Chaplaincy endorsement opens ministry opportunities outside the church.

To Scores of School Bus Drivers, His Name is Pastor Donuts

Chaplain Paul Ransberger, who is also a part-time minister, has found donuts to be an open door to blessing others and, surprisingly, himself.
Dan Van Veen
When the 90 or so school bus drivers for the Lindale Independent School District (LISD) in east Texas arrive at the transportation center (bus barn) for their monthly safety meeting, they typically arrive with an air of expectation. That expectation often breaks into an open smile when they see Chaplain Paul Ransberger milling about among the other drivers.

But Ransberger isn’t the name most of the drivers know him by — to them, he’s the beloved “Pastor Donuts.”

School bus drivers, for the most part, are greatly underappreciated and rarely recognized. However, every month Ransberger shows up with dozens and dozens of donuts for the drivers to enjoy. He also arrives early to interact with the drivers and socialize, and then he shares a brief inspirational message and prayer with the drivers.

“He relates to everyone,” says Pete Ridge, LISD transportation manager. “Male, female, white, black, Hispanic, the youngest (19) to the oldest (78) — everyone loves him!”

But what the drivers may not realize is, Ransberger believes he receives a bigger blessing through the ministry than the drivers do!

MINISTRY

Ransberger, who is 71, and his wife, Susan, have spent most of their lives in small-church rural ministry — meaning working another job(s) to pay bills and keep food on the table.

In addition to ministering in the church and community, Ransberger became an endorsed prison ministry chaplain in 1994 with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He retired from full-time prison chaplaincy in 2010 (moving to part-time jail and prison ministry) while continuing to pastor Lindale Assembly of God until 2021, at which time he retired from the pastorate, but continued ministering as a chaplain.

In 2018, he started the donut ministry, but it wasn’t long after that when he realized the time was coming for him to step down at Lindale AG as the church needed a fresh start. He sought out Brad Williams, the pastor of The Church of Garden Valley, a relatively nearby thriving rural church averaging 800, about making the Lindale church a satellite campus.

“I prayed about it, and I thought the Lord was encouraging us to take it on,” Williams says. “It was about 15 minutes from our campus, and I had a pastor that could step in to minister to that congregation. We remodeled the entire facility, and now the Lindale campus has grown from about 20 to running 175 on Sundays — and it’s continuing to grow.”

Ransberger says that after retiring he and Susan were planning on continuing doing some prison ministry and creating additional easy-to-understand evangelism and discipleship materials. But then the Lord spoke to Williams.

“The night pastor Paul was stepping down (his final service), the Lord laid it upon my heart to hire him,” Williams says. “I thought, But God, he’s retiring today, why hire him?” But God just kept repeating His direction.

“That Sunday morning, I had announced my resignation and retirement,” Ransberger says, then adds with a laugh, “I was retired for about seven hours.”

OBEDIENCE

Ransberger and Williams were each obedient to God’s direction and it has resulted in unimagined blessings for Ransberger and the church.

“Too many times, older ministers stay in the pulpit too long simply because they can’t leave,” Williams observes. “They’ve sacrificed all their lives to serve, but now, especially in smaller churches, even when they know it’s time to resign from full-time pulpit ministry, they can’t — they have no money, no retirement savings, and if the church provided a parsonage, no home (though that was not the case with the Ransbergers).”

Williams, 53, believes that it’s time for larger churches to look for opportunities to bring older senior pastors of small churches on staff with the main campus while also investing in the revitalization of the small church.

“These ministers may no longer be called to full-time pulpit ministry, but they have plenty of purpose and ministry left in them,” Williams says. “And that’s why pastor Paul is my hero — he’s doing what I want to be doing when God directs me to step back. I don’t want to overstay my time leading, but I want to remain in ministry.”

The Ransbergers, who have been creating discipleship materials for years, began that ministry with prisoners in mind. Following the advice of another chaplain, they wrote the materials on a fourth- to eighth-grade reading level as many prisoners were undereducated or had damaged their learning process through drug use. Those discipleship materials have also proven very beneficial to the fast-growing Garden Valley congregation.

“We’re a mile wide, but an inch deep,” Williams explains. “We have so many visitors as well as new Christians who are on fire for God, but have a very limited exposure to or understanding of the Bible. Pastor Paul and Susan’s materials — our people just can’t get enough of them!”

“Plain language has always been my style,” says Ransberger, who continues in jail ministry where he shares God’s Word and prays with 14 cell blocks every week. He and Susan also provide services for two senior and assisted-living homes on Wednesday evenings.

Williams notes that the Ransbergers provide comfortable relationship opportunities for seniors at the church as the couple also leads a Sunday School class that includes singing of gospel hymns.

“Our people are very supportive of our contemporary service,” Williams says, “but now, especially our seniors, they also have the opportunity to enjoy singing the songs and hymns more associated with a classical church service.”

CONTINUING MINISTRY

When “Pastor Donuts” came on as part-time staff at Garden Valley, Williams readily agreed to and even encouraged Ransberger to continue his ministry to the bus drivers, with the church providing a budget for providing donuts and other acts of kindness in the community.

And even though the Ransbergers are no longer in “full-time” ministry as some define it, they are involved in ministry daily through writing curriculum, jail ministry, teaching and interacting with congregation and community members, ministry to seniors, and of course, delivering donuts with a message.

Susan even has her own personal outreach — taking baggies of soap, quarters, and tracts to laundromats and gifting individual there with them, followed by the question, “Is there anything I can pray with you about?”

“If you’re in a laundromat, the chances are pretty good you’re there because something went wrong,” Paul Ransberger says. “It’s a very impactful ministry.”

And when COVID restricted entrance to the senior facilities, Susan began to develop a Bible study in a format like a church bulletin called Suzy’s Sermonettes. She started out printing 12 each for two facilities. These became so popular that the circulation has grown from 48 per month to over 500 per month, including the 320 per month that Paul distributes to the incarcerated.

But perhaps no group of people are happier that the Ransbergers are still active in ministry than the LISD bus drivers.

“Everybody pastor Paul comes in contact with thinks the world of him . . . he doesn’t push religion on our drivers — we have Jehovah Witness, Baptist, Methodist — all love him,” says Ridge, whose father is a Baptist minister. “If he ever stopped coming, people here would be seriously heart broken. It’s not just the donuts — he motivates them a lot.”

But for Ransberger, the blessing is all his.

“It’s hard to imagine something so small being so big to people,” he says, “but they need to know there’s a God and He loves them . . . and I tell you, when I’m out and I hear someone call out, ‘Hey, Pastor Donuts!’ it just blesses me so much (and it happens regularly).”

Ransberger then adds a personal message to senior ministers, noting that stepping back from leading a congregation is not the same thing as stepping away from ministry.

“Continuing in ministry has brought so much joy in my life,” says Ransberger, who was invited to speak at churches more than 20 times last year. “Just find a little ministry that you can do and watch how God blesses it. It just thrills me every week — who would think donuts would bring such a fulfillment and satisfaction in me? I get more out of it than the drivers do, and I just want to inspire older ministers so they don’t miss out!”