From ministers to missionaries, the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church is creating new ways to reach people in the Bakken.
The conference — which encompasses South Dakota and North Dakota — has raised both interest and funds to support their new Bakken Oil Rush Ministry, which includes a pair of missionaries, a mobile thrift store and a new service.
A year ago, the Dakotas Conference Bishop Bruce Ough challenged churches to raise $100,000 to get started with a ministry in the Bakken, said Keith Nelson, Dakotas Conference Sakakawea District superintendent. What they received exceeded their expectations.
In June 2013, at their annual conference in Bismarck, they received a “miracle offering” for the ministry that totaled more than $263,000, said Nelson.
“It was inspiring to see what we can do when we work together and sense the spirit of God’s leading us in ministry,” he said.
Missionaries to the field
Like many people in the oil field, Jim Konsor was lured to the region for work. He drove a payloader in a scoria pit and lived in a trailer by himself while his wife, Kathy, stayed home.
The experience fueled the couple’s vision and passion to take part in the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry as missionaries.
“It gripped my heart,” said Jim Konsor. “Some evenings I’d walk to town and walk by the churches and pray for them and just ask ‘Lord help them,’ so I just started thinking about what I could do to help these people.”
The Konsors are now living in Watford City and have helped launch a Mobile Thrift Center to help people in need, said Jim Konsor. The thrift center is a renovated 29-foot travel trailer that is outfitted to house warm coats, blankets, heaters and other items. They have even hosted a coat giveaway while parked outside the food pantry.
They also are helping launch a “Gathering Place” this month with the help of the Watford City Presbyterian Church to offer a place where people can come to get away from the problems of the oil field.
“It’ll be a place where people can visit and play games and have some meals and do some music,” said Jim Konsor.
They eventually hope to have their own building to house both the thrift store and Gathering Place, but funds and availability in the Bakken are an issue.
For now, they send out emails and texts to let families known where their roving thrift store will be next, going directly to the people in need, said Jim Konsor.
“A lot of these people they’re either not church people or they don’t know anyone,” said Jim Konsor. “If you’re going to touch them you have to hear their story and help them when you can and love on them, there’s a lot of lonely people here.”
Nelson agrees that one of the greatest needs of oil workers and their families is battling loneliness.
“Unfortunately, oil workers and their families are not always received well in the communities, or even in the churches, in the areas in which they live and work,” he said. “The mission field has come to us. These are now our neighbors and Jesus tells a couple of pretty good stories/parables about what it means to be neighborly.”
So far, the Konsors have said that many of the churches and organizations in the community have been open to helping them launch the ministry, but Jim Konsor stressed that there is still work to be done.
“You can live in Watford City and go to churches and work and totally ignore and not see the people that are on the fringe out here that are really in need,” said Jim Konsor. “You have to go out there and be willing to knock on doors and put yourself out there.”
Faith UMC in Williston starts service
Faith United Methodist Church in Williston has launched a new service beginning this month. The services will begin at 6:03 p.m. on Saturdays, said Rev. Mark Britton.
The service is designed to feed people in the area both physically and spiritually beginning with a meal of soup and sandwiches, and ending with a contemporary worship service.
“We saw a need for people to be fed, so I prayed about it for awhile and this is the answer that came to me,” said Britton. “GIFT worship. Our gift is a free meal and a chance to worship God. We tied those two things together and that’s what we got: God In Faith Tonight or GIFT.”
Britton only has been in Williston for a year-and-a-half, but has seen his fair share of what the oil rush and homelessness has done to the area.
“My first winter was last year and as it progressed and the temperatures dropped way below freezing, we had a lot of young people come in,” he said.
One of those young people included a young man who had lost his job, and with it a place to stay.
“They told him he had to leave that night and he had no place to go and no money,” said Britton. “When he came in we noticed his hands, chin were frostbitten and he only had a light hoodie on. He had no hat on and no gloves.”
The church got him warm and paid for a bus ticket for him to get home.
It’s these types of stories and needs that prompted the church to start the service, along with a desire to offer a more contemporary service.
“If people don’t have hope or the opportunity to hear about God, there needs to be a way for them to be able to receive hope, which is in itself a gift,” said Britton. “By offering a service with a meal, something other churches in the area aren’t offering to my knowledge, they get that hope.” ___