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Ministry connects workers, jobs

Times were good when First Baptist’s oilfield ministry began last October. It was the Permian Basin International Oil Show, and a group of Christians joined to distribute some 7,000 Bibles tailored specifically to oil men from nearby the event.

An oil price slide during the following months would hammer the industry, and First Baptist “boom pastor” Jesse Gore — to use his own title for himself — began arranging meetings at local businesses to talk about safety and God.

In doing so, he worked with Oilfield Christian Fellowship, believers from various churches in Midland and Odessa in a local chapter of a national group.

Now, they plan a job fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday to help the down-and-out find a way back. The event is at the Rock the Desert Complex on FM 1788 in Midland. Attendees can enjoy a free lunch and help in areas such as making resumes. In the meantime, Gore is working to round up just about any business hiring for good positions to show.

“I was impressed upon,” Gore said. “We will put it that way, seeing that there was a lot of need out there because of the downturn in our economy. And with that, we wanted to make Oilfield Christian Fellowship part of that as well.”

Many members of the Oilfield Christian Fellowship work in the oilfield, said Damien Barrett, a reservoir engineer with Energen Corp. who serves as director of the fellowship.

“I’ve got several friends that if they didn’t get laid off, they got cuts in pay or no bonuses,” Barrett said. “It’s just crazy. And with that I know several people who have gotten laid off, and we wanted to figure out a way we could help people find a job. That’s not really excluding anybody. So if there is anybody who has jobs available we are trying to get them to come to the job fair, whether in the oilfield or not. Because we just want people working.”

Already some non-oilfield employers are slated to attend, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety.

A year into the downturn, it remains unclear just how many workers in the oilfield and related industries lost their jobs, in part because companies, especially the major service companies representing some of Odessa’s largest private employers, do not disclose such figures by region.

But signs of continued pain abound. On Wednesday, Noble Energy disclosed plans to cut 60 jobs, including positions in the Permian Basin along with the Eagle Ford Shale and Houston.

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Economist Karr Ingham in a Monday report estimated that oil and gas employment in the Odessa area is down about 15 percent, reflecting the loss of 5,500 jobs during the last 12 months,

“In truth the number is probably higher than that, and industry job loss will almost certainly continue in the coming months,” Ingham reported in his monthly economic index commissioned by the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.

But the ministry sees those losses through a lens others do not, and as far as Gore can tell it appears to be the only ministry of its kind.

In April, the boom ministry went to Energy Fabrication, a local oilfield equipment manufacturer whose owner Tommy Southall said he had just been forced to lay off a few employees and knew more pain would come as business continued to plummet.

“We had already laid off a few at that time, and we saw what was coming,” Southall said. “And it came.”

Such businesses make up a large chunk of the small businesses in Odessa, and interviews with businessmen like Southall, along with their suppliers, suggest a drop in business by 40 to 50 percent as oil prices more than halved during the past year.

But Southall, who knew Gore because he attends church with him, saw a way to raise his employees’ spirits, about 80 workers at that time. The ministry came with breakfast and offered a safety lesson in addition to spiritual advice.

“Every time the oil business starts bottoming out, we see layoffs, and a dire situation with families and upheaval in families — the kinds of things that cause a lot of strife in people’s lives,” Southall said. “In anticipation of that, and in anticipation of just wanting to be more of a mentor to your employees than just being able to give them a paycheck, we wanted to give them this opportunity to get a little closer to Jesus and have somebody to rely on other than their own intellect and their own thinking.”

As it turned out, Energen had to lay off another 30 employees, Southall said. But he plans on attending Friday’s event, hopeful that he can hire a few job seekers if business, which involves selling heating equipment for the oil patch, picks up. Southall said he is also looking at conservative expansions that could require more workers.

“We don’t have an ability to put anybody on at this time,” Southall said. “But we are always hoping that we can. Typically we get a little busier in the fall, which is what we are hoping to do. We are hoping we do pick up some and get to hire some of those guys there.”

Like Southall, Gore said he sees the role of church in the oil patch as a natural fit.

“I fully believe it’s a God thing to be totally honest,” said Gore, who used to work in the oilfield as an electrician. “Everything just kind of fell into place in so many facets — myself and my employment, the need that was obviously there, my experience in the oilfield and in related industries. We knew the world was being brought to our doorstep, and we felt we needed to make some impact in that respect. We thought, ‘Why not do that through the companies, and they’ve been extremely receptive.”

“Sometimes,” he continued, “We need to get outside the walls. We need to do that all the time, frankly.”

This article was written by Corey Paul from Odessa American, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.