Out in the oil fields, workers express their faith

FORT WORTH — Working on a drilling rig is a tough and dangerous job, where the days are long and the language is often profanity-laced.

But there is also a Christian element, say members of the Oilfield Christian Fellowship.

"We are a bunch of Christians in the oil business who try to live out our faith," said Scott Royal, president of the organization's Fort Worth chapter.

The organization, which includes hundreds of men and women in 17 chapters in the United States and Canada, was started in Houston by oilmen John Bird and Jim Teague.

The Fort Worth chapter was started in 2007 by Royal, who was an original member of the Houston group before being transferred to the Fort Worth-Dallas area. Members conduct monthly luncheons with Christian speakers at the Petroleum Club. They also conduct early morning Bible studies.

Members hand out special Bibles, "God's Word for the Oil Patch: Fuel for the Soul," to co-workers and others in the industry, and they conduct fundraisers to support the training and work of chaplains who counsel oil company employees and families of oil field accident victims.

"The fellowship has changed a lot of people's lives, including my own," said Royal, a petroleum engineer and senior vice president of Richland Resources in Fort Worth.

Rob Daws, who works with Richland Resources in land acquisition, said faith helps him and many others deal with the ups and downs of the oil business.

"The oil field, like a lot of businesses, has a lot of risks," he said. "You can throw it all away trying to get in a certain area, a certain well. But it can also be very, very successful. "

People out on the drilling rigs face a lot of dangers, he said. He knows from experience.

"As a roughneck I almost had my arm twisted off one time... and another time a big drill came down on my foot," Daws said. "It could have chopped it off but just bruised it. Even then I saw the Lord protecting me out there on the rig."

John Pinkerton, who heads Fort Worth-based Range Resources, says some are surprised by the number of people of faith in the oil and gas business.

"A lot of people who work for us are not Christians, and I don't hire people based on their faith. But we run our company on Christian principles," he said. "We want to be transparent. We want to treat people at all levels with respect.... I pray for my company; I pray for my employees."

He praised the Oilfield Christian Fellowship for handing out Bibles at oil and gas rigs across the nation, saying they are a welcome source of comfort in an often dangerous business.

Pinkerton, a Fort Worth native, has given his Christian testimony at several fellowship events, relating how he had quick success as a young head of his oil company, followed by a disastrous downturn caused by falling oil and gas prices.

To make matters worse, the tornado that ripped through downtown Fort Worth in 2000 destroyed his corporate headquarters and seriously damaged his home.

"At first, I was mad at God for allowing this to happen to me," he said. "I prayed for God to bless my plan to fix my company. But things only got worse."

His relationship with God changed forever during that crisis.

"I felt like quitting, but before one board meeting, I got down on my knees in my hotel room and prayed to God. I did not ask him to bless my plan," he said. "Instead, I asked God to show me his plan for my life. After I let God become my CEO, things slowly began to get better."

The fellowship also works closely with the Oil Patch Chaplains, an organization that trains and sends out chaplains who respond to oil field disasters and are available as a source of caring and support for others in the industry.

The chaplaincy, established in 2008, has trained about 70 chaplains working in seven states, said Tom Beddow of Oklahoma City, a counselor who coordinates the program.

"Since our chaplaincy started, we've responded to about 25 fatalities," Beddow said. "The Dallas and Fort Worth chapters have supported us tremendously."

The Houston chapter of the Oilfield Christian Fellowship spearheads the production of the special Bibles, which were designed by Bird and another Houstonian, Mike Chaffin.

The Bibles include the Christian testimonies of oil executives and rig hands.

More than 100,000 oil patch Bibles have been distributed, Bird said.

While reaching into the executive suites, the fellowship "also reaches out to the roughnecks and the roustabouts, where it's really crucial," Daws said.

The fellowship recently began operating mobile chapels to minister to rig workers in remote parts of Wyoming.

"It can be very lonely out there," he said. "When I roughnecked, I saw a lot of men turning to alcohol and drugs to relieve the loneliness and boredom. We try to get them to turn to God."