As the sun sets on Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota, a pile of shoes stacked outside the activity hall hints at events inside.
The heavy leather work boots are stained with oil and the reddish dust that churns through the air in the small but growing town. The population has tripled in less than 10 years. New drilling technology has revived the state's oil industry. About 20 new oil-patch workers arrive in the 20,000-person town every day, by Mayor Ward Koeser's estimate. Each worker faces the same challenge within 24 hours of arriving in this prairie town: finding a bed in a boomtown bursting at the seams that offers nothing even resembling a homeless shelter.
Many employers supply housing in "man camps" (which may also include women and families), but job-seekers who drive, bus, or take the train to town must find their own place to stay until they find a job. Hotels get booked weeks in advance and charge upwards of $100 per night. Concordia Lutheran is the only place in town with open beds and a charitable price tag.
Williston's churches have a prime opportunity to show hospitality and meet the earthly needs of new arrivals. However, many church leaders face the lack of resources for providing such care, not to mention local resistance.
Koeser told Christianity Today that this situation is tailor-made for a church to reach into the lives of people who otherwise might have no interest in religion. "They may not understand the whole process of trying God, but they will try the church," Koeser said.
"They're looking at their relationship with God and saying, 'Is it what it needs to be? I really need somebody's help—God, can you help me?'" ...