By Virginia Ross
The Petro truckers ministry is part of a nationwide effort that provides services in hundreds of truck stops.
GIRARD — Walking through the main door at Petro Truck Stop on Salt Springs Road on Sunday mornings, you can expect to smell the hot coffee and breakfast foods being served to professional drivers and other travelers on their way to numerous destinations.
Hundreds of people pass through the local establishment every month, seeking shelter from the highway. Twice a week Chaplain Terry Snyder greets many of them, prepared to offer them sustenance of another kind.
Every Sunday morning and Thursday evening Snyder canvasses the truck stop, inviting patrons to the church services he oversees in the truck stop theater. Along with his wife, Nancy, and several faithful friends, he transforms the theater into a sanctuary for road weary truck drivers.
He explains the services are a ministry to truck drivers on the road without a church, but the effort isn’t limited to truckers seeking a place to worship.
“Everyone’s welcome here,” Snyder said. “We’re a come-as-you-are group of people who want to share the gospel and the love of Jesus with others.”
Snyder is a member of the Steel Valley Baptist Association and an associate pastor at Upper Room Ministries in Austintown. The Truckers 4 Jesus ministry at the Petro, as it has commonly become known, is an outreach effort of each of these ministries and was initiated by the Steel Valley Baptist Association some 12 years ago. Snyder is the ministry’s fifth chaplain. He replaced Chaplain Dick Lowe, who left to pursue a nursing home ministry.
As overseer at the Petro Truckers Chapel, Snyder seeks to be dependable and faithful to the call. He had the regular Thursday evening service on Thanksgiving.
Likewise, he plans to conduct services Christmas and New Year’s day. Both holidays fall on Thursday this year.
“It’s especially important to be available to minister to drivers away from home on the holidays and offer them a place to dwell among other believers for a time,” he said. “We all know it can be a lonely time for anyone away from home on the holidays, oftentimes alone with nowhere to go. This ministry gives them an alternative to that.”
The Petro truckers ministry is part of a nationwide effort that provides church services in hundreds of truck stops. Snyder said the mission of the local ministry is to introduce people to Jesus Christ. If they’re already believers, the next step is to edify them, guide and teach them and provide prayer support, Snyder said.
“We try to do whatever we can do to help them along their journey,” he added.
Typically, services begin at 7 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. Sundays with worship. Several area musicians, including Frank and Bonnie Hetzel of Lake Milton, Deanna Bollas of Holland Township, Flo Gad of Weathersfield Township and Kelly Williams of Mineral Ridge, help start each service in song. Snyder then ministers with a message and offers attendees an opportunity to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, rededicate their lives to him, visit with him or other participants or receive a word of prayer.
“Every service is different,” explained Ron Shank, a local truck driver who attends the Petro services regularly and ministers to fellow drivers. “We just trust in the moving of the Holy Spirit to bring people in, to reach out to them during the service and to lift them up and encourage them.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for ministry and an opportunity for the drivers to come in off the road, meet people, fellowship with other believers, and to hear the word of God in a sincere voice and comfortable setting.”
Any given Sunday morning or Thursday evening, Snyder will pause in the middle of a message and turn his eyes to the back of the theater as drivers peek in to see what’s going on.
“Come on in brother, come on in,” he encourages each driver individually. “You’re welcome here. Come on in.”
The music often overflows into the truck stop lobby, moving some drivers into the congregation. Others listen intently as Snyder shares his own experiences in the world before becoming a Christian and his passion for Jesus. A dozen or so drivers are easily drawn into each service.
Some folks come in and join the assembly. Others step back, but linger at the benches several feet from the door, where they’re still able to hear some of what’s being sung and said inside.
“It’s a come-as-you-are ministry,” Snyder explained. “We know there are a lot drivers out there who are away from home and needing and wanting a place to find refuge from the highway and fellowship with other drivers and other Christians. They’re missing their families and home churches and friends, but this gives them a place to come when they’re in the area. A place to pray and worship.
“We welcome any truck drivers who are interested to come and join us. We welcome any truck drivers who may not quite know how they feel about a truck stop ministry to come and see that the Lord is good.”
Services start at 9 a.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Thursdays. More information is available by contacting Snyder at (330) 360-7346.