PLEASANTON—The loneliest places often are locales where people typically gather. Movie theaters. Malls. Bars. There, it’s easiest to blend in, easiest to hide without seeming out of place.
For Gray Hawk, it was a hotel in Pleasanton. Dispatched to South Central Texas to work the oilfield, he was struggling through a divorce. The longer the proceedings dragged on, the more he drank. One night, two half-gallon bottles of Canadian whiskey were his only companions.
Soon, the first bottle was as empty as his soul. Over the next few days, Hawk drained the second. He spiraled deeper into depression.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
It was his time. He went looking for one of his Hi-Point handguns, a 9 millimeter and a .40 caliber.
“There were only two boxes. I knew I’d stuck my guns in one of those two boxes, but I couldn’t find them. The only thing that kept coming up was that oilfield Bible.”
South Texas oil boom
In 2010, the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas was one of the most actively drilled targets for unconventional oil and gas in the United States. Companies rushed to access the estimated 3 billion barrels of oil it protected. As a result, towns across the region swelled almost overnight.
Hotel room prices surged to more than $500 a night. Home prices boomed. Companies set up “man camps” in the middle of nowhere to house their workers. Increased 18-wheeler traffic caused roughly $2 billion in damage on Texas back roads.
Fred Ater, the Baptist General Convention of Texas area representative in the region, remembers it well. Reports on the activity led most news reports and newspapers. The possibilities for such a reservoir of oil affected the oil market worldwide.
As Ater traveled through the towns impacted by the flood of oil workers, he saw ministry possibility after ministry possibility. Oilfields are known as notoriously hard places to work, worked by hard people. Alcohol often flows feely during free times. Gambling is common as are other vices.
People literally came from all over the world to work the fields. If a church or individual felt called to minister to these roughnecks and crew bosses, they could spread the gospel to the ends of the earth by evangelizing the workers and in turn their families located elsewhere.
Ater prayed fervently for God to raise up a leader who would take the gospel to the oilfields.
“I’d been praying, ‘What in the world can I do?’” he said. “I’d been talking to churches. I just kept on praying. I just said: ‘Lord I cannot do this. I have a job. It does not entail this. Who can do this?’”
It took nearly three years.
‘Never seen a Bible like this’
God’s Word for The Oil Patch was published in 1984 by the Oilfield Christian Fellowship in an effort to convey the gospel in a way that would be more accessible to oilfield workers. It features testimonies from oil patch laborers and a cover featuring an oil rig. Someone at one of the camps gave a copy to Gray Hawk, who was born on a Choctaw reservation. He threw it in a box with his other belongings.
In a drunken stupor at 11:30 p.m., he found it again.
“I’d never seen a Bible like this before,” he said. “In fact, I’d never owned a Bible before.”
He began to flip through the pages.
Responding to God’s call
Driving by an oilfield four years ago, Hollas and Nelda Hoffman sensed their life was about to change. Although neither had experience in the oilfields, both felt called to serve there.
A short time later, they followed that call.
“In June 2013, I turned 70 years old,” he said. “I just sensed that God was about through with me in the church I was serving. On the 28th of August, I resigned. On the next day at noon, we knew we were supposed to go to the oilfield.”
Since then, the Hoffmans have seen what they believe is God at work throughout the oilfields. The couple never actively recruited anybody, yet volunteers stepped forward, each sensing a call to share the gospel in this mission field.
The Hoffmans, who are BGCT-endorsed chaplains, and the volunteers formed Oil Patch Chapel Ministries and spread across the state distributing Bibles, visiting with oil workers and building relationships with people in the industry.
Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas helped the Hoffmans tell their story. Their ministry is supported by the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions and encouraged by Texas Baptists.
Doors opened in dramatic fashion. In one instance, the Hoffmans were allowed to share the gospel during a safety meeting of all the employees at one oilfield location. Another time, a road rage incident served as the start of a relationship through which the gospel was shared.
People are coming to faith statewide. Marriages are being healed. Addictions are being overcome. Individuals are praying for the first time in a long time. As the oil boom slowed, families were reunited and strengthened.
“God is the one at work,” Nelda Hoffman said. “He’s using all kinds of people. People are coming to Christ. People are getting saved.”
‘Perhaps there is hope for me’
The testimonies of men who left behind “hellish” lives for holy ones washed over Gray Hawk. They once lived like he was. “Perhaps there is hope for me after all,” he thought as he poured over the pages for hours.
“I came across the sinner’s prayer of repentance,” he said. “I just kept moving on, reading stuff and reading stuff. A couple of testimonies really touched my heart. I stopped worrying about that gun. I got down on my knees and recited that part of the Bible, ‘Lord Jesus, come into my heart.’”
Tucked away in the Bible was a phone number with a note encouraging the reader to call if he or she had any questions. He had plenty of questions, and he wanted some answers.
“I found Jesus at 57 years old—first time in my life. The next morning hung over like a dog, I called Sister Peanut. An hour later, she called back. We talked and prayed together.”
Peanut Scott accompanied a friend to the Hoffmans’ seminar about oilpatch ministry during the WMU of Texas Annual Meeting in 2014. She really went in support of her friend, but soon her interest was piqued. Her husband, Phil, works in the oilfields, and she’d been looking for a ministry they can do together.
“I went to it, and I felt a big calling from the Lord,” she said. “I thought it was so cool. I came home and told my husband.”
Three days later, he unexpectedly met the Hoffmans at a meeting. The time was right, the Scotts sensed. God was calling them to serve.
The Hoffmans introduced the Scotts to God’s Word for The Oil Patch. Peanut and Phil were impressed by what they saw and read. They volunteered to distribute the Bibles.
As time passed, the oilfields became busier and busier. That meant more opportunities to distribute the Bibles. At the boom’s height, Peanut Scott was visiting nearly every hotel in a 300-mile radius, placing as many as 20 cases of Bibles a month in welcome lobbies. She has distributed at least 3,000 Bibles in the area in three years, each with the Scotts’ phone number and a note inside.
“I started in Beeville,” she said. “Then I went a little further and a little further. When the oilfield was really going, I was at about 100 (dropoff locations). I’m probably at about 60 now.”
Along the way, she built relationships with hotel staff members. She knows them by name, and they know her. She’s prayed with many of them. A maid who worked at one of the hotels picked up a Bible and came to faith in Christ. The next time she saw Peanut Scott, the housekeeper gave her a plastic container full of coins to purchase more Bibles.
“I know God’s word is still true,” Peanut Scott said. “People are still hungry for it. You can see it working in their lives.”
Delivered from darkness
The time on Gray Hawk’s knees in prayer left an indelible mark on his life. He’s been sober since. He says God has given him joy. Life hasn’t always been easy, but he sees “one blessing after another.”
“I never knew something like that could happen to someone like me,” he said.
The Sunday after his initial conversation with the Scotts, he was baptized by Pete Navarro, an oil patch chaplain and pastor of Hosanna Baptist Church in Jourdanton. Hawk still calls the Scotts often with questions. They have become a central part of his support system. They even spent Thanksgiving together.
“The Lord has brought so many wonderful brothers and sisters into my life,” he said. “They’ve blessed me with their testimony and their prayers.”
It may have taken five decades and an unbelievable amount of orchestration from above to bring Hawk to Christ. But he’s trying to make up for lost time. He shares his testimony when possible. He even gives out copies of God’s Word for The Oil Patch.
“I lived my life 57 years in darkness—drinking, doing drugs. When I was single, I fraternized with women I wasn’t married to. Jesus probably had bloody knuckles if he had knuckles left at all from knocking on my heart’s door. I made him wait 57 years,” he said.
“My Lord Jesus delivered me from the darkest paths of this life and into the light of the Father.”