Vehicle breakdowns happen everywhere. If you’re traveling in southcentral Pennsylvania near Breezewood, there’s support waiting to help you in your time of need.
For 35 years, the Breezewood Trucker Traveler Ministry has provided things like food, lodging and gas to motorists in distress. With a home base in the Gateway Travel Plaza in Breezewood, Bedford County, that location is an ideal spot for such an outreach because several major highways intersect there, bringing a myriad of drivers and passengers to that area daily.
“It is a ministry of prayer, of presence, of counsel, of hospitality and emergency assistance,” described Bruce Maxwell, the chaplain for the ministry.
Aside from the basic resources listed above, the ministry seeks to provide transportation options for motorists who need to return to their vehicle or have a short trip home.
Bruce, a Methodist pastor, has been leading this non-denominational ministry since 1992. It survives thanks to a variety of grants and even more importantly generous contributions from many congregations and organizations in the area, including from and within Huntingdon Presbytery. It’s a ministry the Rev. Jack Miller of Bedford Presbyterian Church is proud to be a partner.
“Bruce has his finger on the pulse of a part of our community that we might not always see or think about,” Jack said. “In an area known for its transient population, Bruce also gets to know the people who come to settle in the Breezewood area. He forms deep relationships with these people and provides Christian witness and pastoral compassion to them. I appreciate deeply the wisdom and insight Bruce shares about these people, their situations and their needs.
“I consider Bruce and Trucker/Traveler a ‘mission partner’ in the fullest sense of the term. Bruce is someone I know I can reach out to and count on when needed. While our congregation supports this ministry financially, I also know that I can contact Bruce for assistance with people whose situations require more than any one ministry is equipped to handle well. Bruce has also been able to contact me to help with specific cases.”
“Bedford Presbyterian has been a rock-solid supporter for 30-plus years,” Bruce added. “I really value working with the folks at the Bedford Presbyterian Church. They have been really, really wonderful. We have had a number of committee members through the years that have been Presbyterian. At the presbytery assemblies, we sometimes have tables or presentations there. There are a number of Presbyterian churches that contribute in a financial way.”
Beginning in the late 1980s, the Breezewood Trucker Traveler Ministry began through a need that was discovered by local employees who would encounter regular visits from the motorists who were in need.
“With the highways converging in Breezewood – Route 30, Interstate 70 and the turnpike – there are thousands of people that populate the town each and every day,” Bruce said, adding that Breezewood has acquired the nicknames of the “Gateway to the South” and “The Town of Motels” due to its location along the highway system. “With people come lots of issues and human drama.
“There would be traveler situations that would come into town and some of the business-people would see them repeatedly. The cashiers would try to resolve if someone was stranded, stuck, in an accident or having trouble at home. It got to the point where they started to contact some local pastors to provide some assistance – pastoral care, whatever was needed. And it became a little much for them to be caring for these continuous kinds of requests that would come off the road.”
Breezewood business leaders and pastors quickly recognized the need for a full-time outreach for these types of situations. Looking for guidance on how to start such a ministry, the group turned to the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, which had established a handful of other similar outreaches around the state.
Bruce, who describes himself as a “pastor to the traveling community,” admits that while the ministry has a physical location in the Gateway Travel Plaza, it relies on restaurant and other business employees to either alert him of a situation or send those affected by a traveling issue to him.
“Most often, if a traveler or trucker would come into town with an issue or crisis, it would be the business-people, the staff people who would see that,” Bruce explained. “They would see that and know to call the ministry. And it’s not just Breezewood. I can get local calls from the state police, the local hospital, from area agencies, from local pastors or just from residents who encountered a situation or someone who was hitchhiking. Our calls come in from a wide range of sources, and we do our best to answer those calls.”
Bruce said the most challenging situations involve transportation – finding a way to get a stranded traveler to where they need to go. However, the most common service the Breezewood Trucker Traveler Ministry provides is food distribution. In 2021, the outreach handed out food to more than 1,200 travelers and locals while providing 246 pastoral calls in the community and 184 nights of lodging to round out the top three most common situations the ministry was called on to handle last year.
“We discovered following the holidays we often have more travelers seeking help,” Bruce said. “We’ve come to the realization that sometimes during the holidays strained family relationships are endured – putting up with each other until the holidays are done.”
The ministry does have a hospitality table available for travelers at the Gateway Travel Plaza at different times throughout the year. Available there are Bibles, devotional materials and hygiene kits, which are put together by local churches and are handed out to those who are in need of toiletries and other items.
“Our congregation has enjoyed the opportunities to work together to provide hygiene kits and other resources for the ministry,” Jack said. “Bruce’s ministry is one that exhibits hospitality, and by supporting Bruce, we feel like we are extending hospitality as well. Even though we probably won’t meet the thousands of people that Bruce interacts with, we know that we have an indirect connection to them. We trust that Bruce is sharing the Gospel in word and deed, and we are delighted to participate in this ministry.”
Simply having a friendly person at the table to say they are holding the travelers in prayer is especially meaningful to the motorists.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce the Gospel because, here we are in a very commercial setting and there’s a table full of free stuff,” Bruce said. “People say, ‘What’s the catch? Where’s the gimmick? Why are you doing this?’ This is God’s love, it’s free, all you have to do is accept it.”
The Plaza also provides a space where Bruce can hold special services. Aside from a weekly Bible study that is offered, on Ash Wednesday in 2022, an “Ashes to Go” outreach was available to travelers. Around Feb. 14, a “Valentine’s Day Card Table” has been offered, giving motorists cards and stamps free of charge thanks to a church in Martinsburg. This encourages folks to remember their loved ones at home while they are out on the road.
Because Bruce is the primary person to interact with a stranded traveler, he has heard his share of stories. It’s those conversations and connections that are as meaningful to him as they are to the motorist. Bruce recalled the story of a trucker who returned home after a long trip only to find that his fiancée and children had moved out. It was extremely depressing for him, who had to return to the road a short time later and was not in a good frame of mind.
“He’s distraught, doesn’t know how to process it, and then he’s back out on the road trying to make sense of all of it,” Bruce recalled. “He begins to threaten suicide, so the staff people get involved, the state police and local agencies get involved, we got involved and worked with him to develop a plan of action for his emotional health.
“We never know day to day what’s going to come through our doors or what calls are going to come in.”
While the Breezewood Trucker Traveler Ministry has been a vital outreach to stranded and distressed motorists in southcentral Pennsylvania for four decades, it is also creating a meaningful bond with the community. The fact that these interactions have helped the ministry become ingrained in the fabric of Breezewood is not lost on Bruce and is simply an added bonus to the work that is being done.
“The most sacred places of the ministry for me are when truckers, travelers or employees ‘invite me’ into the deep emotional/spiritual stories of their lives, sometimes monumental dilemmas,” Bruce said. “These are precious pastoral moments, which call for Christ’s compassion and love and understanding, which I pray for.
“What encourages my heart after all these years is when the Gospel gets spoken to me. What I mean by that is when people have their own stories of how God has been alive and active in their lives, it brings to life the power of the Gospel, the power of God at work in people’s hearts and lives.”