Oilfield chaplains minister where spiritual wells run dry

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Life working on oil drilling rigs can pay huge dividends financially, but days of nonstop work sometimes leave workers dry spiritually. That’s where oil patch chaplains like Kenny and Tawalia Humphries come in.

Workers are “on the go a lot, and they don’t have time to go to church,” she said.

As oilfield workers themselves, the chaplains acknowledge even they get run down.

But sometimes 18-wheelers will pull into the oilfield with “‘I love Jesus’ or a Bible verse on the back of the truck, written in the dirt,” he added.

Regardless whether they’ve met the trucker before, the couple strikes up a conversation. Worship, prayer, edification and fellowship begin.

“We’ll have church right there at the back of those trucks with other Christians. That’s the best part of it,” he said.

Kenny Humphries talks with a truck driver at the oilfield.While they occasionally encounter other Christians on the job, many workers don’t know God, she observed. Oilfields often are lonely places. Workers spend long periods apart from their loved ones. Some face difficult problems.

“Sometimes all it takes is just someone who will listen. You don’t have to have all the answers,” she said. “God has put everyone through certain situations to be able to help other people.”

Kenny Humphries understands that well. His life over a quarter-century ago had him on the other side of the counseling session.

“I made some really bad decisions,” he said. He was called to a North Texas police department to talk to a detective in connection with an investigation. The detective, who happened to be a Christian, said, “God told me that if you don’t get your life straightened out, the next time I see you, you’ll be going to prison for a long time.”

Three months later, Humphries saw him again. This time, Humphries was under arrest.

He had been involved in a shootout. Wielding a Mac-10 pistol, he found three shotguns and a pistol firing back his way. He was hit four times, and he shot a police officer twice at point-blank range.

kenny humphries preachingKenny Humphries preaching.“God had his hand on the whole situation that night,” he said. “He didn’t let the officer die, and (God) saved my life.”

Humphries spent 23 years in prison, but about 12 years into his sentence, he said, God saved his soul. And in time, God gave him a loving wife.

The couple had been family friends. Before his arrest, the two were considering the possibility of marriage, but he told her not to wait for him because of his long sentence.

“That broke my heart,” she said, “because I loved him then.”

To escape a troubled home life, she eventually married to get away. She found herself in an abusive marriage that lasted 19 years. During that time, she became a Christian. When she wrote Humphries in prison, she found out he had become a believer, too. After her divorce, she spent weekends at the Hospitality House in Huntsville to visit him.

Eventually, Humphries walked out of prison a changed, soon-to-be married man. When he was incarcerated, he said, God impressed missions upon his mind. He was all for it, he said, but it didn’t pan out like he expected. Humphries assumed God would use his past to minister to biker gangs and the motorcycle culture.

tawalia humphries driverTawalia Humphries talks with a driver.But God had different plans. Kenny and Tawalia Humphries were hired as oilfield workers, and blessings flowed their way.

“God moved. Everything was just boom, boom, boom,” he said. They had jobs, a house, a truck and a motorcycle. “And it wasn’t anything we had done.”

“God just set everything in our lap, and said, ‘Here, do what I have for you to do, and here’s everything you need,’” she added.

Hollas and Nelda Hoffman approached the couple at church one Sunday and asked them to enter their new oilfield ministry as chaplains. Texas Baptists help support oil patch chaplaincy through their gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.

He was unsure about the opportunity, but she advised him: “You have to be open-minded. Maybe this is where God wants us.”

She was right. As oil patch chaplains, they understand life isn’t perfect, and they are able to relate to the problems workers face, the couple noted. Their past experiences don’t define them.

“God has brought us a long way,” he said.

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