Theo Catsoulis started driving trucks in 1967. In nearly 50 years on the road, he has learned a lot about the beauty and the hardship of the truckie life. Now semi-retired, he has taken on the mission of helping truck drivers overcome the isolation and depression they often suffer, and showing them that even on the road, they are never alone.
When Vision’s Shelley Scowen asked what he loved about being a truckie, Theo simply said “freedom”. It’s more a taste for scenery than a distaste for working in an office. “You carry it with you, behind you, around you. You’re surrounded by your office, so to speak.”
Theo said that poet Dorothea Mackellar had it right in her ode to Australia’s beauty, My Country. “I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains. We have such a diversity of God’s creation in this country. Tropical rainforests, semi-tropical, barren. It’s just an amazing country. And to see it through the eyes of a windshield, and out the side window, it just makes you proud to be an Aussie, but it also makes you look at the wonder of God’s creation, and what he’s given us.”
“Just before dawn, it’s amazing,” he said. “Just before the first ray of sunlight actually hits, the Earth goes quiet, just for a split second, and there’s not a cicada, there’s not a bird. And just as that first ray of sunlight starts to come across the horizon, it’s like the birds usher in a new day.”
Along with that beauty and freedom comes a lot of time to yourself, which can be a blessing or a curse. Theo described what he called white line fever, a trance like state drivers fall into, following the road for thousands of kilometres, if there is one. Traversing such long distances without human connection can take its toll.
Theo remembers arriving home and falling into bed after an unusually long absence. He woke the next morning when his wife brought his fourteen-month-old daughter to see him. But she only shook her head, having forgotten who he was while he was gone. He was heartbroken.
In the savage competition for speed, convenience and profit, in the punishing regulations, in the isolation and loneliness of the road, truckies can easily come to feel dehumanised and undervalued. Theo knows all too well the pain and damage that can cause. “Our greatest desire is to love and be loved,” he said. “And this is where God comes into it. We know that in John 3:16 He says that He gave His only son, and whoever shall believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Theo understands that no matter how far he is from home, however many miles are ahead of him, God is always with him. His mission is to let other truckies know that they’re never alone, and that someone died for their sins. Through bringing the Gospel to truck stops around the country, he hopes to improve the sense of well-being and self-worth in his industry.
“It’s important that we reach out to these guys, because they’ve got needs like anybody else, they’ve got emotions like everybody else. As I said, they want to be loved and love in return.”
I’ve seen a lot of guys’ marriages break up because of loneliness etc, and lack of love. And they’re looking for love in all the wrong places.
God showed Theo a vision of a mobile chapel in every state in Australia, designed to bring God to drivers on the road.
“Get around truck stops, pull up in parking bays, wherever, and just love on the guys. Just let them know there’s someone there, if they need someone to talk to.”
“You don’t get out a Bible and belt them over the head with it, by all means. You just gain their confidence, and say hey mate, how are you going. And the best thing, I’ve found, to get to any truckie, is talk about family. How’s your wife and kids doing? How long have you been away? You’d be surprised how they open up.”
Theo encourages us to approach truckies whenever we come across them, and show them how valued they really are. “You get to talk to them, and they’re decent people. They might appear big, rough, tough, but they’re soft as butter, especially when they start talking about the kids, I can tell you.”
In his conversation with Shelley Scowen, Theo spoke more about the increasing demands on drivers, and the difficulty of making an honest living. He also discussed his view that truckies’ reputation for being inconsiderate and dangerous is unfair. For all that and more, listen below.