CASPER, Wyo. — A boom in the natural gas and oil industry in
states like Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico has led to a similar surge
in Southern Baptist ministry among the men and women who drill for those
Don Whalen, a church planting and evangelism strategist for
the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention in Casper, was serving as a director of
missions in the southwestern part of the state a few years ago when he noticed
a large influx of people into the area as oil companies set up new drilling
“The population just began to explode, and we saw obviously
that God was opening a door to ministry among folks that were coming into the
area,” Whalen told Baptist Press (BP). “Many of our churches are not real
large, and yet they had a great heart for reaching some of these people. They
came to me as the director of missions looking for some advice as to how to
make this all happen.”
The churches began developing a strategy to reach the oil
rig workers in an unconventional way.
“We realized that they weren’t going to come to us,” Whalen
said. “We had already tried to invite them to church and include them in our
established works, but they were not very responsive.
“Every once in a while, one or two would stop in for a
Sunday and visit, but no real connection was made and we realized that we were
really going to have to go to them,” he said. “So we began praying and seeking
the Lord’s direction, and one of our ladies saw an oilfield Bible put out by
the Oilfield Christian Fellowship.”
The Oilfield Christian Fellowship is a ministry that started
with a breakfast for oilfield workers at First Baptist Church in Houston in
1991, and they distribute compact copies of the Bible that include testimonies
of oilfield workers. Whalen and the Wyoming churches ordered some of the
Bibles, and in the process he developed a relationship with John Bird, the
“He and I were thinking and kind of dreaming and came up
with the idea of putting a chapel in one of the man camps out here,” said
Whalen, who joined the state convention staff about a year and a half ago.
“These men come and they’ll work 12 hours on and 12 hours off, and while one
crew sleeps, the other crew will work. They’re just kind of stacked in there
like corkwood in these trailers.
“It’s kind of a difficult situation. They’re away from their
families. There’s a lot of alcoholism, drug addiction,” Whalen said. “There’s
just not a lot of good, positive influence for them in these man camps. So we
thought if we could put together a chapel and get it into the man camps, it
might have an impact on these folks spiritually.”
Soon an oilfield company in Texas donated a building and
installed it in the Big Piney man camp, where it would serve as a chapel
operated by Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries from the North American
Mission Board (NAMB).
“Folks come in, there’s a large screen TV, they can watch
sporting events together. There are computers that they can connect through
e-mail and whatnot with their families,” Whalen said. “It’s just a place for
them to come and relax in a good environment. While they’re there, we’re able
to share the Lord with them.”
Many of the larger gatherings involve food, Whalen said,
such as when an invitation goes out inviting men to the chapel for free pizza.
“They’ve been able to build relationships with these men,
and we’ve been able to see some of them come to know the Lord,” Whalen said.
“Some of them were believers but were very disconnected. They don’t have a
local church that they’re a part of, but they really are believers. But the
environment is so negative that they don’t often know that there’s a believer
just right down the road from them. They think they’re all alone out there.
“But through this ministry, they’ve been able to connect and
build relationships amongst each other. We’ve been discipling them and they’re
growing spiritually,” he added.
In addition to focusing on the man camps, the MSC workers
connect the men’s families with local Southern Baptist churches in their
“These men come from all over the country, sometimes from
all over the world and certainly all over Wyoming, and whenever we have the
opportunity, if we can minister to Dad at the oilfield, we try to connect the
family, wherever they might be, with a local Southern Baptist church so that
the family can be ministered to as well,” Whalen said.
Following the success of the Big Piney chapel, NAMB helped
purchase a mobile ministry unit consisting of a truck and Toy Hauler trailer
that can travel to the heart of the oilfields in Wyoming. Later the oilfield
fellowship helped purchase another. The mobile ministry units also are manned
by MSC missionaries and now are being utilized in the Jonah field and the
Wamsutter field, Whalen said.
“They’ll set up alongside of the road and put out a sign
that says ‘free biscuits and gravy,’ and folks stop in and in the process of
having a meal together or a cup of coffee, they’ll share the Lord with them and
build relationships and witness,” Whalen said.
“They’ve discovered several believers out in the oilfield
that they’re now able to disciple. One MSC worker puts together dcripture
cards, and the men in the trucks will stop by to pick up their dcripture card
for the day,” he said. “They’ll stop for a few minutes, have a cup of coffee,
get their dcripture card and head out the door. It’s just a way of connecting
with other believers and providing a discipling opportunity. We’ve seen some
neat things happen as a result of it.”
Last July, an oilfield worker named Carl Felts stopped by
the mobile unit after being out of prison only three weeks. He was gone a while
after that and then returned in December. Felts told Drew and Pam Crabtree, the
MSC workers in the unit, he didn’t have time to come in but wanted to give them
Since his first stop at the unit, Felts had married his
girlfriend who was a new Christian, and the two of them were reading the Bible.
The pages were falling out of his oilfield Bible, and he asked the Crabtrees
for a new copy.
“You don’t know how many people you influence just by coming
out here each day,” Felts said, according to a paraphrase by Drew Crabtree. “I
have seen you out here many days since that first time and not stopped, but
just seeing the mobile chapel here reminds me to pray, and sometimes I start
praying after I drive by.
“Sometimes I fall of the wagon and don’t do things as I
should, but when I see this chapel out here it is a reminder to me and I climb
back on the wagon. I know other people are like me, so you need to know that
just being here in the oilfield helps a lot of us even if we don’t stop.”
Felts also said he was attempting to visit the men he was
imprisoned with in order to share the gospel with them.
Oilfield ministry, Whalen said, is “just one of those
missional ministries that we recognized that there are people groups out there
we were not reaching, and the only way to reach them was to go to where they
were — just to obey the Great Commission and go.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a BP staff writer. To access
a video called “Drill Here, Drill Now” highlighting the Wyoming oilfield
ministry, visit namb.net and click on the video gallery.)