Man On a Mission
by Jim Park
He reads and writes classical Greek and Hebrew. He speaks some Punjabi, some Tamil, and a bit of both Spanish and French. He's done missionary work in five countries, has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Philosophy, and is halfway through a Master's degree. That's quite a list of accomplishments for a trucker who once ran with Hamilton's infamous Parkdale Gang, shoplifting and committing other petty crimes.
That was in 1939, when Jim Carne was just a gangly, uncertain nine-year-old. At about the time the gang was getting into more serious mischief like housebreaking, Carne came across a small circle of people singing on a street corner one afternoon, three lots over from where he lived. They were a group of Free Methodists who had ventured to what was then the outskirts of the city to explore the possibilities of opening another church. That fall, the group erected a modest frame building in his neighborhood, and Carne found himself a second home.
Then one day, at the tender age of 13, the pastor asked him if he'd like to preach. That was a turning point in Carne's life: the light had come on. He left Hamilton to attend a Free Methodist boarding school in Port Credit, Ont. (now part of Mississauga), left the school at the age of 19 after several attempts at finishing grade 13, and accepted his first posting to a church in Windsor, Ont. The church started him at $1.55 per week (eggs, Carne notes were 80 cents a dozen at the time), but within three months had managed to get that up to $15.00 per week. Following what he described as a pretty discouraging experience, he quit and went home, leaving behind all his furniture and thinking that he'd never preach again.
Today, at 73, Carne is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Missionary Church and a semi-professional truck driver - 'semi' because he spends only about half his time behind the wheel. His other work occupies a great deal more of his attention, even though he's technically busy only on some Sunday mornings. But the work that few people ever see a preacher doing is where the full-time commitment lies, and quite a commitment it is. Carne's life revolves around his work. In fact, one could say that his work is his life.
He calls himself just an old-fashioned preacher, but in fact he's a Biblical scholar of sorts. He's not a full-blown theologian by any means, but his degree confers a level of knowledge and understanding that brings credibility. He earned that degree many years ago after packing up his family - wife Lorraine, and their four-month-old daughter Sharon - and enrolling at Roberts Wesleyan College near Rochester, N.Y.
"I never set out to become a preacher, but something inside was driving me," he says. "All I did was respond to an invitation to walk through an open door."
Prior to his formal graduation, he was called to preach on Sundays at a church in Welland, Ont., near Niagara Falls, and the die was cast.
Following a decade or more of serving several different communities in southern Ontario, and having successfully pastored a church in Niagara Falls, Carne decided it was time for a change of pace. One of his parishioners had a trucking business and offered him work as a driver, delivering travel trailers on a lowboy. He had earned some trucking experience as a route sales driver with Lake Simcoe Ice back in 1948, when the ice business was still a real going concern. Tractor-trailers were new to him in 1971, but with nothing more than a week's instruction, he took off for Halifax, with a stop in Quebec City to do a little sightseeing with the family.
The stop in the Old Town of Quebec turned out to be quite an experience. The art of backing up was still a mystery to Carne. Driving into Quebec was easy; getting turned around to get back out again was another story. He did eventually make it out, after having redesigned some of the equipment. There were no logbooks back then, and sleepers weren't common, so a year's worth of driving 'til he dropped, and sleeping between the seats, was just about enough. That gig lasted only a year.
He returned to the church in Hamilton that he had helped to build 30 years earlier, and stayed on there for the next 13 years. Then, feeling it was time for another change of pace, Carne moved his family north to join his second eldest daughter, Yvonne and her family, at their home in Clarksburg, Ont., about 10 miles west of Collingwood on the south shore of Georgian Bay.
He took up trucking again, this time working for Sam Dinsmore Transport in Clarksburg and Breadner Transport in Meaford. Overall he found that working for a transport company was quite a bit different from the work he'd done earlier hauling travel trailers. Diesel engines, sliding bogies, and two-speed landing-gear cranks were all new to him, and he even admits to confusing - more than a few times - which air line connected to which gladhand. But then haven't we all?
Carne's propensity for diving into situations and learning as he sank has also served him well on the many missionary trips he has made over the years. He's been to Israel, Haiti, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, and Mexico, some more than once.
On each trip, he brought certain skills to the team and always came away with more than he had when he arrived. Block-laying, a skill acquired while working in construction as a teen, helped him build churches in Nigeria, Haiti, and Mexico, while his knack for repairing cars has helped pretty well everywhere he's gone.
"On trips like those, I quickly learned that if you can't do everything, you can't do anything," he says. "Who's going to come out to fix a car in the middle of the jungle?"
His last permanent posting was at a church in Auburn, Ont., near Goderich. He helped grow that ministry from 40 to 175 people and saw a daughter church established in the nearby town of Clinton. Four hours after he formally retired, he got a call from a friend who had a truck on with Veri Trucking, saying he needed some help - his driver had quit. That gig lasted a year, and all the while he was still getting calls to preach.
Carne is currently driving part-time for two different outfits, Rienhart Foods in Collingwood, Ont., and for an owner-operator who works for Forward Air Freight, hauling between Toronto and Columbus, Ohio. He splits his time between the two companies and still does plenty of part-time work in the pulpit. At the end of May, he's embarking on yet another course in his diverse and interesting life: he's to become the chaplain aboard a cruise ship traveling to places like Spain, France, Portugal and Scandinavia, visiting some of the major capitals of Europe.
Like most of his missionary work, the cost of the cruise ship posting comes out of his own pocket, including the airfare and a modest charge for the time on board. The chaplaincy is voluntary. Some of his other trips haven't been quite as lavish. While in Nigeria, Carne says he stayed in a resort, which really means he had a bed and running water. The missionary teams often stay in camps, sleeping on the ground, as was the case in Mexico. In Haiti, they drifted off to sleep under the stars, to the beating of voodoo drums coming from the village.
"There's something about serving that brings its own rewards in terms of the people you get to know and the experiences you have," he says. "Having never really wanted to become a preacher, I've always looked for opportunities to help people. I'm not a leader, or a boss, I just have a great desire to help others."
Carne says he's led a blessed life in being able to do that and drive as well. "I don't ever remember actually considering what I'd do when I retired, but it didn't come as any surprise when only four hours after I did retire, I got an invitation to do what I still like doing most: driving. I like it so much that I'm still surprised when they pay me."
At 73, Carne appears fit as a fiddle, and despite being required to re-write his driving test every year, and do the in-truck portion of the test as well, he has no plans to 're-retire' any time soon.