It was while truck driver Murray Reedie was locked down in a little donga (temporary cabin) on a mining camp in the Pilbara in Western Australia that he began to review his life. The lifelong Christian had little else to do but pray and read his Bible, which led him to think about doing something for God.
“It was the time of the COVID. I got stuck in Western Australia for over four months in a mining camp. When I say stuck, I could have left. But if I left, Western Australia wouldn’t have let me back in again, and that’s where my work was at the time,” he recalls.
“So it was just easier to stay there. But as I was staying there, in the very high temperatures of the Pilbara in Western Australia and seeing there’s some ungodly behaviour in those mining camps … it made me think about what was important in life, stuck in this room, away from my wife and kids, living in a donga that was three metres by three metres.”
After 45 years of working in one of the most dangerous industries in the country, and driving millions of kilometres, Murray realised he was lucky to be alive. This sense of gratitude made him want to take the Lord more seriously and do something for his fellow truckies. He personally knew of 14 truckies who had lost their lives in recent years, either through accidents or suicide. The loneliness and isolation from being away from home for a week at a time had led to many failed marriages, while the costs of running a truck and paying road fines had led many to bankruptcy.
It dawned on Murray that his Christian journey mirrored that of his truckie life – he knew where he was going to be the next night, but not by the end of the week.
“I’ve been a Christian all my life, but not a very good one. And I think for many decades, God would say that I didn’t know where I was going. He knew where I was going. And I use that analogy of the drivers leaving on a Sunday afternoon. They know where they’re going that night, but they don’t really know where they’re going for the rest of the week.”
“For many decades, God would say that I didn’t know where I was going.”
During lockdown in the Pilbara, Murray realised that if he wanted to give back something to the Lord, he should do so in his own industry. So he spoke to Transport for Christ Australia (TFCA) leader John Wheeler about helping with TFCA.
Transport for Christ Australia is an interdenominational chaplaincy serving the trucking community, which began in Australia in 1972, based on a Canadian model. TFCA prints 9000 copies of its Highway Evangelist newsletters every quarter, distributed across Australia.
John Wheeler told Murray he’d be happy to have him on board, but he had to get some theological knowledge. So despite the fact that he was schooled to only Year 10, Murray enrolled at Sydney’s Moore College to undertake an Advanced Diploma of Bible, Ministry and Mission. With the help of God, and support from academic staff and other students, he’s almost finished.
“The whole essay thing was terribly daunting. I look back at my first essay and I can see what I did wrong with it,” he says.
“Look, it’s been challenging. There’s been times when I’ve been in tears, thinking ‘I can’t go on.’ There’s been a couple of times when I’ve wanted to pull out. But I’ve now successfully passed eight units and I’ve got two to go.”
For Murray, the best thing about studying biblical theology has been the confidence it’s given him to answer anyone’s tricky questions about the Bible.
“At Moore College, we’ve learned that the Old Testament keeps pointing towards a coming Messiah … That gives you a better perspective of what the Bible’s all about,” he says.
“A lot of our evangelising with Transport for Christ is to just walk up to guys when we are in a line waiting and unloading our trucks and use that opportunity where there’s 30 minutes when he’s not going to move up to his spot … Every couple of weeks I get an opportunity to have a real good conversation.”
“You have a certain authenticity when you get out of a truck.”
Continuing to work as a long-haul truckie gives Murray credibility in an industry that employs 400,000 people in Australia.
“The perfect business model for an evangelist for our people would be a truck driver who gets to talk to guys out on the road. You have a certain authenticity when you get out of a truck. A lot of ministers or lecturers from Moore would struggle to walk up to a truckie and engage with them. But because we know the life, it gives us that opening.”
Murray says truck drivers often get depressed because it’s very easy to have negative thoughts when on your own for long stretches, particularly towards the end of the week when they’re tired and lonely.
“So if I strike the same driver a few times and I feel he, or she, is being negative, I will say to them, ‘Do you ever stop and think about what you’ve got to be thankful for in life?’
“It’s so easy to not realise what you should be thankful for – food on the table, the ability to pay a bill, your wife looking after your kids, the fact that as you’re driving down the road, you see all that wonderful creation and you know that God’s put it there.”
Murray says the average age of truckies now is over 55. “Young people don’t want to go into it because they realise that it’s not a great lifestyle,” he says.
“My wife and I some years ago bought a B-double truck, that was a truck with two trailers. Our repayments were $6000 a month. Now as well as that you’ve got house repayments or rent. You’ve got fuel bills, which are thousands of dollars a month. You don’t get paid for anything up to three months, depending who you work for … So you can get into money troubles. Then you might lose your house because an owner-driver usually has to use his house for collateral to buy a truck.”
“I will say to them, ‘Do you ever stop and think about what you’ve got to be thankful for in life?’”
On top of that, road fines are very high. “Our fines are higher than car-driver fines because we’re considered professionals and they’re trying to keep us in line. So, you get a couple of $600 fines in the same month or even the same week, your girlfriend or your wife will be saying to you, ‘Why are you even doing this job? You’re not here for me. And then you’ve earned $1500 for the week and we’ve just lost a thousand dollars in fines?’ And that’s a reality. I don’t get a lot of fines – maybe it’s the Lord looking after me – but I’m a bit more experienced. The older you get, the more experience you get and you’re better at trying to stay out of trouble.”
Murray knows from his own experience how easy it is for truck drivers to be very selfish and how much of a barrier this can be to bringing them to the Lord.
“When you’re tired and you’re out there, and you’re worried about your next truck repayment, and you’re worried about getting your next load because you’re halfway to Adelaide and you haven’t even been able to find a load to get out of Adelaide, you tend to be thinking all about what you need, what you want, what you need to get through the week, to get that load to get you back home.
“They’re very self-sufficient because they have to be and when you’re self-sufficient, you’re not going to trust the Lord. We [Christians] understand that the Lord’s got a plan and nothing happens without his will. You could tell a truckie that, but he might think you’re a bit of a nut job, you know?
“But our Queensland rep at Transport for Christ, Shawn Slade, always says, ‘All you can do is put a bit of the jigsaw puzzle down and if you’re really lucky, you might be the one to put down the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.’”
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