EVANGELIZATION FROM A TRUCK
Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Piotr Jaskiernia, an 18-wheeled truck driver in the USA
Piotr Jaskiernia, a truck driver in the USA, left for America over 30 years ago. He and his wife were looking forward for a child. After 10 years Wiktoria was born in the 24th week of pregnancy. Her life was endangered. At that time they started praying, asking God. Today this ordinary man is an unusual apostle of prayer and engagement in religious life, and who is known among many surfers as ‘Hiob’.
FR. INF. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - Can you tell us, what the words said by you mean: I believe in God.
PIOTR JAKSIERNIA: - I was brought up in a Catholic family. My parents taught me to love God. However, when I was a teenager, I decided that there were more important things. Luckily, God never forgot about me. At the moment I think that being a Christian means that God is the most important. If we put Him in the first place in our life, then everything will be in their right places – both at work and in family life. Sometimes we fondle our children, spouses, house or cars too much and God is in the second plan. We are not happy then. Whereas if God is the most important in our life, then everything gains a suitable perspective and starts functioning well.
– What do you do every day?
– I live in the USA. I left Poland before the martial law in 1981 and started working as a truck driver – I drive this 18-wheeled vehicle. It is a very difficult work – not in itself but in respect of my family. For I am outside home for weeks and family problems must often be solved during phone calls. So, if it was not for my and my wife’s faith, it would be much more difficult for us to survive crisis. However, not only is everything possible with God, but also becomes easier.
– What does your religiousness look like and of your wife and children?
– When we arrived in the USA, we were fascinated by material things. We attended the Church on Sunday, but it was not a special matter for us. For example, sometimes we realised on Sunday afternoon, that we had not been to the church yet, and we ran there, not caring that the Holy Mass was in Spanish language. The Eucharist was important for us, but we did not understand the Divine Word. It looked a bit hypocritical from us, we performed our duty but there was no love to God in it. We had been unable to have children for 10 years of our marriage. Later, our daughter was born in the 24th week of pregnancy. She weighed 600 g and she did not have any chance to live from the medical point of view. It was the beginning of my deep conversion. Then for the first time, I sacrificed Wiktoria to Our Lady of Jasna Góra; I promised to undertake fasting in her intention and foot pilgrimage to Jasna Góra, if Mary saved her life.
Then I started feeling a big hunger of the Holy Scripture. Faith became very important and real part of my life. I did not stop speaking about it. The surprising thing was that what I had been ashamed of before, what I had treated as a private matter, changed completely. Now I know that it comes from love, because when one loves somebody, one is speaking about this person all the time. So, my faith becomes to be outer faith, I like talking about it, explaining why I believe, I like evangelizing.
Today also my 22-year-old daughter evangelizes, she runs online discussions about faith. My wife gives a testimony with her life. Working as a nurse, she never omits the Holy Mass on Saturdays or Sundays, although she has had 12-hour shift and has very little time before the next work shift.
– So, sometimes you talk with your family about God and religious matters…
– We often discuss about these issues, analyse Sunday liturgical readings, sermons. When children were small, they used to be given a dollar each, when they remembered the Gospel, a sermon, and later there was a discussion how they had understood it. We sometimes find something difficult to understand, it seems to us that God is too cruel, we do not understand the context and we are not able to understand a real essence of a message. Therefore we talk with one another and pray together. I the evening our whole family say a decade of the Rosary in the intention of an unborn baby, whom we adopt spiritually every year. So, we have theoretical discussions about faith and pray together in practice.
– God is alive and real in your consciousness…
– Lord Jesus is our personal Friend. It is not only a picture on the wall, by which he kneels and prays, but it is a very particular Person. We feel the presence of God among us nearly physically and we ask Him for help and advice. I do not have any mystical experiences, Lord Jesus does not whisper into my ear, but I feel Him as a particular Person.
– So, religious experience also concerns the man, and is based on the reason and the feeling…
– Benedict XVI in his encyclical ‘Deus caritas est’ emphasized these two aspects of love: a feeling and a decision and the latter one is more important. In the marriage sacrament it is difficult to promise only a feeling. If we promise somebody a feeling till death, then we promise something which we can influence, which means that it is also our decision. Love is what we do than what we feel, although one is connected with another, and are difficult to separate. So, it is necessary to make some decisions in life, and they are connected with feelings. They also result in duties. We cannot only say that we love Lord Jesus and that is all.
– How were you reaching the essence of your experiencing God?
– I think that the whole initiative belonged to God. He called me. The turning point was the birth of my daughter. I have already said that I felt then an unusual hunger of Lord Jesus and the Holy Scripture. Travelling around the USA, where most Christians do not belong to the Catholic Church, I had a difficult access, for example, to the Catholic radio station. So, I listened to many evangelical radio stations and I owe them and my protestant brothers so much, but I also learnt mistakes from them. I also started doubting and I was puzzled by some questions, which were very simple, for example, why we call priests the fathers if we read in the Bible: “Do not call anybody on Earth your father, as there is only one Father of yours, who is in Heaven’ (see Mt 23.9). This question is often ridiculous to me now, because Jesus calls Abraham the father, St. Paul calls himself the father, St. Szczepan addresses elderly Jews with the words before his death: brothers and fathers. If one knows the Holy Scripture, it is clear that Jesus spoke about something different, that real fatherhood comes from only God-Father; not from the rabbis who wanted to be called fathers as if they were the most important. Lord Jesus points out to a different context: real fatherhood comes from God. I did not know about it then and started negating some teaching of the Catholic Church, because nobody had explained it to me. But I was kept on searching. I started reading Catholic books, listen to testimonies of people proclaiming the Gospel, and who were the Catholics. I understood how much they had devoted themselves to it, because in the USA a Catholic is still a citizen of the worse category. So, if a ‘real’ American, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, who is a pastor, has a good job, gives lectures in a protestant seminary, decides to become a Catholic, and loses work, friends and has family problems, must have very serious reasons. This kind of people give excellent testimonies. For, the only argument which led them to the Catholic Church, is the truth which they uncovered in the Church. Thanks to these teachers I became not only a better Catholic believer but also a better man who knows well why the Catholic Church teaches what it teaches. I also read Church Fathers. My second name is Ignacy, after my grandfather, and as a child I was a bit ashamed of it. But today I am very grateful to St. Ignacy who called the Church the Catholic in the second century and I belong to this Church. I see that our Church has still been the same teaching for 2 thousand years. We are not chasing after sensational news which will change in 20 years anyway. The text of the letter of bishop Ignacy of Antiochia, written in the year 107 is the same as it would be written by many bishops today.
– What are you impressed by in the Catholic Church?
– The whole Church is beautiful, so St. Paul defines it as Lord’s Bride. Jesus is a Bridegroom and we – the Church – a Bride, mystically married to Him. We are really beautiful which does not however mean that we do not any more problems. Because the Church is not a museum of the Saints, but is a hospital for sinners. In this Church we are supposed to become saints. We are not perfect, each of us falls many times, but we are still beautiful because we belong to God.
– How do you, an fervent Catholic, see the value of holy sacraments?
– The most important sacrament for me is, surely, the Eucharist. This is a kind of time vehicle, a lift to Heaven. We are also in Heaven at the Holy Mass and at the cross of Jesus at Calvary. This is a centre, top and the source of Christianity. In my life, also the penance sacrament and reconciliation plays an essential role – confession for the soul is like a shower for the body. I see that I am changing into a better man, from an irritated and impatient man. Although the very moment of confession is not nice – it is a difficult experience because nobody likes confessing embarrassing things to somebody else – however, tears always appear in my eyes, when I hear: ‘Your sins have been forgiven’. Our protestant brothers do not have it. So, our road to salvation is much easier when we hear these words.
The Confirmation Sacrament is a very essential sacrament, received once a life. When I was younger, I did not understand it quite well, but I was trying to present it to my children as our conscious accepting faith. The Sacrament works with grace which comes to us. We must only open up to it.
– Where do you deepen your Catholic consciousness?
– I read a lot, there are many excellent Catholic books by, among the others, Vittiro Messori ‘Opinions about Jesus’- you read it as a thriller. Today the man has got a computer in which there is a lot of nonsense, which can make a brainwash. However, there are many valuable things, there are good Catholic newspapers, there are websites with Christian teaching, where it is possible to join discussions, there are excellent Catholic forums. I am trying to search these sources. In the USA we have also the good Catholic radio station EWTN which is the biggest Christian media in the world at present. It was founded by Mother Angelica when she was 58, so at the age when many people are thinking about their retirement. We must appreciate the influence of this radio on the Catholic Church in America.
– What is evangelization today?
– A particular idol today is materialism, which makes people indifferent to God and faith. This problem concerns the fact that some traditional methods of evangelization are not effective today. People who proclaimed the Gospel were usually priests, preachers, monks, but they find it difficult to reach to this big part of the society which went away from the church. Recently, I have met a priest who proclaims the Gospel, while walking on the beach. I think that the role of the laity in evangelization must get bigger. We must give a testimony at work, among our acquaintances, family, people who do not always go to the church, who do not turn on the Catholic radio and who will not buy a Catholic newspaper. I am quite active on internet. I have my own ‘You Tube’ channel and I can reach to a group of people, mostly men, who sometimes do not feel like going to the church. But this is a role of all of us, we must proclaim the Gospel. Maybe we do not always have to know theology, but we can only sometimes give a simple testimony, say what role Jesus played in my life, we can sometimes oppose to a joke which somebody tells us and at which we should not laugh.
– What does your internet testimony of faith look like?
– I have a computer programme in the truck, which reads entries of my friends. Travelling with me virtually, they can write on our website, the computer reads our entries and I answer them. It is not a religious website, we talk about everything: about trucks, about cities which we pass by, about work. We can talk on all topics except for politics. We are trying to create such an atmosphere where a chat about God will not raise aggression or scoffing. Evangelization is much more effective among friends, it is hard to talk to anybody in the street and start evangelizing. The person will turn round and go away. Whereas if we know somebody, if we talk to somebody, it is easier to pass the truth to this person.
I am not afraid of difficult questions from atheists, agnostics, people who doubt. There is a virtual truck also for them. There is a beautiful parable about Jesus and a seed thrown in into the soil. Depending on what soil it is, the seed may not give any fruit, or it will be overwhelmed by weeds or will be grabbed by predatory birds. However, if it gets onto the fertile soil, it will give hundredfold fruit. This soil must be prepared. Unfortunately, a big part of the society have a negative attitude towards faith, sometimes even an aggressive attitude. The problem is that we want to discuss faith in an intelligent, polite way, not scolding one another or stopping finding answers to difficult questions. I conduct to run such discussions in my virtual truck.