We were in the area for a total of three days. We stayed in the United Methodist Church in Dickinson, North Dakota, thanks to the graciousness of that church and its pastor, Dan Freed. We also went to Watford City, North Dakota as well as a couple of other small towns in the area.
Watford City is at the center of the activity there. Before all this happened, just a couple of years ago, Watford City was a town of roughly 1,200 people, basically the size of Gettysburg, where I live. Now, it's a town of maybe 15,000 people, and still growing. No one really knows the size for sure, because people are constantly moving in and out.
The way I've been explaining it to people around here is, suppose we all woke up one morning and discovered that 10-15,000 people were moving to town. We'd say, “But we don't have any place for all those people to stay. We don't have roads or a power grid or sewer and water for all those people. We don't have a school system or a fire department or a police department that can handle all those people. We don't have medical services or grocery stores or restaurants or even gas stations that can handle all of those people.” But none of that would matter, because they'd still be coming.
They came to Watford City, and the result is what you'd expect: confusion, turmoil, and chaos. Everywhere there was an open spot of ground, there is now a trailer court, or an RV park, or a campground, or something similar. They are everywhere. A trailer, even a good one (which some of them are and some of them aren't), is not designed to be lived in through a North Dakota winter, but these will be, because many people have no other place to live.
People are overwhelmed. That was the word we heard more than any other: overwhelmed. The entire situation is overwhelming.
In time, of course, some of these problems will be taken care of. They are building apartment buildings and stores and so forth as fast as they can. They are improving the roads as fast as they can. Eventually, the economic situation will stabilize. Don't misunderstand—I'm not trying to minimize the situation by saying that. There will be a great deal of hardship before we get to “eventually”. But eventually, that will happen.
Unfortunately, the economic problems are not the only problems, or necessarily the most important ones. There are also emotional and spiritual problems, which will be much harder to solve.
Think about what it would be like to work in the oil patch right now. You might work for ten or twelve or fourteen hours a day. You might work for seven or ten or fourteen days at a stretch. You didn't know anyone when you came, and you really don't have a chance to get to know anyone, other than the people on your work crew. And those are people who came from all over the country, or maybe from another country. They may come from a completely different background, they may have a completely different family life, they may have completely different values, they many have completely different interests. That doesn't make them bad people or anything, but it may make it very hard for you to become friends, because you may have absolutely nothing in common.
And even if you do become friends, you have no idea how long your new friend will be there. We met any number of people who had been there for one week, or two weeks, or a month. Part of that is because the companies are still adding people, but part of it is because there is constant turnover. People come and work for a while, and then decide they don't like the work, or don't like the lifestyle, or don't want to be away from their family that much, or simply are not prepared for the reality of winter in North Dakota. So they leave again, and other people come. The people in your work crew today may be completely different from the people who were in your work crew last month or from the people who will be in your work crew next month.
And think of what it's like for the people who've lived in Watford City for years. Most people who live in small towns are there because they like living in small towns. They like the fact that they don't have to fight traffic, and they don't have to lock their doors, and they know their neighbors. Well, for the people in Watford City, that small town they loved is gone, and it's never coming back. No matter what happens with the oil boom, things are never going to be the way they used to be again.
What did we do? Well, we handed out health kits to people, giving them things like toothpaste, Band-aids, and homemade cookies. Those were provided by the people of our churches, and I am very grateful to the people of the Wheatland Parish for their work in providing those kits.
Also, we talked to people. We prayed with people. We let them know that somebody cared about them. We also prayed with Rev. Dan Freed and with the United Methodist missionaries in Watford City, Jim and Cathy Konsor. We let them know that somebody cared about them, too.
Did we accomplish anything? I think we did. I just don't know what yet. Obviously, handing out a few Band-aids and cookies is not going to magically solve all the problems of the oil patch. But I think we did a little something. And it's my hope and my prayer that God will take that little something that we did, put it together with the somethings other people are doing, and make it into something big.
What can you do? Well, I'm sure the Dakotas Conference will have some things for us to do as time goes on. This is not a short-term situation by any means, and we should not look at it that way. There are people estimating that the oil boom could last thirty years, fifty years, or even longer. No one knows. I'll let you know as opportunities for ministry in that area come up.
For right now, I ask that you pray for the Bakken area, for the pastors and missionaries in that area, for the workers, for the citizens, for everyone and everything involved in the situation. Too often, we say, “all we can do is pray” as if that was not really doing anything. In fact, it is usually the most important thing we can do. We've been talking about the power of prayer in our recent sermon series. Now is the time we find out if we believe what we've been saying.
Let's use the power of prayer for the Bakken. I don't know what the answer is there. I don't think anyone knows. But God knows. Let's ask for God's help and God's guidance. Let's be open to how God is leading us, not just in regard to ministry in the Bakken, but for all of our lives.