Sharing the gospel on the highway

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 24th. We’re so glad you’ve joined us today for The World and Everything in It.  Good morning to you!  I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next up: Driving a big rig. 

Trucking is an industry that is a crucial part of our economy: big rigs move some 70 percent of all the freight in the United States.

But the industry is struggling to keep jobs filled. Drivers are starting to age out at the same time demand for quick transport is increasing. WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson talked with a long-time truck driver who sees his work as more than just a job.

WOODIEL: My name is Kenny Woodiel. I drive a truck for Saia Motor Freight, been driving for 32 years, and this is my mission field the Lord’s got me in.

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: At age 55, Kenny Woodiel stands solid and smiling beside an idling 18-wheeler. He’s a trucker who’s paid his dues, beginning with three years of long hauls as a rookie. He’s seen 48 states through his windshield. 

WOODIEL: How somebody can drive a truck and not know there’s a God? Ah, I’ve seen the sunset coming over the desert. It was just magical. I’ve seen stars shooting across the mountains in Montana… 

The father of five worked his way up to week-long stints, then did night runs for 18 years. Now, with seniority, Woodiel has a plumb pick—a daily run from Memphis, Tennessee, to Mt. Vernon, Illinois. That means he’s up at 4:15 each morning to drive 528 miles round trip. But he likes coming home every night to his wife.

WOODIEL: Like I said…being a trucker, in the early stages of your life, you’re going to miss a lot of stuff. I’ve missed a lot of stuff. 

When we climb into the truck, it’s clear Woodiel’s in his element.

WOODIEL: What about it out there? Anybody got a copy? (static reply)

Most of us never see the inside of an 18-wheeler. There are more dials on the dash than in a watch factory. 

WOODIEL: Your braking system right here. Your gauges tell you your air pressure, your oil pressure, your airbag pressure . . . 

While he’s pointing out the basics, Woodiel lands on some newer tools of the trade.  

WOODIEL: We got a Bendix up here that tells how fast somebody’s going in front of us, how many feet we are from them. I got lane deviators. If I go across a line, it’ll “brrrr” and let you know… Got a camera facing me, filming me. If it triggers something, an accident or something, it’s going to film what I’m doing, and it’s going to film what happened in front of us. It’s big brother riding with us. 

E-logging regulations hit the industry in 2017, leading many older truckers to seek retirement. But Woodiel welcomed the changes. 

WOODIEL: Anytime this truck moves, it’s going to log on. You cannot move it without a log and let them know. So you’re going to have to run the legal now—11 hours and you need to stop. There was times in my career I would probably drive 20, 22 hours non- stop . . . it was very unsafe.

Still, 11 hours is a long stretch. Woodiel says the key for him is grasping opportunities, like the opportunity to spend time alone with God. 

WOODIEL: I listen to a lot of preaching and a lot of praise songs. I bet some people think I’m a nut. They’re liable to drive by me, and I got a good praise song, I’ve got my hands raised up. Uh, I mean, there’s times that God’s just so evident, so powerful in my truck . . .

One of those powerful times happened six months ago, when Woodiel was going through a trial. In his Bible, he read Paul’s admonition to examine yourself.

WOODIEL: I knew I had 10 hours to drive. I said, “All right, God, I’m gonna turn the radio off. I’m turning everything off. I’m going to give you this 10 hours.” And I took inventory of myself . . . And when I got back to Memphis and climbed out of that truck, I was a different man. And I give God all the glory. 

A 32-year trucking career means Woodiel has come upon his share of wrecks. He’s held the hands of traumatized victims and comforted hysterical mamas. One middle-of-the-night scene just outside Monroe, Louisiana, left him with nightmares. It was a head-on collision, and he discovered a haunting fatality with his flashlight.     

WOODIEL: It weren’t for God, counseling, and loving on me and, and seeing me through it . . . I was ready to quit driving. I was young in my driving career, and I’ve never forgot that.

It’s made him a safer driver. But road rudeness is a growing problem, and it can be a challenge to keep a right attitude amid all the crude gestures and profanity. He has some advice for drivers sharing lanes with big rigs. 

WOODIEL: Just be patient, be kind and be politeful out there. We’re all driving the same interstates, and 10 more miles an hour ain’t going to get you there quicker. [Sound of truck’s air brakes]

Woodiel sees his job as an opportunity to impact others. At a truck stop, he asks his waitress how he can pray for her when he says a blessing over his meal. When he fuels up, he shares the gospel with the guy at a nearby pump. Sometimes he’s not even aware of who’s listening.       

WOODIEL: About two years later, a guy come up to me, he said, “Man, I don’t know if you remember this, he said, but you was talking to this guy about the Lord.” He said, “And I was listening.” He said, “When I got home, I told my wife: “we’ve got to go to church. I want to get in church, I want to get saved, and I want this Jesus…”

Woodiel teaches Sunday School and volunteers at a soup kitchen in downtown Memphis. But he says trucking is where God uses him most.  

WOODIEL: I haul a lot of freight in them trailers, but what my main goal is the seeds that I’m hauling to sprout, to spread out there. It’s up to God to harvest, but I’m spreading the seeds.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Nesbit, Mississippi.

(Photo/Kim Henderson)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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