Local minister uses truck to 'spark' interest in his message

February 27, 2004|GARY MOYERS

The Rev. Ben Sparks is developing a mobile network of followers for his Living Water Ministries.

The Perryville Road resident has been driving a truck for 36 years, the last several of which have been spent driving to the West Coast and back once a week. Eight months ago he began taping some of his services for distribution on his route, and his ministry keeps growing.

"The tape ministry is producing fruit," he said. "I see my job as a ministry. There are a lot of people out there looking for something. They're just going along their way, not really knowing where or why, and it's my calling to try to give them a look in the right direction."

Sparks said he has handed out approximately 3,500 tapes in those eight months, all of them produced in a room in his house on a dubbing machine.


"Don and Marie Garland are my right hands," he said. "Don puts the labels on the tapes and Marie plays the piano and is the unofficial secretary. I couldn't do this without their help."

"This particular ministry began when I made a tape and gave it to my nephew, who gave it to his pastor in Akron, Ohio," he said. "That pastor asked me to come up and speak to the congregation, and from there it's kind of grown from there."

Sparks records his messages -- he prefers not to call them sermons - during prayer group meetings at his home on Saturday evenings, and when he speaks at churches.

"I believe I have a message of peace," he said. "Taking the gospel of Christ outside the main stream, where you walk, speak, live and work every day. That's what I'm trying to do."

Sparks declines to put a label on his beliefs, saying he's definitely non-denominational.

"I've never felt comfortable in a traditional denomination," he said. "I guess I'm a square peg trying to squeeze in a round hole sometimes."

Sparks said his call to the ministry began many years ago, but took root at a service in Ohio a few years ago.

He'd been searching for "something" for years

Sparks said he'd been searching for "something" since he ran away from home at 10, and spent years on the rough side in Muncie, Ind. He lied about his age in 1955 and joined the Navy at 15, but was kicked out a year later when his true age was discovered. He was drafted into the Army at 18 and spent the next four years in Germany. After discharge, he joined the Naval Reserve, but was called to active duty and served a four-year hitch in Vietnam.

"All that time, I tried all kinds of religions," he said. "All of them, just about. But, I never really found where I fit.

"About six years ago, my wife, Ruby, asked me to go hear my son, Jeff, speak at a local church," he said. "It hit me that night, right there in that church. I cried, and I don't think I've ever done that in public before. I went to the altar and committed myself that very night.

"I said to myself I'd been living on the outside and I want to go to inside," he said. "Really, from that day on, I've felt a strong calling. Since then, I don't question what the Lord tells me to do. A ministry is a heart condition. He gets in your heart and stays there, and you trust him to show you the way."

A primary focus for Sparks' ministry, naturally, has been truck drivers.

"I've been dropping my tapes off at two or three spots across the country, and truckers pick them up and listen while they're driving," he said. "Then they pass them on to other people, or simply leave them by phones at truck stops. I've heard from people in all over the country who tell me they found one of my tapes here and there."

He receives letters and phone calls on an almost daily basis from people across the country who either picked up one of his tapes from a truck stop or were given one by a trucker.

"The rewarding part for me is the phone calls and letters from people who picked up one of my tapes and it touched them somehow," he said. "It's funny, I got a call just the other day from a man who picked up a truck in Phoenix, and the truck had two of my tapes inside. He told me he listened to the tapes for several days, over and over, and then he went home, was saved and joined a church. Stories like that convince me what I'm doing is helping people in some small way."

Sparks does not ask for donations, but people send him money anyway.

"If people feel the need to send me money, that's their choice," he said. "I turn it around to produce more tapes to get the message out even more."

At age 63 with 36 years on the road already behind him, Sparks said he doesn't foresee a time when he won't be reaching out to people.

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