Robert Newberry, carrying a cross far left, and his wife Stephanie came up from Missouri nearly three years ago and settled into Watford City, where the population has exploded from 1,700 to 8,000 or more. Newberry is a licensed minister, evangelist and preacher and calls himself a Bible-believing, Scripture-quoting, sword-wielding spiritual warrior itching to go into battle. Photo courtesy of Robert Newberry

Pastors flock to North Dakota's oil boom to save souls

North Dakota has passed Alaska in domestic oil production and is now second to Texas, and daily production by 2017 is expected to nearly triple to 1.2 million barrels. Photo courtesy of Diocese of Bismark

North Dakota has passed Alaska in domestic oil production and is now second to Texas, and daily production by 2017 is expected to nearly triple to 1.2 million barrels. Photo courtesy of Diocese of Bismark


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) Sven Hauge goes every Thursday to the "man camps" surrounding the oil fields near Williston, N.D., and holds worship services that feature preaching, praying and singing. Sometimes a few men show up, and sometimes, nobody does.

“That can be discouraging if you put great importance on counting heads,” he said. “But most of us have learned that it isn’t about numbers. It’s about doing what the Lord has called us to do and being faithful about it.”

Three years ago, Hauge heard God calling him and other members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association to minister in the booming Bakken oil fields, where hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling pump out more than 450,000 barrels of oil a day.

North Dakota has passed Alaska in domestic oil production and is now second to Texas, and daily production by 2017 is expected to nearly triple to 1.2 million barrels. The United States Geological Survey estimates that 7.4 billion barrels of oil will be recovered before the boom plays out, and that’s already making the United States less dependent on foreign oil.

It takes a lot of people to fuel the boom -- thousands of them coming to towns like Williston and Watford City, which are now stretched to meet the needs of this mostly transient population. Some live in rows of man camps on the prairie; others park RVs in makeshift campgrounds or live in their cars. Few can afford housing in town.

The hard-working, lonely and boring lifestyle lends itself to all manner of sin and vice, and that makes it prime territory for an itinerant evangelist like Hauge. The results have been awesome, he said. Not big, but awesome.

“What’s one soul worth?” said Hauge, who said he's seen half a dozen men commit to following Jesus. “If you ask that question, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Robert Newberry, carrying a cross far left, and his wife Stephanie came up from Missouri nearly three years ago and settled into Watford City, where the population has exploded from 1,700 to 8,000 or more. Newberry is a licensed minister, evangelist and preacher and calls himself a Bible-believing, Scripture-quoting, sword-wielding spiritual warrior itching to go into battle. Photo courtesy of Robert Newberry

Robert Newberry, carrying a cross far left, and his wife, Stephanie, came up from Missouri nearly three years ago and settled into Watford City, where the population has exploded from 1,700 to 8,000 or more. Newberry is a licensed minister, evangelist and preacher and calls himself a Bible-believing, Scripture-quoting, sword-wielding spiritual warrior itching to go into battle. Photo courtesy of Robert Newberry


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Robert and Stephanie Newberry came up from Missouri nearly three years ago and settled into Watford City, where the population has exploded from 1,700 to 8,000 or more. He’s a licensed minister, evangelist and preacher and calls himself a Bible-believing, Scripture-quoting, sword-wielding spiritual warrior itching to go into battle. It’s not like he hasn’t fought these demons before.

Newberry, a self-described former bad dude from Georgia, survived childhood abuse, addictions, gangs, homelessness and incarceration. At one time he was alone, destitute and suicidal.

“I went from being a ninth-grade dropout to having a bachelor’s degree in business administration,” he said. “I went from being a thug to being a minister.”

Many men drawn to the oil fields are rough-and-tumble like he was, so he understands their lives and where they came from.

“I’m here to let people know that God is here and he loves them,” he said. “I talk to a lot of people and, yeah, they heard about God, but they don’t know what to believe. They don’t even know if God is real.”

Newberry provides Bibles, shelter, food and gas money for the men to get to and from work. He leads Celebrate Recovery, an ecumenical worldwide ministry to addicts that’s “kind of like AA and NA meets Jesus.” When invited, he'll preach at local churches.

“To be honest, I really didn’t want to be here,” he said. “The idea of 50-below-zero weather didn’t appeal to me, but God wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept trying to get me to open my eyes and see what he wanted me to do. I finally gave in.”

The Overnighters Trailer from Drafthouse Films on Vimeo.

Jim Konsor arrived from South Dakota in 2012 to mine an igneous rock used in the oil fields. “I heard some pretty tough stories,” he said. “There were so many needs.”

Like a scene out of the old Wild West, people arrive with broken dreams and high hopes. They hear that you can make $80,000 a year, but then realize that's only for skilled workers employed directly for the oil companies. Laborers more likely make $20 an hour or less, which doesn’t go far when monthly rent on an apartment can go for $2,500 or more.

Those stories touched Konsor’s heart. “God told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to feed the hungry and take care of the least of our brothers in need,” he said.

He returned to Watford City with his wife, Kathie, in April 2013 and met with pastors, community leaders and social service agencies to see what they could do. They asked the Dakotas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church for $100,000 -- and got $270,000.

The couple drives a 29-foot converted RV stocked with donated household goods, clothing, blankets, coats and shoes that they give away. One of the recipients was a pair of cousins, living in an RV with their husbands and children, 12 of them in all.

There are times, Konsor said, when he tells people that it would be best if they just went back home.

Churches around town are holding Bible study groups, activities and fellowship for men, women and children. “If we position ourselves properly, we will be able to show them Jesus,” said Jeff Ruggles, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Watford City.

The local Catholic parish struggles to meet a surge in demand for all manner of sacraments.  “You might have 15 men who want to be part of the men’s group, but they can’t make it because of their schedules. They might not be able to attend Mass on weekends, and will come on days when they can," said the Rev. Brian Gross of Epiphany Catholic Church.

“There’s definitely an increase in people coming to the door,” he added. “They need money because they can’t get a job, or they need money for gas or for a bus ticket back home.”

The locals, too, wrestle with the changing nature of their communities -- overtaxed roads, schools, services. Some churches, like CrossPoint, are expanding to meet the need. But no one knows when the boom will go bust. "Where are we going to be 10 years down the road?” Gross wondered.

For now, the churches and traveling evangelists say they'll focus on the most immediate needs in front of them -- spiritual, physical or otherwise.

“We have a sense for the right harvest," Ruggles said. "In their struggles, we tell them, ‘Here’s the answer: You need Jesus.’”

KRE/MG END EIDEMILLER

Comments

  1. Yep, a boom draws the ministers. After all, them ‘ar too many unsaved dollars in them unsaved pockets!

  2. “I went from being a thug to being a minister.”

    And this is an improvement? Before, you took money and they called it stealing, now you take money and promise things you can’t deliver. But that is ‘Ministry’.

  3. I’ve always thought of evangelical preachers as being “oily,” but I didn’t mean it literally!

  4. With all the irresponsible negative comments it does little good to point out that there is little to no money to be made it such a situation. There is a lot of ministry to be done. Humanist would seem to also want to provide shelter, give out food, provide money to help the disillusioned get back home after their dreams failed them. Surely, secular humanist are working there in North Dakota lets hear from you guys.

    Yes, there are some groups, theist and nontheist who actually respect each other, groups such as Circle of Reason, but not those who search this web site and others just so they can vent their anger and ignorance.

  5. Cathy Wynn knows that ministers can’t deliver on promises because Cathy knows that there is no God and there is no heaven.

    And how does Cathy know this? Cathy knows everything.

    And how do we know this? Cathy says so.

    Trust the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty Cathy.

  6. Jon thinks he’s clever…..just as some people think they’re Julius Caesar or Abraham Lincoln.

  7. @Jack,

    Cathy is exactly correct.
    A person doesn’t need to know much to know that the existence of a God is a stupid idea.
    You are not omniscient either, yet there are thousands of dead Gods which you have already rejected; Zeus, Aphrodite, Mithras…

    There is no God if you can’t provide evidence for it.
    And you cannot ‘need’ something for which there is no evidence.

    You want evidence that Cathy is correct!? Look in the mirror! You’ve rejected all the gods too!

  8. @Norm Martin,

    “Newberry provides Bibles, shelter, food and gas money for the men to get to and from work. He leads Celebrate Recovery, an ecumenical worldwide ministry to addicts that’s “kind of like AA and NA meets Jesus.” When invited, he’ll preach at local churches.”

    I can’t respect this.
    The religion is a sucker punch to the afflicted. A false bandaid.
    The Christians – especially the fascist right wingers – have done enough damage already, don’t you think?

    This situation in South Dakota cries out for energized political leadership and unionizing against corporate welfare. Human rights start with claiming those rights and not letting deregulation run wild. Religion is a mindless exit ramp from those responsibilities.

    Infusing the situation with religion will cause relentless harm and increase the poverty dramatically. Churches are worthless in the fight against poverty.

    Ministers preach all sorts of dangerous superstitions; women are second class, abstinence works, drug addicts need god, alcoholics must surrender to the almighty – it is garbage.

    Ministers pit the rich against the poor and rail against the evil of money. They preach against freedom, against nature, against humanity. They turn grown men into ‘sheep’ and turn families into ‘flocks’.

    ‘Love thy neighbor’ is a false clarion call when it is enjoined to such abjection and despicable baggage.

    Humanism is far better.
    Religion is disgusting.

  9. Good comment, Max. However, please remember that humans need to undersand, and we, as part of the group, don’t have all the answers. The conclusions that we are sure about surround the Christians with doubt and reject their overtures to faith. But, we need to let people know we have morality without resort to ancient and misleading writings.

  10. @Charles Freeman,

    The claims about God are rude and unsupported.

    I continue to point out the evils of religion
    because I am quite sure they are indeed evil.

    That does not mean I have made other claims. I do not claim God to be impossible – only that I cannot find a reason to believe in the god claims I have heard thus far.

    In the meanwhile, religion is a disaster.
    Since we do not know yet if a God exists (one has not been shown) we cannot know what it wants of us – if anything.

    Of course Atheists have no better information than the Theists.
    However the Theists are acting immorally when they project their god claims onto everyone else.

    It is a moral imperative for Theists to stop making unsupportable god claims in the first place.

  11. Max, if I’m traveling from location A to location B and I come to a point where the road splits into multiple branches, and only one of them gets me to B, then by rejecting all but one of them, I am hardly admitting that there is no road to B.

    Your argument — that under no set of circumstances can that be the case — is beyond silly.

  12. Max, I think you’ve set the record in that post above for the largest string of baseless assertions on any board.

    I will choose Christian or other form of religious humanitarianism any day over mindless, ill-conceived government programs that lock generations of people into cycles of poverty, despair, and pathology.

    What you call “humanism” leaves people no better and sometimes even worse off than before. It throws money at people without even trying to get to the root of their problems. In the case of drug or alcohol addiction, for example, that’s like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it.

    As a society, we have spent close to $20 trillion trying to fight poverty the Max way, and as a result, overall poverty rates remain high and childhood rates have risen.

  13. Charles, atheism is just as “ancient” as theism, so to dismiss a thing because it is “ancient” would knock out atheism as well.

    Empty pejoratives are a cheap substitute for rigorous thought or rational discussion….but they seem to be the stock in trade for certain kinds of atheists today.

  14. What’s “unsupportable” is the unspoken claim that there can’t possibly be a deity. More than unsupportable, it’s laughable…..like watching a hamster on its hind legs trying to confront a heavy-weight boxing champion.

  15. Jack – You don’t understand Atheism.
    Atheism is the lack of belief in a god. Atheists don’t claim that gods do not exist as a sort of final answer. It is an opinion until further evidence. Atheism is the non-belief in any gods until evidence shows up to change that equation. You do not appear to have any more evidence about the Jewish god than you have for some other god – as Max points out – so you are being arbitrary and claiming from that arbitrary position that you are correct for reasons completely lost to anyone else.
    And you have no reason to think you are correct and no reason to defend it – yet you think you do so apparently you keep swinging.
    There is no evidence of any god. That is not the same thing as saying there is no god – only that if you don’t have evidence there is no point in bothering with it. And no consequences for not believing in it either.

  16. Jack – “unspoken claim” ???
    I already told you above in a different post that the atheists don’t make claims. You can’t call it ‘unspoken’ and also call it a claim! that is like saying ‘unclaimed’ claim. You are pretending there is a claim where there is no claim. Meanwhile you have no evidence that any god cares whether you go to church, say prayers, say blasphemies or anything else. You have no evidence that god ‘wants’ or ‘needs’ anything. Yet you claim and claim that god is this or that. You need to learn some things about your religion and about gods in general.

  17. Brother Max,
    Come on Max we have commented to each other for many months. I realized I failed to sign in as Chaplain Martin. You know dang well I never preached the crap you stated ministers preach. While Rev. Newberry is probably less liberal than I, he would have very few alcoholics and drug addicts attending his meetings, if he preach like you said he does.
    You, nor any of your fellow atheist have stated what you are doing that will help the folks in North Dakota so that they wont need those horrible Christians. Oh, yes you did, get the government involved. Basically do nothing to help the people who need help now.
    If “humanism is far better”, show me.

  18. @Norm Martin,

    “Oh, yes…you did…get the government involved.
    Basically do nothing to help the people who need help now.”

    Do nothing? Nonsense.
    And what exactly is wrong with the (secular) government? We pay taxes to make sure it responds to our needs – I say, make it respond better!

    THOUSANDS OF ENTIRELY SECULAR WORKERS
    ARE IN THE DAKOTAS NOW:
    The North Dakota Action Agency
    is serving thousands of people today.
    Food, housing, medicine.. counseling!

    In addition, The Red Cross is already there
    serving 900,000 people in 10 counties from their offices in Fargo. (Again, no preaching is involved – it has no religion).

    ALSO
    Southeastern North Dakota
    Community Action Agency (SENDCAA)
    Is dedicated and they are making huge progress in dealing with these problems in these communities – without preaching any Jesus nonsense – it is entirely secular.
    Millions of dollars are designated to these programs.

    SECULAR GOVERNMENT
    CAN BE HIGHLY EFFECTIVE

    RELIGIOUS PROGRAMS CONSISTENTLY FAIL!

    When government is forced to respond – it does.
    The FDA, just one example, does an excellent job protecting our foods and our drug supplies from mass poisonings.
    What does religion offer? Prayers that the food and drug supply will be healthy! Thanks a lot!

    SECULAR HUMANISM
    More people are fed effectively and kept warm and kept from starving to death thanks to US welfare programs and job-work programs
    than any other enterprise in the United States.
    Religious institutions pale in comparison – so low
    they barely exist at all – compared to the massive
    USA effort to keep people fed and housed!

    MORE SECULAR HUMANISM
    Millions are now protected from going bankrupt over a health problem thanks to the National Health Care Act.
    The Department of Housing and Urban Development houses millions of poor people across the country in affordable housing – I once lived in one and I can tell you the services were adequate to the needs and provided heat in winter and decent services until I could go back on my own feet.

    The Government is not perfect. And these programs need support which they have not always been getting.
    But they function – and they are run by people who are trying to SOLVE problems and not bring new problems.

    Unlike religious efforts, these secular endeavors
    are consistent and mostly reliable and there are no superstitious doctrines or ‘shunning’ or disregard for women’s needs such as family planning or uterine care!

    Religion doesn’t stand up to any of it. It never has.
    And Christian preachers only add problems:

    THE HARM OF RELIGION:

    1. The discouragement of rational, critical thought.
    2. Vilification of homosexuality, resulting in discrimination, parents disowning their children, murder, and suicide.
    3. Women made to be second-class citizens based on religious teachings.
    4. Children growing up to hate and fear science and scientists, because science disproves their parents’ religion – leading to appalling scientific illiteracy.
    5. Tens of thousands tortured and killed as witches (a practice which still continues today).
    6. People aren’t making the most of this life because of belief in an afterlife.
    7. People dying because they believe their faith makes them immune to snake venom, or other lethal aspects of reality.
    8. People dying – and letting their children die – because their religion forbids accepting medical help.
    9. People choked, starved, poisoned, or beaten to death during exorcisms.
    10. Genital mutilation of babies demanded by religious texts.
    11. Psychological and physiological conditions blamed on demons, preventing believers from seeking medical care for themselves and their children.
    12. Shunning. People disowning family members for leaving their religion.
    13. Friendships and romances severed or never started over religious differences.
    14. “Abstinence-only” sex education, resulting in five times the amount sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies – often leading to ill-fated “emergency” marriages.
    15. Women having septic abortions—or being forced to have unwanted children they resent—because religious organizations have gotten laws passed making abortion illegal or inaccessible.
    16. Censorship (often destructive) of speech, art, books, music, films, poetry, songs, ideas.
    17. The demonization of other religions, e.g. Christianity demonizing Pagans (“They’re devil-worshipers!”)
    18. Children using up the period of their lives when the brain is most receptive to learning new information reading, rereading, and even memorizing religious texts.
    19. People who believe the world is about to end neglect their education, are not financially responsible, and in extreme cases take part in mass suicides.
    20. Long-term environmental issues ignored because of beliefs that the rapture/apocalypse or something will happen soon, so they don’t matter.
    21. Wives told they will be tortured forever if they leave their abusive husbands (and vice versa).
    22. Holy wars – followers of different faiths (or even the same faith) killing each other in the name of their (benevolent, loving and merciful) gods.
    23. The destruction of great works of art considered to be pornographic/blasphemous, and the persecution of the artists.
    24. Slavery condoned by religious texts.
    25. Children traumatized by vivid stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question religion.
    26. Terminal patients in constant agony who would end their lives if they didn’t believe it would result in eternal torture.
    27. School boards having to spend time and money and resources on the fight to have evolution taught in the schools.
    28. Persecution of “heretics”/scientists, like Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake) and Galileo Galilei.
    29. Blue laws forcing other businesses to stay closed or limit sales, while churches can generate more revenue.
    30. Mayors, senators, and presidents voted into office not because they’re right for the job, but because of their religious beliefs.
    31. Abuse of power, authority and trust by religious leaders (for financial gain or sexual abuse of followers and even children).
    32. People accepting visual and auditory hallucinations unquestioningly as divine, sometimes with fatal results.
    33. Discrimination against atheists, such as laws stating they may not hold public office or testify in court, or in half a dozen countries around the world, laws requiring their execution
    34. Missionaries destroying/converting smaller, “heathen” religions and cultures.
    35. Hardship compounded by the guilt required to reconcile the idea of a fair god with reality (“why is God punishing me? What have I done wrong? Don’t I have enough faith?”).
    36. Human achievements—from skillful surgery to to emergency landings—attributed to gods instead of to the people actually responsible.
    37. Mother Teresa, prolonging the agony of terminal patients and denying them pain relief, so she can offer their suffering as a gift to her god.
    38. Tens of billions annually in the US alone spent to build, maintain, and staff houses of worship.
    39. Grief and horror caused by the belief that dead friends and family members are tortured as punishment for disbelief.
    40. Natural disasters and other tragedies used to claim God is displeased and present demands to avoid similar events (it’s like terrorism, but without having to plan or do anything).

    Secular Humanism works. Religion fails.
    Wherever religion is strong the women are oppressed, people are poor and impoverished. (India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Morocco, Brazil… Louisiana)

    Wherever religion is weak and secular humanism is strong – women are emancipated, wealth is distributed more fairly and people live healthier lives (Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria… Massachusetts)

    Religion poisons everything it touches. That is why it should be abandoned.

  19. @Jack,

    “What you call “humanism” leaves people no better and sometimes even worse off than before.”

    NUMBER ONE:
    Your God supposedly did it. You want to whine about how hard life is? Talk to the all-powerful Dingbat you believe in. I hope you are on your knees worshipping and thanking your God for all the problems in the world. ‘Thy will be done’ and you can have it.

    TWO
    80 million people in the USA have been getting direct help throughout the recession from SECULAR HUMANIST PROGRAMS created by THE US GOVERNMENT.
    80 million people. Being helped. Right now. By a secular humanist organization which forbids religion in its charter! “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion”

    3. The Government is a great institution. It would be capable of doing much better were it not for the Religious Right Wing Crazies infusing its evangelical billion dollar lobby and its superstitious nonsense into our laws and our culture.

    Evangelical Christians spent $100 MILLION supporting Israeli settlements last year! Why? To bring about the second coming of Jesus as it was ‘prophesied’ that the ‘second temple’ (israel) has to be rebuilt first!

    $100 Million Christian dollars spent on a land grab!
    And you want to whine to me about SECULAR HUMANISTS NOT DOING ENOUGH?

    SHAME ON YOU!

  20. @Chaplain Martin,

    80 million people in the USA have been getting direct help throughout the recession from secular humanist programs. This is a secular humanist organization which forbids religion in its charter! “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion”

    The Government would be capable of doing much better were it not for the Religious Right Wing Crazies infusing superstitious nonsense into our laws and our culture.

    Meanwhile, Evangelical Christians spent $100 MILLION supporting Israeli settlements last year. Why? To bring about the second coming of Jesus as it was ‘prophesied’ that the ‘second temple’ (israel) has to be rebuilt first.

    $100 Million Christian dollars spent on a land grab!
    And you want to tell me about SECULAR HUMANISTS are not doing enough?

    You should consider that I am doing my own hard work
    to get through to people like yourself
    IF NOTHING ELSE that this superstitious nightmare of
    religion spending money on MORE religion
    is costing us billions and billions of wasted dollars
    which would be better spent on getting things right in our country!

    You want to give millions to a charity? Great.
    I give money to Doctors Without Borders every single year.
    That money is not wasted!

  21. You can knock these people all you want, but at least they are there helping the people in very practical ways and meeting their needs. Are the atheists doing that? It sounds like they are just sitting at home surfing the internet, criticizing those who are out and about, making a difference.

  22. All atheists are without excuse to know there is a God because he has revealed himself to you through his creation and by his Spirit.

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