drivers
particularly miss being away from family and church, he says.
Maxwell describes the truck stop as a driver's home away from home. Truckers
spend their time waiting to be dispatched or for a haul to arrive, or
marking time because they have reached their daily 10-hour limit behind the
wheel. The truck stop serves different needs, including spiritual ones, the
chaplain says. "Addressing spiritual needs is another dimension that can be
met here while on the road for weeks at a time."
Truck drivers are transient people, and he sees many people one time and
never again. His "congregation" comprises drivers who travel a dedicated
route and regularly stop at the Travel Plaza for a variety of services.
If drivers are on the road for weeks at a time, how do they grow in the
faith? Maxwell says faith development occurs when a driver becomes involved
in listening to spiritual tapes, Bible study and talking with chaplains. A
network of Christian ministry exists for drivers, he says. He uses a
citizens band radio to call truckers to worship and for Bible study.
Drivers who have benefited from his ministry emphasize the need for having
someone like Maxwell at the truck stop.
"He has helped myself, several other drivers and other wayward travelers
through many personal crises," says Tom Reinwald of Toledo, Ohio. As a
driver for RTS Trucking Co., Reinwald travels through Breezewood six times a
week. "Bruce means a lot to me," he says. "He is a great inspiration. The
service he provides is a value to all who come to him in need. ... The help,
comfort and spiritual guidance he gives us is an extremely valuable asset to
help in the spreading of God's message by example."
Many drivers, he says, have minimal contact with other people. "(We) spend
80 percent of our time alone, either driving or sleeping in the trucks," he
says. "When a problem does arise, it is a comfort to know that Bruce will
answer our call no matter what the hour of the day."
Reinwald knew Maxwell for several years before he needed help. "About two
years ago, my wife was told she had cancer and diabetes in the same week.
Needless to say, the news sent us both for a spin. I spent many hours
discussing the situation with Bruce. He was always ready to listen and give
sound spiritual advice and comfort. He spoke with Brenda on the phone and
continues to give her encouragement through e-messages."
Reinwald has seen Maxwell do the same for other drivers, highway people and
homeless travelers. He says Maxwell has been called out at all hours to help
a person in need.
During 30 years as a driver, Richard Bohon knows the problems that truckers
face. The pressures of making on-time deliveries, weather, road
construction, traffic congestion and inconsiderate people in automobiles are
common, he says. "But for a Christian there are a separate set of issues,
such as the loneliness of being away from home, the non-fellowship of
believers and trying to cope with personal problems that we all have to cope
When Bohon met Maxwell, his marriage had failed, he faced job problems and
financial hardship, and he was emotionally torn. He was "an angry bear," he
On an impulse, he stopped at the Breezewood truck stop, where he saw a
banner in a hallway directing him to Maxwell's office. "I was carrying a
large chip on my shoulder, and I wanted Rev. Maxwell to knock it off," Bohon
Maxwell's reaction he says, "show(ed) the love of Christ to a broken man
with a problem. He chose to show the Christ example, and in doing so, I was
caught off my guard, and all of the anger I had in me at the moment left."
Maxwell, he says, used his pastoral skills "to begin to help a person on the
road to healing because I blamed God for my troubles as well." Bohon became
a frequent visitor to the truck stop and to Maxwell's office. "Maxwell
allowed me the talking therapy I needed to restore me back to our Lord."
Since that time six years ago, Bohon has remarried, and he says his life has
changed for the better. "It was due to Rev. Maxwell and the help he gave
Maxwell describes a typical Wednesday, which begins with morning Bible Study
in the truck stop's quiet lounge. He circulates around the plaza,
interacting with employees and truckers, providing a listening ear and
prayer and sometimes pastoral counseling or follow-up. He receives calls
from the local hospital or from a truck-stop employee about a person needing
transportation, food or someone to talk with.
He also stocks the laundry room, fuel desk, quiet lounge and television
lounges with faith literature provided by partner churches and
congregations. He visits and prays with drivers in his office or at other
locations around the plaza. After this daylong activity, he takes care of
Helping Maxwell are two students from Wesley Theological Seminary in
Washington, who are involved in a "practice in ministry" cross-cultural
immersion experience as they work toward their theological degrees. The
Breezewood ministry has been a field education site for seminary students
for a number of years, he says. "It is very rewarding to introduce
uninitiated minds and eyes to this ministry."
According to Maxwell, the late '70s ushered in the trucker-traveler ministry
after a group of local pastors, business leaders and the Pennsylvania
Council of Churches noticed an upswing in the need for pastoral care among
truckers and travelers.
"People stranded in accidents, on foot or in personal crisis were in
Breezewood with frequent and consistent requests for assistance," he says.
Support from local churches, businesses and statewide ecumenical sponsorship
from the council of churches enabled the appointment of the first chaplain
in 1987, he says.
Maxwell's ministry is a "multidenominational and nondenominational mission
effort" that is supported by more than 70 congregations and other entities.
Most of the support and involvement comes from the United Methodists,
Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren,
Brethren in Christ and independent fellowships. Most mainline denominations
endorse chaplains to a variety of "workplace" ministries, including trucker
In the United Methodist Church, the Division of Ordained Ministry in the
Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries endorses clergy performing
ministries in specialized settings. "Six years ago, (my) endorsement was
granted as a valid extension ministry through the Section on Chaplains and
Related Ministries," Maxwell says. Bishop Violet Fisher of the New York West
Area appointed him to the Breezewood truck stop as a permanent deacon.
For untold numbers of people, Maxwell and other truck-stop chaplains are
making a difference.
Says Bohon: "The ministry that Rev. Maxwell has is reaching to the traveler
that has a need, and he is touching and helping those that God sends his way
- and I should know because God sent me his way."
# # #
*Green is a news writer in the Nashville, Tenn., office of United Methodist
United Methodist News Service
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