Posted 3/15/16 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
Unless the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry can come up with a significant cash infusion, the ministry that has provided hundreds of Watford City area families with much needed assistance as they have settled into this rapidly growing community, could go away.
The hope for a better life and financial security brought many families to the Bakken during the height of the oil boom. Many of these families knew very little about North Dakota, its climate, the lack of social service resources, and the cost of living. Some families came to Watford City with no resources, using whatever money they had for the gas needed to make the journey. Single men, women, and young families lived in campers, even through the harsh North Dakota winter.
Jim and Kathie Konsor were sent to Watford City in August of 2013 by the Dakotas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to begin a mission, which became the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry. This took place several months after a ‘Miracle Offering’ was taken in Bismarck. What was once a small bedroom town of 1,400 had swollen to over 10,000 people. And what once was a small school of students representing North Dakota became a school that represented all 50 states and 20 countries. Watford City was truly becoming a melting pot of culture from all over the world.
“I’ve greatly admired the work that Kathie and Jim Konsor have done in Watford City,” stated Marcia Hellandsaas, one local community member. “Living in an oil-booming community is interesting. The ups and downs of the economy make life challenging at times, especially for those who struggle financially.”
With the influx of people came a huge list of needs. Families and individuals needed warm clothing during the harsh winters. They needed food while they waited for paychecks. They needed heaters to warm their RVs. They needed blankets for their children.
“It is difficult to put into words the changes our community has had to go through the last three years,” stated Stacy Arnegard, local community member. “Watford City grew very quickly, completely catching us off-guard. With all the heartache, my heart is also thankful and proud of the people who pulled up their bootstraps and got it done. Jim and Kathie Konsor are the leaders of this pack.”
Between September of 2013 and the end of 2015, the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry has been able to provide 1,100 families with over 25,000 items, including coats, hoodies, caps, gloves, snow pants/coveralls, warm socks, blankets, coffee pots, toasters, dishes, and much more.
In addition to the supplies they distribute out of their mobile thrift unit, the ministry also hosts an ongoing event called “The Gathering Place,” where they serve a meal, do a devotional/teaching, and help folks looking for work and/or needing someone to talk to. The Gathering Place has allowed people to have a home-cooked meal, get out of their apartments, campers, or man camps, and meet new people. Typically their attendance runs between 25 and 40 people.
“Providing ministry to the people of Watford City has been incredibly rewarding and impactful,” stated Jim. “Kathie and I want to continue this mission for years to come. As great as it is to be able to give clothing and other basic items, what really touches our hearts are the personal stories shared by some of these people.”
Throughout the year, the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry also hosts special clothing giveaways, home-cooked meals to gather people from the community together, a Christmas celebration event, and their newest endeavor called Worship Cafe. They are connected with the schools, Social Services, Emergency Management, the Family Crisis Center, The Salvation Army, and local churches. And they speak in local churches as well as churches throughout the conference to share their ministry and its needs.
“Our community meals were the focus in getting folks out of the campers, man camps, and apartments to get a home-cooked meal,” stated Jim. “And for folks to visit with and hopefully meet some new ‘town folks,’ which will help them feel like they are a part of the community. We do several spaghetti feeds and also an outdoor picnic in the park with music. The attendance for these usually runs from 175 to over 200. What we’re trying to do is help people on multiple fronts.”
“There are so many personal stories that people have shared with us, which is what touches our hearts the most,” says Jim. “One lady came by three times before they moved to tell us over and over again, ‘we absolutely would not have made it here if you guys hadn’t been here to encourage and help us.’ She had tears in her eyes. It was so hard to see her and her three kids leave.”
“Another gal came up to me recently in a restaurant and said, ‘remember me? I came to your trailer two years ago. My daughter and I were living in our pickup and you gave us coats, blankets, caps, boots, and clothing to keep warm. We’ll never forget you and Kathie.’ So many stories of grateful people, trying to make a new start!”
Hellandsaas says she believes that the Konsors are making a huge impact in Watford City. She says that those who struggle are feeling cared for and that they are developing a sense of belonging through all the special efforts of Jim and Kathie.
“I think many are better able to care for themselves and their families because basic needs are being provided,” added Hellandsaas. “They have a wonderful ministry. I thank God for sending Jim and Kathie. This ministry is helping so many of our thriving community members learn much more about poverty too. It is such a complicated issue and we are constantly learning more about what it looks like here, why it is here, and what we can do to help. I feel we have much more to learn and Kathie and Jim are our greatest leaders.”
The need that was here three years ago is still a need that is present today. With the downturn in the oil and gas industry, western North Dakota was affected. And many of its residents were affected as well.
“The oil and gas activity has slowed in Watford City, as well as the rest of western North Dakota,” stated Jim. “We are fortunate that Watford City is located in McKenzie County, where the best producing wells are located. With the economic slowdown has come some serious issues. Many jobs that required 70-90 hours per week are now only able to provide 40 hours. This has reduced many families’ incomes by over 50 percent. However, housing costs are still too high and many families are struggling just to keep food on the table and purchase basic clothing and other necessities.”
To keep the ministry operating and able to fill a great need in the community, it needs funding. The ‘Miracle Offering’ that was taken in 2013 is now gone and the ministry needs additional funding to continue in Watford City.
“The Bakken Oil Rush Ministry is able to raise $60,000 from local churches, individuals, and small grants,” states Jim. “There are also several churches in the conference that support us on a monthly basis. But while $60,000 is certainly an amount to be proud of, we need to raise much more to continue impacting Watford City. We need $154,600 to operate this ministry.”
Jim says that their heart is to remain in Watford City and continue to meet the needs of the people here that are trying to make a better life for themselves. The total amount of their funding will run out by the end of June, so it doesn’t leave much time to raise money to keep their ministry here.
“I want to thank the conference for sending Jim and Kathie Konsor to our community,” stated Adrain Timmons, local pastor. “They serve with the passion and energy of much younger people. They persevere even though the kind of ministry they do is very wearisome and the lack of facilities for their ministry adds incredible work and strain to their lives. They freely employ their gifts and talents and people skills balanced with wisdom and grace. Jim and Kathie have stayed strong, kept the faith, and moved forward with each new day.”
“Thank you for sending them to us,” added Timmons, in addressing the conference that sent the Konsors to Watford City. “I plead with you to do everything in your power to continue to aid and bless their ministry here. They are a God-send.”
Arnegard says McKenzie County could benefit greatly by having a permanent ministry here. She says she is very thankful the Konsors are here and often asks herself, ‘what did we do before we had them?’
So in order for the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry to continue benefiting hundreds of families and individuals in the Bakken including local children, a significant amount of funding is needed to keep the ministry operating. In the near future, a GoFundMe account will be set up, as well as letters to be sent out requesting financial assistance. It would be heartbreaking to lose two people who have made helping others their life-long goal.
For more information or to make a donation, contact the Bakken Oil Rush Ministry at P.O. Box 2901, Watford City, N.D. 58854, or visit their website at Oilrushministry.com, which has a donate tab connected to a Paypal account. They also have a Facebook page: Oil Rush Ministry.