Truck stop ministry

4/9/2012

By SHAJIA AHMAD

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Some share stories, many sing songs, and a few others come to listen.

But nobody leaves without a hug.

At the Pit Stop Praise, held each Friday night at the Garden City Travel Plaza, 1265 Solar Ave., people from many walks of life come together to share through music and fellowship.

It's an outreach ministry that was started in an effort to reach out to weary travelers — especially truckers — who find themselves in the area and are in need of someone to lean on or an ear to listen.

Sometimes a dozen gather in the designated room inside the travel plaza, the truck stop that is just north of the U.S. Highway 50/83 junction.

Other Friday evenings, it's just a handful who make it out for the half-hour-long program.

However many the number, the outreach ministry works to heal and offer guidance to those who gather, according to Jay Schoonover, an elder with the Garden City Presbyterian Church and one of those who helped spearhead the initiative and helps lead the songs at the gathering using his guitar.

"You've got a lot of truckers, and they're on the road all the time. They don't get fellowship much. You have so many different people come through, and many are in need of a talk or need some sort of assistance," he said. "We help them on their way by engaging in conversation and encouragement."

This past Good Friday, the Pit Stop Praise group gathered in typical fashion but also celebrated the ministry's one-year anniversary of coming together.

After an all-inclusive prayer, the dozen or so who joined in on the program sang songs and shared their thoughts, especially those most troubled or weighted by their personal thoughts or sorrows.

Yvonne Battles, a member of the Church of the Nazarene who also helped with the beginnings of the outreach ministry, said oftentimes truckers arrive in Garden City on Fridays and must wait until Monday for a load to depart, biding their time in the area alone.

There are also other travelers who are taking the interstate bus into or out of Garden City, and even hitchhikers who are making their way from one place to another with the aid of truck drivers. They could be running away from something, running toward something else, or soul-searching along the way.

Regardless, the ministry is present to listen, participate and pray for those who come around.

"A lot of drivers have appreciated our time because they don't get a chance to go to church," Battles, a former truck driver and instructor herself, said. "Here, we do a couple of songs, (we) do the message, and then we share. Anyone can share. We just get to know one another."

Battles, now retired from nearly three decades of trucking, said having experienced many lonely hours on the road herself, she knows the mental and physical demands involved in the profession.

It's why it's common to see many truck stops across the nation have small chapels where travelers can pray or read from the Bible. Many truck stops also make available literature that is left behind by community churches or other faith-based organizations in the area.

With no chapel in Garden City, Battles said, she and others decided a ministry at the travel plaza would be the perfect opportunity to reach out to travelers, and they received the blessing and encouragement from the plaza's owners to move ahead with their endeavor one year ago. Over the last several months, the group has met with many looking for support or advice when dealing with issues such as divorce, depression or other personal problems.

"The loneliness is one thing. You're alone in the cab of a truck for many hours at a time, days at a time, weeks at a time. Sometimes, the only interaction you have is either with shippers or dockhands, or people at a truck stop where you fuel up or stop for a little while," Battles said. "Because I drove a truck for so many years, I felt like I could have a connection with the drivers and share our experiences, and also share the love of Christ with fellow truckers. It just means the world to me."

Pit Stop Praise

The Pit Stop Praise is a non-denominational outreach ministry that meets at 7 p.m. Fridays at The Garden City Travel Plaza, 1265 Solar Ave. For more information, contact the Presbyterian Church of Garden City at (620) 275-9141.

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