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Truck stop ministry gets a new chapel on wheels

A Pennsylvania company painted the exterior of the 48-foot-long and 102-inch-wide Powerhouse Chapel -- including the lettering and striping -- for free. The mobile chapel is a converted semi-trailer. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)1 / 6
Chaplain Tim Sackett of Transport for Christ sits in the new Powerhouse Chapel at the truck stop at Exit 4 on Interstate 94. Sackett brought the first chapel to the truck stop 20 years ago. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson) 2 / 6
The Powerhouse Chapel is parked on the east side of the Country Pride restaurant at the TravelCenters of America truck stop at Exit 4. The truck stop allows the chapel to remain there rent free, and doesn’t charge for the electricity it uses. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)3 / 6
Chaplain Tim Sackett, left, and occasional volunteer chaplain Kevin Hanke relax in the office of the new Transport for Christ chapel. Hanke is a former Wisconsin Synod Lutheran pastor. He’s now studying to be a licensed counselor. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)4 / 6
The new mobile chapel at the TravelCenters of America truck stop east of Hudson is a converted 1994 Stoughton semi-trailer. A team of volunteers at the Transport for Christ headquarters in Marietta, Penn., did the build-out. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Randy Hanson)5 / 6
A picture of Christ watching over a trucker on the road hangs on a wall of the Powerhouse Chapel. The guest log on the table below is signed by drivers from Maine to Georgia and Ohio to Minnesota. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson) 6 / 6

There’s a new Powerhouse Chapel at the TravelCenters of America truck stop on I-94 east of Hudson.

Cerwin and Doris High of Pennsylvania delivered the 48-foot-long, 102-inch-wide converted semi-trailer on a bitterly cold Friday in early December.

Cerwin is the chapel maker for Transport for Christ, a Christian ministry for truck drivers with chaplains and chapels at 34 truck stops around the United States and Canada.

The Hudson truck stop has had a Powerhouse Chapel since 1992, when Chaplain Tim Sackett arrived to start the ministry here.

The old chapel, made from a trailer manufactured in 1977, had some cosmetic problems, Sackett explained. There was a rip in the roof that came open from time to time, resulting in water streaks on the walls and a sagging floor.

A year ago, a Transport for Christ leader came to Hudson to conduct training sessions. He brought photos of the old chapel back to the home office in Marietta, Penn. Then in July, the ministry decided to replace it. The work on the new chapel began in August.

It took three months for a team of volunteers led by Cerwin High to convert a 1994 Stoughton trailer donated by a Pennsylvania trucking firm into the new chapel.

The frame was sandblasted and repainted. An entrance door and a window were added. The interior was paneled with oak wainscoting. Laminate flooring and carpeting were laid. Countertops, cupboards, bookshelves and a desk were installed.

The chapel also was furnished with cushioned chairs for services, a recliner, a hide-a-bed sofa, a refrigerator, a coffeemaker and a microwave oven.

“We have everything you would have in a mobile home except for a cooking stove and a restroom,” Sackett said.

Another Pennsylvania company donated the exterior paint job, including lettering and stripe work that Sackett estimates would normally cost $6,000 or $7,000.

He guessed that the conversion would cost around $35,000 if Transport for Christ had to pay for everything.

It was the coldest weather High had ever delivered a chapel in, he said as he worked on Dec. 6 to disconnect the old chapel from its tractor and put the new one in its place. High said he has delivered about a dozen chapels in the past six years.

The ministry

Transport for Christ was started by Jim Keys of Toronto, Canada, in 1951. Then a new Bible college graduate, Keys began the ministry by taking his station wagon to a truck scale and handing out Christian literature to the drivers waiting to have their loads weighed.

“We are leading truck drivers to Jesus Christ and helping them to grow in their faith,” Sackett said of Transport for Christ’s mission.

The chapel, located on the east side of the Country Pride restaurant at the truck stop, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A chaplain, either Sackett or one of a number of volunteers, can usually be found there between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. Some volunteer chaplains who travel a distance to be here stay overnight on the hide-a-bed in the office.

Services are conducted at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays, but the majority of the ministry takes place in one-on-one or small-group visits with the truck drivers and others who stop by the chapel.

Some are looking for a fellow Christian to talk with to help combat the loneliness of the road. Some are dealing with life issues and looking for guidance. Some come to pray and have devotions with the chaplain on duty. Some come to read the Bible and study.

Sackett said he never knows what a day might hold for him. A driver in need of fellowship might show up and he could spend a few hours listening and sharing scriptures with him.

“When somebody walks in the door, my whole agenda just goes out the window,” Sackett said. “I say, sit down. How long is this going to take? Three or four hours?”

Sometimes it’s the drivers who minister to other drivers.

A driver named Roger who comes through Hudson three or four times a week often hangs out at the chapel. Sometimes another driver will come in and think Roger is the chaplain, and Roger will spend time with the driver.

“That’s perfectly fine with us,” Sackett said. “That’s why it’s (the chapel) here. Drivers are encouraging and ministering to other drivers. We’re just here to kind of guide the place. … It’s more their place to fellowship and hang out.”

Having grown up in a trucking family and been a driver himself, Sackett has great empathy for the drivers, who increasingly include couples and women. He sometimes calls a woman from a local church to befriend the female drivers in need of a sympathetic ear.

The loneliness of the road isn’t the only difficulty drivers confront these days, Sackett said. With the advent of GPS tracking and electronic logbooks, much of the freedom of the road drivers used to experience has been taken away.

“Now they (the employers) know where you’re parked. They know how long you’ve been parked there,” Sackett said. “It’s depressing, really, for the drivers. So they have a whole new reason to be depressed, and it’s not loneliness. It’s electronic control.”

In addition, drivers’ pay hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living, Sackett said. He hears of drivers making as little as 30 cents a mile, which in today’s economy is a low wage.

When he quit trucking 21 years ago, Sackett was earning 23 cents a mile. He said earning 30 cents a mile now is comparable to making $8 an hour 20 years ago, and now getting $8.50 an hour.

“Somebody needs to take these trucking companies and shake them up. But they’re not getting rich either,” Sackett said.

He said husband and wife teams sometimes have the opposite of loneliness as a problem.

He told about a driver who related to him: “The nice thing about being together on the road is that you’re together a lot. The bad thing about being on the road together is that you’re together A LOT!”

The driver said that when he is home, if he has a misunderstanding with his wife he can step out on the porch. But he can’t do that when his porch is traveling at 70 mph.

The lure of the road

Truckers are drawn to the road by the same urge that compelled explorers and pioneers of old to leave home, Sackett said.

“All through history, some people are just wound up to travel,” he said.

“Just like the old cowboys used to love the Wild West and all the stampedes and roundups and stuff -- that’s kind of what the truckers think they are. They’re out here to see the country. They’re out here to meet different people and go different places – and make money doing it.”

Sackett raises his own support for the ministry. Seven area churches contribute on a monthly basis, along with many individual donors. Truck drivers often leave donations, too.

“The only thing that has changed is the trailer,” Sackett said of the ministry. “What we’re doing and why we’re here and the volunteer group that we have, everything’s been pretty much the same for quite a few years.”

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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