Mario walked into the Wilco-Hess Travel Plaza at exit 77 on Interstate 81 north of Harrisburg, Pa., spent all his money gambling, and now was going to commit suicide. He spotted the big trailer with the words "MOBILE CHAPEL" emblazoned across it and couldn't move. "I felt like I had cement in my boots," he told the other drivers. Mario-former "special services" marine, former L.A. gang member, victim of child abuse, and man whose marriage was in the process of imploding-went up to the reconverted 18-wheeler, where David Hershey happened to be the on-duty volunteer chaplain. After the worship service Hershey took Mario to the back room and led him to the Lord.
Besides sometimes manning the chapel, David Hershey, who got saved in the same kind of divine ambush on a truck lot, has built his own studio, out of pocket, where he produces CDs and DVDs of personal testimonies by the hundreds and goes wherever the Spirit leads him. And the Spirit often leads him to Johnstown, Pa., where he sets up a tent and hands out his wares, along with food. Mario often accompanies him.
David Roberts is the head chaplain at the Wilco. If he's not in the trailer you'll find him "fishin'" at the Perkins restaurant on site, waiting on the Spirit's divine appointments. He's not the only one fishin.' A truck stop may look like a Levittown of bedded behemoth metallic boxes on wheels to you, but it is a front line of the kingdom of God. You have your drug dealers and your "lot lizards," the latter so named for the practice of turning a trick in one cabin, and then exiting the vehicle and rolling under the rig to the next truck. "They're fishin' and I'm fishin'," Roberts told me.
On Jan. 7 of this year Jewish trucker Phil Saunders had cried all night. He needed to know if Jesus was the Messiah. Roberts led him to the Lord via a 7-hour drive through the prophecies from Genesis through Isaiah 53. Volunteers David Hershey and Gary Cardy then kept him company on a CB all the way from Harrisburg to Florida. When he got home, Saunders led his wife Rachel to the Lord.
A coast-to-coast owner-operator named D. Fry approached Roberts and said "I have to talk to you." His 16-year-old daughter had just been killed in a new car he bought her. That was only one of his issues, another being more cult involvement than you could shake a stick at. Roberts used the "Bondage Breaker" workbook with him. Mr. Fry told me on the phone, "We denounced everything we could think of and covered it in the blood of Christ. Then I knew I was free." An entrepreneur as well as a trucker, he started several self-supporting ministries abroad, including one for mentally challenged kids in Iran. Roberts remarked to me about some of the converts, "They're doing impossible things because they don't know they can't."
There happen to be four trucker watering holes at that intersection of I-81 and route 39, where many a man, feeling the tug of hunger, sleep, or loneliness, might find himself, if it is his appointed time, pulling onto the ramp of the one service facility (the other three are a TA, a Pilot, and a Gables) that has a "Transport for Christ" presence. One chaplain told me guys stumble through the door saying, "I don't know why I'm here," and he'll reply, "Don't worry, I know why you're here."
Thirty-three such trailers dot North America, plus three in Russia. To give you a sense of proportion, there are 3 million drivers out there (not including those in government and USPS trucks) on the gaggle of highways that Eisenhower started in the '50s. That's a whole demographic in itself, the equivalent of a middle-sized country in the 10/40 window.
David Roberts isn't much interested in "bodies, butts, and bricks." He laments, "We come to God with our plan and say, 'Bless it.' We have our programs and we want his Good Housekeeping seal of approval. But God is always breaking out of the box. . . . It's about relationship, one person sharing Christ with another person: the seed principle. I don't know how it works. We go straight to the Bible. I don't get into arguments. I just read the Bible about Jesus. . . . Then I see miracles."
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