If you happen to stop in at the Travel Center of America (TA) Truck Stop in Kingman, Arizona, at 7:30 a.m. on any given Sunday, you’ll be greeted at the door. The person saying hello won’t be a security guard, a waitress, or a custodian. Your greeter will be a preacher, Ellis Gaston. Ellis is there to say good morning and to invite sleepy-eyed travelers, most of whom are truck drivers, to come to church.
The church that Ellis speaks about is not held in town or even down the road. To attend church, all the drivers need to do is walk into the travel center’s television room around the corner. If the drivers are unable to stay for the 8:00 a.m. service, Ellis gives them “food” to take with them—a tract that contains the plan of salvation, including the verse “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), and a Honey Bun to eat along the way. He prays that the drivers will read the tract, enjoy their snack, and come to know the Lord or least begin their search for good spiritual food.
Ministering to truck drivers is nothing new for Ellis Gaston. While serving as a full-time Baptist Mid-Missions missionary to the Navajos, Ellis became interested in truck stop ministry after reading about Highway Melodies, a ministry to truck drivers, in an article in The Baptist Bulletin (“Diesel-Powered Gospel”), September 1989.
Ellis began helping Raleigh Huls, founder of Highway Melodies, distribute New Testaments at the Shell truck plaza in Holbrook, Arizona. Raleigh expanded his ministry and began holding Sunday morning chapel services in the truckers’ lounge. When Ellis later moved to Kingman, he continued the truck stop ministry by forming The Philip Men, the name taken from Acts 8:29: “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this [Ethiopian eunuch’s] chariot.” Ellis seeks to “overtake” the truckers with the gospel by announcing the Sunday services on his CB radio. He explains, “Sometimes I will get favorable answers; sometimes I won’t. At least I try to announce the services as much as possible.” On Saturday afternoons Ellis travels thirteen miles from his home to the TA truck stop to put out signs announcing the Sunday morning service.
Christian drivers often take their Bibles on the road, have their own devotions, and, on Sunday morning, look for a truck stop that has a chapel service. At the Kingman TA, Ellis opens the door and says, “Come on in!” During the chapel service the drivers enjoy singing gospel songs, giving words of testimony, praying, and listening to God’s Word. Many of the drivers would like to be attending their home church, but the truck stop worship service is a welcomed alternative. Some drivers even plan their routes so they will be able to stop in for Sunday services.
The fellowship that the truckers enjoy with their brothers and sisters in Christ extends beyond the time of worship. Ellis explains, “If the truckers have experienced a real blessing in their lives during the week, we have what we call an afterglow following the service. We go out in the parking lot and keep on talking.”
Life on the road for the drivers is not easy. Temptation comes their way in the form of “couch lizards,” prostitutes who make their services available, traveling with some drivers from town to town. Back at home, the drivers’ wives often feel neglected and their children become unruly due to the truckers’ long absences. Divorces are common. However, a number of husbands and wives drive together and come to the church services.
To help address the spiritual needs of all who attend, Ellis shares messages taken from Paul’s writings to Timothy, Titus, and the Corinthians. If he thinks any people attending the services may be unsaved, Ellis is sure to include the plan of salvation.
For Ellis and his wife, Carol, doing the Lord’s work is a lifetime vocation. They recently celebrated their 60th anniversary and actively serve the Lord. According to Ellis, “Retirement is not really retirement—you just change jobs.”
Carol teaches the Bible to children in their local church, Calvary Baptist in Kingman, Arizona. Ellis preaches at the TA truck stop and stocks New Testaments in racks at the four area truck stops. Through the financial support Ellis receives as a Baptist Mid-Missions missionary, he provides the Bibles free to truck drivers.
Ellis encourages other believers to continue serving the Lord for their entire lifetime. “I would like to challenge all the old men who think they are too old to do anything anymore to do just what I’m doing. There’s no reason why they can’t.” If men would like to get started ministering to truck drivers, he suggests that thy go to truck stops and ask, “Can we put Bibles in here?” Ellis explains, “If they can just put the New Testaments out, that would be a great help. There are truck stops all across the country.”
What keeps the Gastons strong in the ministry? “Reading the Bible, praying, and going to church,” Carol responds. Ellis shares, “Each year I read through the Bible. Right now I’m finishing up reading about Moses. Here’s a man who was 80 years old when the Lord called him to lead Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He worked for another forty years; that man was 120 years old when he died. Man, I’m only 70 years old—I’ve got forty more years to go!”
Daria Greening is executive assistant to the national representative of the GARBC.