The Mobile Chapel

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1221534404|%B %d

On Saturday afternoon, we pulled off the road somewhere in Pennsylvania to switch drivers. Sarah took the series of turns she thought would be easiest to reverse getting back onto the highway, and we ended up in the parking lot of a truck stop.

Several dozen semis were parked diagonally in the lot; a fairly typical scene. But one truck stood out. It was parked right up next to the building, not diagonally, like the rest of the vehicles, but horizontally, its back end nearly touching the truck stop building. A temporary porch was erected on the backside of the trailer, and led up to a door with a cross on it.

“Mobile Chapel,” the side of the semi announced in big, scrawling red letters, while a bolded subtitle read “Transport for Christ” along the bottom. Other mottos along the vehicle wished God’s blessing, boasted that the message within was a “Dynamic Gospel for a Dynamic Industry;” reminded us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that those who believe on him may not die but have eternal life,” and proclaimed that “Safety is of the Lord”

The Mobile Chapel
The Mobile Chapel

“Want to check it out?” I asked my wife.

“Sure!” she said.

And so we found ourselves, for the first time in our lives, inside a commercial semi-trailer, talking with a truck driver-cum-chaplain named Ed.

The inside of the truck was surprisingly homey, like a long, thin Sunday school classrom. Thin carpet covered the floor, and fake wood paneling made up the walls. Pictures of lighthouses and a few illustrations of Jesus hung throughout the space. On one wall, there was an object that looked a little like a prayer table, but had no kneeler, and seemed to be the home of the guestbook, instead. Along another wall was a collage of Polaroid pictures. (“People that the regular chaplain here led to Christ, right in this very room,” Ed told us proudly.)

When we came into the trailer, Ed had been sitting in the space alone, at a table covered with tracts and bibles and copies of “Highway News, Good News.” He looked up from reading his Bible to greet us. He was a man who fit the truck driver image quite aptly, a husky fellow with gray hair, a thick salt and pepper moustache, and a blue flannel shirt buttoned up most of the way.

“Come in and have a seat,” he said. “You guys passing through?” I guess we didn’t look much like truck drivers.

“Yes,” I told him, “We’re on our way to India. Um…you know. The long way. We saw your truck,” I said, “and were curious about what you did here.”

Ed told us all about the organization, and gave us a copy of the newsletter. Apparently it’s a pretty massive operation, with mobile chapels in many locations, and hopes to have one up every five to six hundred miles in the near future.

“This ministry is a non-denominational outreach, mostly truckers, but also travelers, like yourselves. We minister to Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians…anyone who comes through that door. All you need to know is that God has spoken to us through this book, and that the central message of this book is John 3:16.”

He made some allusions to the difficulties of a trucker’s life, and the need for a fellowship and worshiping community that had this sort of broad geographical dispersion. Apparently, the founder of the movement was the regular chaplain at this particular chapel. “But of course,” he confided, “You can’t be on duty seven days a week.”

A Trucker's Prayer

This poem appears in "Highway News and Good news." I enjoyed it, and thought it suitable for road travelers in general; and by extension, for Sarah and myself. It is vaugely Celtic in scope, if not in style.

Lord, please make my highway straight and smooth.
Make the roadway dry and give me wisdom.
Set your angel beside me to guide me around the detours I will come upon.
I will clean my windshield so I may keep my eyes upon You.
I will hold my steering wheel steady to drive straight to Your glory.
I will set my mirrors so I can see those who saw Your light in my cab and will follow me in search of You.
Set those who went before me as signposts pointing the way to you.
Make Your light bright at the end of the road.
When I reach Your terminal and the light of Your presence, allow me to reach up and touch Your gentle face.
— Paul Bruchesy

“That’s very cool,” I told him, “I like to hear how people work to apply the Gospel to different cultural circumstances.”

He asked us if we were believers, and what tradition we came from. I summarized my complicated religious history as approximately Anglo-Catholic, Sarah identified herself as non-denominational by background, but increasingly Anglican. Ed said he was of Mennonite stock, and gave an interesting history of the Pennsylvania Dutch (“Did you know,” he asked us, “That this country was one vote away from having German as its national language?”)

Of course, Ed’s theology was quite different from ours. We could tell that from little more than a glance at the trailer. (And sure, looks can be deceiving. But we can say that the pious impulse that builds cathedrals is at least a little different than the one that sets up a temporary chapel at a truck stop.)

Transport for Christ is very much of the evangelical “old guard.” The Gospel tracts on the table were straight out of the examples of how to notwin people for Christ we were given when we did evangelism training with InterVarsity. They presuppose a degree of familiarity with the Christian message, a worldview of clear truths, and abundant access to local churches. Many people of our generation simply didn’t grow up with the same mindset and resources.

There were plenty of points in the conversation that I could have irritated into points of disagreement and conflict. But…why? Ed was a good man, he has a good heart, he loves Jesus. We enjoyed talking with him, and were blessed by his prayers for us.

Ed admitted to us that he disagrees with his church’s theology at points. He even said he doesn’t see eye to eye with the founder of Transport for Christ. But he sticks with them. And he doesn’t discuss these sticky points in front of non-Christians, as this hampers the work of ministry. I think that these are both very good policies.

It seems we Christians are too skilled at debating theology, and too lax at loving and listening to each other. Theology is important, but love is more important. If love becomes contingent on theological agreement, I think we’ve missed the point of the Gospel. Rather, when done properly, theology ought to draw us deeper into the love of God and of one another.

We pulled back onto the highway blessed and refreshed, encouraged by a brother in the faith—even if his understanding of faith was different than ours. We are grateful for the quirky ministries of Transport for Christ, and pray God’s blessing on their work.

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