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On the Road Again

On the Road Again

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Sam Rust grabs the microphone on his citizens band radio in the cab of his 18-wheeler as he approaches TA Truck Stop in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. After identifying himself as a chaplain, Rust speaks in a calm, reassuring, and reverential voice, commending drivers for the hard work they do in keeping America’s fast freight rolling. He then prays a blessing for the hurting, sick, and depressed. Rust lets them know healing is available in Jesus Christ, paraphrasing Matthew 11:28: “Come, unto Me all you drivers who are pulling hard and overloaded, and I’ll shift your load onto Me.”

Years ago, such kindhearted sentiments sparked multiple rude and crude replies on the CB channel. These days, gratitude is a more frequent rejoinder.

“Thank you man,” a trucker replies.

“Amen,” responds another.

“Bless you,” says a third driver.

As he pulls in to the truck stop, Rust finds a parking space just outside the main doors of the plaza that contains a variety of restaurants. Truckers must walk past his rig to get into the two-story complex.

Although he has ministered across the continental United States, Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Chaplain Sam Rust often can be found now at the TA Truck Stop near the intersection of interstates 76 and 70 in south-central Pennsylvania.

His Headlight in Trucking ministry clearly has an evangelistic mission. As the chaplain with distinguished-looking silver hair opens the side trailer doors, one panel reveals the Lord’s Prayer, the other the Ten Commandments. The back door cites Psalm 119:105.

Rust spends a great deal of time trying to hold marriages together. Many financially strapped truckers get into the industry with unrealistic expectations of what they can earn, at least initially. When money shortfalls persist, depression may result. A nationwide shortage means the 3.5 million existing heavy-duty drivers frequently are on the road for days, or weeks, at a time. While loneliness is a major struggle, truckers also face temptations such as marital infidelity, alcoholism, or illicit drugs.

Norma, Sam’s supportive wife of 62 years, usually accompanies him for the 35-mile trip to Breezewood. Rust spends an increasing number of days at a recently opened Love’s truck stop in Cumberland, Maryland, closer to the couple’s Bedford, Pennsylvania, home.

“I’ve wanted to give up many times, but the Lord reminds me it’s not my ministry,” says the 82-year-old Sam, who underwent triple heart bypass surgery in 2006. “Enough good things happen to make me keep coming back.”

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Rust drove a moving van, a logging truck, and a tanker carrying acids. He knows what it is to contend with blinding snow and icy pavement on mountain roads.

Rust had been pastoring a thriving church in Silver Spring, Maryland, when he sensed the Lord calling him to minister to truck drivers in 1974. Initially, AG officials told him they had no place for such a ministry. Undeterred, Sam went out and raised his own financial support. The AG subsequently granted him appointment as its first trucker chaplain.

The good-natured, tenderhearted, and soft-spoken chaplain ministers in a truck trailer outfitted with padded pews, a podium, and Communion cups.

For the past quarter century, Sam’s son Shannon also has been a part of the Headlight in Trucking ministry, making the duo the only father-son trucker chaplain team in the AG. Although they rarely work together, they usually are in the same vicinity.

Shannon, also an appointed AG U.S. missionary, often is just on the other side of the highway at Flying J Truck Stop. Shannon, 47, fell in love with the chaplain ministry as he saw his dad reach seemingly unreachable truckers time after time.

“If just one soul is saved from hell, it’s worth it,” says Shannon, a genial man with a broad smile and gregarious laugh. Shannon has another Headlight in Trucking rig with a chapel. But Flying J allows him to hold services in its basement TV room, which is next to a tattoo parlor and across the hall from video poker machines.

For many years, Shannon’s wife, Becky, brought a portable sound system and accompanying instrumental tracks and sang Southern gospel tunes. Since February 2015, she has been pastor of Lake Gordon Assembly in Bedford.

Although most people his age no longer are involved in the trucking industry, Sam knows he is needed. There are few chaplains dealing with the myriad troubles facing truckers such as depression, loneliness, and marital strife.

“When a driver takes the time to go aboard a truck stop chapel, he is ready for an answer to prayer,” Sam says. 

A video about the ministry is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHjsxwSvIXM&app=desktop

IMAGE: The Rust family members are Shannon, Matthias, Becky, Norma, and Sam.

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