07/30/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT
From a distance Sam Rust's big 18-wheeler looks like any other tractor-trailer roaring down America's highways. Closer inspection, though, reveals his converted furniture van to be no engine of commerce but—improbably enough—a rolling chapel. Inside are a pulpit, kneeling rail and eight pews to accommodate 27 worshipers, plus a small "parsonage" with fold-down bed, shower bath and kitchenette.
And if Samuel Cornelius Rust II, 45, has the look of just another burly trucker with 22 years of roadwork behind him, he too turns out to be something more. Ordained in 1963 as a minister in the one-million-plus-member Assemblies of God Church, he could be said to have a long-haul view of his calling.
From his home near Bedford, Pa. Rust has sortied across U.S. and Canadian highways in search of wayward souls. On a recent three-week swing, he welcomed some 600 into his mobile tabernacle, showed them a 20-minute highway safety film and wound up with an old-time-religion appeal. "I ask 'em," says "Chaplain Sam" (his CB handle), "how many drivers would like the hand of the Lord on their wheel. Most all of them raise their hands."
Married 24 years and the father of three, Rust spent $36,000 on his rig. Church support and contributions have kept his Headlight in Trucking, Inc. on the road for over 10,000 miles (at five miles per gallon of diesel fuel). He is dismayed by some notorious truck stops that "offer all kinds of sin, from drinking to women and pills." And while he usually gets friendly greetings, there is still considerable resistance. "They see this rig, and a lot of them give me the finger," he laments. Undetoured, he figures he is "doing the Lord's work, and the Lord will prevail."