Reaching out to lonely truckers: Wytheville District lay speaker creates truck-stop CD ministry

Reaching out to lonely truckers: Wytheville District lay speaker creates truck-stop CD ministry

WOODLAWN, Va. -- Life on the road gets lonely for long-distance truck drivers. That’s what Wilma Foreman’s husband used to tell her when he drove a regular route from his home in southwest Virginia to the west coast.

At truck stops along the way, David Foreman noticed the free CDs left by various evangelical groups. He often picked them up and brought them home for his ailing mother-in-law.

When Wilma Foreman first listened to the sermonizing CDs, she immediately noticed something: “David never brought home any women speakers,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if truck drivers would receive a message from a woman.”

Four years ago, Wilma Foreman felt a strong call to be that friendly female voice sharing the Good News with lonely truckers. Today, she has a small network of prayer partners, financial and music contributors, and  truck-driving delivery men who have helped her get 10 different messages spread all over the country into 2,500 CDs.

“Wilma takes seriously the Great Commission to go into the world and preach the Gospel,” says the Rev. Gloria Rhudy, Foreman’s pastor at Woodlawn United Methodist Church. The trucker CDs were the perfect outlet for the passion that emerged soon after Foreman and her family joined the Woodlawn congregation in 2005.

“Sermons came pouring from her, and she no idea what to do with them,” Rhudy says. With encouragement from her then-pastor, the Rev. Terri Johnson Gregory, Foreman received training to become a certified lay speaker.

Going on the road

Wilma Foreman didn’t attend church as a child but her mother was a Christian who taught Christian principles to her five daughters. She was 19 and working in a diner when seeing the Rev. Billy Graham preach on TV led her to privately kneel and profess her faith to Jesus Christ. She began attending a Church of God, followed by a Missionary Baptist church, where she was baptized.

At age 23 she met David Foreman, a United Methodist, while working in a textiles factory. They married and had three children. Through years of trials -- including the raising of a child with Down Syndrome and her own bout with melanoma – Foreman’s faith stayed strong, says her twin sister, Wanda Dunford.

“She never wavered,” Dunford said. “Even when she was a very small child, I remember her love for a picture our mother had, of Jesus on the cross.”

Years later, Foreman’s mother was sick with congestive heart failure when her husband began bringing home the Christian CDs discovered on his truck route from Virginia to Oklahoma, Arizona, and California.

“She never listened to the CDs, but she loved the preaching on TV,” Wilma Foreman says of her mother. “Her last days were her best days. She realized God loved her.”

Edna Golding Davis died in November 2006 at the age of 83. Her daughter preached publicly for the first time at her funeral.

After the funeral, Wilma Foreman sat down and listened to all the CDs her mother never heard – and finally knew what to do with the words that welled inside her.

“The Lord called me into ministry right then and there,” she says. “I knew that my sermons needed to go on the road.”

There was only one problem. Foreman immediately called her pastor to ask, “Do I need to be ordained to do this?” Pastor Gregory responded that anybody can share the word of God.

“She preached to her washer and dryer for years before she got up the courage to put her messages on CDs,” says Gregory, laughing. “We are very proud of Wilma and her family, too.” Gregory is now pastor at First United Methodist Church in Independence, Va.  

Until she came to Woodlawn UMC, Foreman had never even seen a female pastor before. Gregory, followed by Rhudy, turned out to be her mentors.

“It was all so new to me – I had so many questions,” Foreman says. “You have to give the United Methodist Church an A-plus for that, for being so accepting of women in ministry. I was so impressed with that.”

Coming from the heart

Foreman’s first CD sermon, “God’s Unconditional Love” was about her mother and deemed too personal by her family, so Foreman never distributed it. Her second CD, “Expect the Unexpected,” was about the gift of her first child, David, who has Down Syndrome. A friend, Bobby Patterson, let Foreman use his recording studio for free. People from her church or community gave money for production costs or offered to record praise songs to go with the words.

David Foreman took his wife’s sermons out on his company’s route, asking truck stop managers if he could leave 10 to 15 CDs near ATMs, public telephones, or in the occasional onsite chapel. His request was rarely denied.

“Some of these truck stops are rough places where ladies of the night hang out,” David Foreman says. “I struck up a lot of conversations with people and found out there was a lot of need for these CDs.”

When Wilma Foreman started talking about her new ministry at her factory job, her co-worker and friend Shirley Templeton committed to praying with her.  

“It really sounded like a wonderful idea,” said Templeton, whose sister and co-worker Katey Cochran also became a prayer partner. “We pray for every person who picks up a CD, and not for the message to just stop there, but to have a rippling effect.”

As the CDs disappeared along David Foreman’s route, he replaced them with his wife’s latest message on return trips. Just before he developed health problems and lost his driving job, a second delivery person was enlisted: David Coe, whose work took him in a different direction through the Carolinas, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Like Foreman, Coe also found it easy to get permission to place the CDs at trucks stops along the way.

“By the time I would take a shower and get something to eat, the CDs I left an hour ago were already gone,” says Coe. “I think it’s the way Wilma comes across. It’s like she’s talking straight at you. You know it’s coming from the heart.”

“The CDs are so prayed for, so anointed when they go out,” says the shy lay speaker, who doesn’t see her ministry as a one-woman show but as a group effort. “When the donations come in, I know it’s time to make another CD. Just this week I received $200.” The 11th CD is already in the works.

With the support of her church, community, and co-workers, Foreman now has the equipment at home to do most of the production and packaging of the CDs herself. Her lay speaking ministry has expanded, too. She often assists her pastor at Woodlawn and has preached at churches in the Wytheville District. Her CDs – especially the Christmas messages – are sometimes followed by personal thank-you notes from grateful listeners.

“When you think about women and truck drivers, you might be surprised they would even listen to me,” says Foreman, age 47. “But Jesus would have died for just one person. If one person is led to Jesus Christ through this ministry, then it’s all worth it.”

David Foreman and David Coe, on the other hand, say they are not surprised that truckers can find warmth and hope in the wise words of a woman from Woodlawn.

“I did a lot of praying out on the road when I was a trucker,” Foreman says. “The scales, the weather, trying to get back home to your family, the schedule, the DOT [department of transportation] … it’s a stressful life.”

“It is a stressful life,” Coe confirms. “You’re living and working in a tug-of-war between the government, the customer, and the company. A lot of truckers may not live the Christian life, but they believe in God. My part in this ministry is easy, but I’m glad to be doing it.”