TRUCKERS’ MISSIONARY STILL ‘ON THE ROAD’

 By Norman M. Covert

Chaplain Sam and his 1988 Peterbilt tractor. Norma is at steps to Headlight in Trucking chapel. (NMC Photo)

 

There wasn’t much call for Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies at the Pilot Travel Center and T/A truck stops recently in Breezewood, Pa.

Chaplain Sam Rust and his son Chaplain Shannon Rust proclaim the Easter message every time they drive their “Headlight in Trucking” rigs onto the huge complexes and set up “shop.”

“We praise Christ’s resurrection and His promise of salvation every day,” Chaplain Shannon says. “It is the basis of our ministry.”

Sam is one of the original missionaries nationwide in this “on-the-road Gospel outreach.” He incorporated Headlight in Trucking in 1977 as a ministry in Pennsylvania, giving up an Assemblies of God pastorate to “answer God’s call.”

He was awakened to the need when he drove part time to supplement his pastor’s salary. The young Shannon often went along during the first years, sleeping on the floor or the pews with Sam at the wheel.

Sam says he feels the same intensity each time he fires up his classic 1988 Peterbilt tractor. His rig includes a custom built trailer with chapel and the privacy to tap into the personal and spiritual needs of long haul truck drivers.

Chaplain Sam and Norma "on duty" in trailer chapel at Gateway T/A truck stop, Breezewood, Pa. (NMC Photo)

Shannon drives a 1977 Marman, Sam’s original tractor and rolling chapel built by Pastor Cliff Burroughs and volunteers at the Assembly of God Church in Colonial Heights, Va. They were first to share Chaplain Sam’s zeal for the ministry.

The Superintendant of Potomac District of the Assemblies of God tried to discourage Sam when he was knocking on church doors seeking partners. He went to church headquarters in Springfield, Mo., in 1976, but received a letter stating “they didn’t have a place for my ministry in the denomination.”

He kept up a torrid visitation pace. “I wasn’t discouraged. I knew God wanted me to do this.”

The ministry was later validated by the church.

Chaplain Shannon is a familiar voice on the CB radio, still used by long-haul drivers. He lets them know he’s in the neighborhood, breaking in to offer a prayer for their safety and the message “Jesus cares about each one of them.” 

He conducts worship every Sunday at 9 a.m. in the Breezewood Pilot Travel Center lounge. Shannon’s wife Rebecca has her music ministry and several CDs, which he hands out to eager drivers. She sometimes “comes along” with 12-year-old son Matthias.

Both pastors admit they never know what the day will bring.

“There are days where I only see drivers coming and going through the gas pumps or eating a quick meal before getting back on the highway. I make myself available and they are always happy to see me. They promise to see me again on the turnaround,” Shannon said.

It is not a ministry meant for every seminary or Bible College graduate. “We feel a special calling.

Chaplain Shannon and Matthias at door of original trailer chapel, built by volunteers of Colonial Heights, Va., church. (NMC Photo)

“A truck driver’s need cannot wait until the end of his run,” Shannon said. “I spend as much time with them as they want, listening, trying to offer support… always offering a word of scripture and prayer with them.

“They lead a difficult life, a solitary existence,” he continued. “It is hard for them to keep up relationships, marriage and family. We have to be prepared when a driver comes to the chapel or sits down with us inside the center.

“They are vulnerable to temptation and it’s all available, drugs, or what I call ‘sins of the flesh.’ Sooner or later it catches up to them.”

Sam and his wife Norma believed God would provide for them in the uncertainties of the new ministry. It has been supported by partner congregations and private contributions.

“The economy has hit several of our sponsoring churches hard and they have to stop their support for now. I understand, but our work must go on. It is a constant challenge to meet expenses.”

Shannon has moved into the forefront of the ministry, but Sam remains the face of Headlight in Trucking to his partners. Making the transition to Shannon is becoming more of a need for 77-year-old Sam, who still can handle the rig and the responsibilities. Invariably Norma is along to help out as she has throughout his entire ministry.

Sam survived cardiac bypass graft surgery several years ago and stays closer to home spending Sunday afternoons “on duty” at the landmark Gateway Restaurant and T/A.

“Chaplain Sam is part of our family,” a Gateway hostess said. “We love him. When someone is in trouble he’s always ready to help.”

Sam was reared in Hampton, Va., where his father started Sam Rust Seafood, shuttling catches from watermen at the Hampton piers to restaurants and wholesale marketers. It was Sam’s first exposure to trucks.

Rebecca and Shannon Rust with son Matthias at one of their evangelistic services. (Courtesy photo)

The foundation of his testimony and ministry, he says, came as a teen seeing the music ministry and testimony of young adult Christians at street meetings. They helped found the Phoebus (Va.) Assembly of God Church.

Another pillar of his “Christian walk” came at summer youth camp meetings in Falling Waters, W. Va. That’s where he met Norma, a Baltimore native.

Sam was graduated in 1963 from Southwestern University in Waxahachie, Texas. His first pastorate was in the Virginia Eastern Shore community of Lee Mont, then to Silver Spring, Md., and Bedford.

Shannon was graduated from Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa., and was called as a youth minister in Ohio, but “I found myself not wanting to do that,” he said.

He went home and began to help his dad. He did so well that Sam found a truck for him in Arizona.

“We picked up a Ford cabover…and Dad made me drive it back. I got my first test at a stop in Tulsa, Okla., where a truck driver began to belittle me and my testimony.

“I felt so low…I prayed ‘Lord how can I to this?’ I asked Becky to pray with me and I stuck to it.

“A couple years later that same driver came to the truck…He was having a major crisis in his life and he asked if I would pray with him.”

Rebecca Rust's music ministry includes several Gospel music CDS with original music and lyrics. (Courtesy photo)

Shannon gives God credit for “coincidences or miracles” that shaped his life and ministry. He includes Becky, who was healed of cervical cancer at age 14. Her minister father introduced them at a fast food restaurant in Frostburg, Md. They often work in tandem, conducting evangelistic services in churches of Western Maryland and Pennslvania.

“We couldn’t have a biological child, so God gave us Matthias and he has been a blessing from the first time we held him.” –©Norman M. Covert 2011.

(You may contact Chaplain Sam or Chaplain Shannon at headlight@embarqmail.com ; at https://www.rebeccarust.net/index.html or by writing Headlight in Trucking, 1089 Centerville Road, Bedford, PA 15522. You may also donate to the ministry by clicking on The Covert Letter PayPal icon and we will ensure they receive it.)