'Load Me up with Bibles': Oil Boom Becomes Ministry Boon in US Heartland
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MIDLAND, TX – A remote region in West Texas known as the Permian Basin is leading the US right now in oil and gas production. Crude oil production has doubled in the last four years with the area producing one of out of every three barrels of US oil.
But some believers here have their eyes on another treasure – a spiritual harvest that's got incredible potential with workers from all over the country and world arriving in the region to take advantage of good-paying, plentiful jobs.
Pastor Jesse Gore of Living Word Baptist Church in Odessa has ministered here for decades and says he's excited about the population boom. "All factors indicate that we're going to double in just a few short years," he said. "So we're looking at a huge influx of people."
Oilman Damian Barrett leads the Midland/Odessa chapter of the Oilfield Christian Fellowship, a Texas-based ministry that has distributed more than 350,000 copies of custom Bibles for oil workers around the world. The Bibles include testimonies from those in the industry.
Barrett keeps a trailer-full of Bibles for Permian Basin workers in a trailer just outside of Midland. He says there's huge ministry potential right now. "They've come in from all over the country and there's even some that have come in from out of the country just to work here because we're booming right now. It's just a crazy time here in Midland, Texas."
Oil production here flows 24-7 and that creates enormous demands on workers, who are needed six and often seven days a week. That makes it tough to reach them with the Gospel.
"The schedules are about 80 hours a week," said Gore. "So when you think about that kind of workload eventually after a period of time that can really take a toll mentally, physically, spiritually."
The Challenge: How to Connect with Workers
Gore and Barrett are just two of those with a vision for reaching this population. They've had to think creatively about how to connect with workers here, given the challenges with access.
"If you were to just want to go out to a rig and hand them Bibles – you really couldn't do that," said Barrett. "So you almost need to be in the oilfield to do it."
He and other believers here are distributing Bibles however they can. Some work special events, like the annual oil show. Others hand them out where they work or live. Barrett says some Bibles are planting seeds while others lead directly to salvation.
"There are times ... people will come and say 'you know I need Christ' and then there're others that say 'load me up with Bibles 'cause I know lots of people that need these Bibles," he said.
Getting the Last Word
Gore is finding it's possible to connect with people by accommodating to their schedules. He organizes Bible studies around lunch, one of the few times that workers can take a break.
And, as a former safety professional, he offers his services and free breakfasts at special events for area companies, as long as he gets to make the closing comments.
"I tell them, 'I get the last 10 minutes to tell them who changed my life so I get to evangelize,'" he said.
These kind of opportunities are leading to some sweet Gospel stories. One came after a worker dropped off Bibles at a local business and a worker who had picked up several copies returned.
"The guy came back," said Barrett. "and he said 'man, I can't thank you enough. I went home last night, read all of the Gospel of John. My wife did the same thing. We both got on our knees right there in the house and accepted Christ as our savior. And, we're changed."
A payoff that's even better than the rich flow of oil and gas in this remote Texas desert.
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