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Oilfield ministry booming in Wyoming
Erin Roach, Baptist Press
May 12, 2009
8 MIN READ TIME

Oilfield ministry booming in Wyoming

Oilfield ministry booming in Wyoming
Erin Roach, Baptist Press
May 12, 2009

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

natural resources.

Contributed photo

Carl Felts, an oilrig worker in the Jonah field in Wyoming, received a new Bible from Drew and Pam Crabtree, Mission Service Corps missionaries who run a mobile ministry unit purchased by the North American Mission Board.

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

rigs.

“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

fellowship’s cofounder.

“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.”

Contributed photo

An aerial view of the Jonah oilfield located in the northwestern Green River basin of Wyoming shows the isolation the oilrig workers feel from their families and the rest of the world.

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

hometowns.

“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.”

Contributed photo

Trailers upon trailers make up the Big Piney man camp in Wyoming, where Southern Baptists are ministering to men and women who have left home to drill for oil and natural gas.

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

a message.

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.)