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Big faith for big rigs

Tom Kemp strides across a snow-covered parking strip at Truck Town, inviting drivers to a Bible study at his Transport for Christ chapel. The chaplain helps drivers and their families with challenges, and tries to be a disciple to the trucking community. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Tom Kemp strides across a snow-covered parking strip at Truck Town, inviting drivers to a Bible study at his Transport for Christ chapel. The chaplain helps drivers and their families with challenges, and tries to be a disciple to the trucking community.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Chaplain Tom Kemp’s cowboy boots plow through the slush as he moves from door to door, bringing a cheerful smile, a joke or two and an invitation to an evening Bible study to those who greet him.

But Kemp isn’t visiting houses. His route is along the rows of tractor-trailers parked at North Bend’s Truck Town, and his ministry is for passing truck drivers.

As chaplain of the North Bend chapel of Transport for Christ, Kemp works side by side with his wife Janis to help build truckers’ faith. The Kemps give drivers a sympathetic ear and a helping hand in between the long hauls.

Hard life

Just like the average person, truck drivers have their problems. A life on the road simply adds to them, Tom Kemp said.

Drivers are away from home for as many as 300 days a year. Loneliness and separation takes its toll, and dealing with family challenges becomes very hard, Kemp said.

“Who fixes the car when it brakes, and he’s 3,000 miles away?” he said.

While most drivers act professionally, Kemp said that they have feelings, too.

A driver who has had a major family blowup is more likely to be in accident within the next eight hours, according to Kemp. Truck drivers are frequently hungry, because they’ve had no time to stop, and angry, because they’ve been yelled at by family members and dispatchers. At the same time, many passenger car drivers — Kemp calls them “four-wheelers” — don’t understand that 10,000 pounds of truck can’t stop on a dime.

Drivers are also lonely, spending upwards of 90 percent of their time by themselves. Many use cell phones to stay in touch, but the CB radio isn’t much help, Kemp said.

“There has gotten to be so much trash on the airwaves,” Kemp said. Profanity, drug sales and prostitution offers can be heard over the citizen band. “A large number of drivers have turned them off or taken them out.”

The chapel gives drivers a place to go to talk about the stress and strain.

Last winter, the Kemps sat down to talk with a couple new to the trucking industry. The husband had been an architect, the wife an antiques dealer. After losing their jobs, they turned to trucking. In the truck, neither could get any alone time.

“They couldn’t get 10 feet apart,” Kemp said. “The were in the midst of a marriage meltdown.”

Kemp and his wife talked to the couple separately, then together, in a counseling session that lasted seven hours. In the end, they helped the pair find a new foundation for their marriage, based firmly on faith.

“There was some newness in the relationship,” Kemp said. “They needed to have common ground.”

Best friends

With 3.2 million women truck drivers in North America, there are frequent occasions when a chaplain’s wife can help a driver better than a chaplain can.

“There’s not a one of us in the ministry that would attempt to do it without our wives,” Kemp said. “They’re our best friends, prayer partners and our emotional support.”

Women drivers can go for some time without talking to a woman. And, there are times when Janis will pick up something from a man that Tom won’t notice.

“She adds dimension to this ministry that would be sorely missed without her,” Tom Kemp said.

This is the Kemps’ sixth Transport for Christ posting, and the third where Tom has been lead chaplain. The Kemps received the call to action several years ago, while driving past a truck stop in New Jersey, where miles of trucks were backed up, their drivers stuck and waiting.

Thinking about those drivers “broke our hearts,” Janis recalled. “We said, ‘Yes, Lord, we’re available.”

The North Bend chapel is meant to be self-supporting. Donations have nosedived this year, and the chapel has suspended expansion plans.

With just two people currently volunteering, Kemp is seeking people to help maintain the chapel, distribute materials and be advocates in the community. Training is provided.

• To learn more about the North Bend Chapel of Transport for Christ, visit www.transportforchrist.org, e-mail to gonekempin@comcast.net or call (717) 368-8121.

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