‘Overnighters’ is a reminder of harsh realities

By Jeff Smith


People like to watch car crashes. I also think people like to see those that are successful fall.

But when when someone who is revered and seems to be doing everything right is taken down there is just sadness.

In the movie “The Overnighters” we see this as a pastor is struggling with how to handle current situations and basically is being documented at the worst moments in his life. He is trying to do good by trying to use his church as a place for oil workers to sleep and live. The pastor, Jay Reinke, tries to get his congregation on board with “the overnighters” program. He also deals with negative press about the the program as well as eradicating some of the fears that come up in the community.

“The Overnighters” was like watching a car crash in slow motion.

The movie takes place is in Williston, N.D. It showed how Christians are not perfect and they are susceptible to the devil’s schemes. Even those in leadership positions. 

It was interesting to see intimate portrayals of a few key people in the movie. You get to know the people that came there and what they were expecting to find.

Williston wasn’t equipped to deal with the massive amounts of people that came looking for a job in the town. Prices for rentals skyrocketed during this time. RV lots and trailer parks were overcrowded.

I believe South Dakota did see spillover from the oil boom. Those who work in the tourism industry during the summer are similar to workers who come to work in the oil industry. Although the pay is far greater in North Dakota than what people can get working during the summer at a restaurant or hotel.

Every fall churches have the opportunity to reach out to those that might need help and have a hole to fill in their lives. It’s great to see bikers flock to the Hills for the Sturgis Rally. There is some great ministering that happens during this time. Many people who come for the thrill of the Sturgis Rally may not have ever thought about Jesus or what happens when we die. But people can’t just start with that type of conversation right away.

Churches can do a great service when they meet people’s basic needs. Yet, there is a limit to love. We can’t help everybody. It’s impossible.

Maybe we should be more empathetic sometimes. I think empathy in America is becoming more rare. It is a quality that is tough to build up.

One of the most interesting points Reinke makes in the movie is that he wants to defend people that can’t defend themselves. Some of our past actions can’t be justified. He had a tough time explaining to others that people’s past mistakes shouldn’t define them.

But the criminals that were at the church needed to be told that they are more than what they were labeled as—whether they were sex offenders or recovering addicts.

There is also a notion that everybody who goes to work in the oilfields are criminals and have a bad past. There were some of those types of people in the movie but we also saw the type of people that were trying to create a better life for their family. People were willing to leave their family and give up on other parts of their life just for money. It was pretty heartbreaking to see what people will do for the promise of making a lot of money. It would be hard to be compelled to build a life and community at a place that people don’t have a real connection to except for a romantic idea that they can become rich there.

It is clear that no one else really shared in Reinke’s vision. Even though Reinke had the resources and believed that he was making a difference, he ended up losing everything. One of Reinke’s problems is that he didn’t gauge that there was not a desire to help those who came to Williston to work.  Still, I was amazed at Reinke’s willingness to open the doors of his church to these men who were not seen as good people from societal standards. The pastor even let some stay in his house with his family.

Pastors may be seen as being above human nature sometimes and that they aren’t ever in situations with their backs against the wall. I think Reinke wanted to change people’s perspective and create a church that cares for the poor but he jumped right in headfirst with an ambitious program.  He decided to carry all of the burden. He needed to ask for help just as the oil workers asked for help. This movie gave me plenty to think about and reminded me that I  don’t work in a bubble.