April 1, 2015
While newcomers seeking a fresh start have poured into western North Dakota from around the world, it is often the dark side of the communities surrounding the oil fields that makes headlines. Yet many new residents are bringing the light of their faith, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in and around the oil fields. Here are a few who shared their stories for the
“My first week, a co-worker tried to buy me a prostitute,” Anthony Loyola, age 30 from Milwaukee recalled. “It was
welcome to the oil field!” He arrived in Watford City in 2013 wanting to embrace the grittiness of hard work. He also wanted to tackle over $27,000 in school loans and credit card debt. A welding job for an oil company fit the bill, but he was soon tested like never before.
Anthony became the butt of jokes when he turned down the offer for the prostitute. He sought guidance from his pastor, Fr. Brian Gross, at Epiphany parish. “Fr. Brian told me, ‘In that room when everyone is making fun of you, there are at least five guys who agree with you but are afraid to say anything,’ ” Anthony said. “He was right. People later came up to me and told me so; one didn’t necessarily believe in Catholic teaching on premarital sex, but it opened the door to conversation.”
After praying to St. Joseph, for a new job with a better atmosphere, his prayer was answered on May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. “It’s all God,” Anthony said. “I just keep planting seeds, even though I don’t know how God is using me to further the journey of others.” For instance, he shared a conversation with a young single mother about her misconceptions on Church teachings, and he gave away a book on Catholicism over a beer with a fallen-away Catholic. And last Easter, when he declined to make overtime money so he could attend Mass, his silent witness got through to a co-worker who heard about it from his parents.
Anthony is now putting away money for his future, which he said he hopes includes a wife and perhaps a home in North Dakota. In the meantime, he is committed to living his Catholic faith, often praying the rosary at work and attending extra Masses during the week.
Windie knows well the human degradation of the sex trade; she was in it for almost 20 years. She came to Williston, not looking for work in the oil fields, but looking to those who have fallen prey to the dark side. She is the executive director and founder of “4her North Dakota,” the only direct service organization that provides care to victims of sex trafficking in the state. She is Christian, but not Catholic.
“I was trafficked as a young person, so it appeared to be choice after that,” Windie said. She was sexually abused from the age of 8, ran away at 13, was married at 16, and by 19 was a mother. Prostitution led to pornography, then strip dancing. Today, at age 46, she has five grown children and three grandchildren.
“My kids were part of my mess, but God has done an amazing healing work,” she said. “They suffered along with me.”
At the last strip club where she worked, some of the girls started going to church. “One girl who had been talking a lot about God in the dressing room walked past me wearing a cross,” Windie recalled. “It made me so angry.” She demanded of the girl, “How could God—if there is one—how could he love you?” Windie thought about God and asked him, “Okay God, if you are there, where were you when I was molested?”
As some of the girls left the club and rebuilt their lives, Windie said she started crying out to God. On stage one night, she was overcome with the feeling that she had to leave. She walked out and never returned. Windie found a strong mentor and leaned on her newfound religious faith to get on track. Now, she works relentlessly to get others out.
Before coming to Williston, Windie spent six years educating herself and attending training to advocate against human trafficking. She worked with at-risk teen girls through churches in California and then in Montana where one of her daughters and granddaughter live. In Montana, she heard that girls were being bussed into North Dakota for prostitution. By then, Windie was speaking across the country. She left Montana and in September 2013, had just accepted a job in Miami as a survivor/victim advocate. “But two weeks before my job started, God laid it on my heart to check out North Dakota for myself,” she said.
Windie was shocked by what she saw. “It was horrifying to be in rural America and see the amount of blatant pimp controlled prostitution,” she said.
Sitting in a coffee shop in Williston, Windie prayed, “I really don’t want to do this, God. Winter is coming and I’m a Southern California girl. Give me a sign if you want me here.” Windie then looked up and made eye contact with three ladies at the table beside her. They introduced themselves. “We were just talking about all the prostitution in our city,” one lady said. “We don’t know what to do. We need help.”
Windie moved here the following month and formed the support-resource group, “4her North Dakota” for victims. She works with the FBI and federal prosecutors and helps educate law enforcement and others in the community to recognize and reach out to victims and put them in touch with her. “I’m not law enforcement,” she said. “I’m not going to bust them and they know I understand what it’s like.”
In a recent Associated Press article, U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon credited Windie with making a huge difference against sex trafficking such as providing critical emotional support to a woman whose testimony was essential in taking down a man who later pleaded guilty to enticing two women to travel to North Dakota to work as prostitutes. Windie also worked with Minot police on a sex sting that led to 13 arrests. She said she’s worked directly with over a dozen victims; helping them get away from pimps and even taking some into her own apartment at times. “I tell them that they were created for more than this, that they deserve a better life,” she said. Still, Windie says it’s not always easy to convince a woman to get out because they are often brainwashed and bonded to their pimps who might beat them up if they don’t meet their quota. She is hoping to establish a 30-day emergency shelter for trafficked women this year.
Jesus and Diana Laris Morales
Although they had started the annulment process for their previous marriages while in Idaho where they met, Jesus and Diana Laris Morales were unmarried and living together when they moved to Watford City in 2012. “I went to church, but I was not taking communion,” Diana, said. “I was living in sin and I was not proud of that. Fr. John Pfeifer told me, ‘Jesus wants you to come and participate in this wonderful celebration.’ He told us that if we were not married, we should be living like brother and sister.”
Father Brian took over when Fr. John left in 2013 after serving for 24 years. “He told us we had to live apart and we followed his advice,” Diana said. “When Fr. Brian married us on Oct. 18, 2013, it was an emotional day. I value my husband so much more because of what we went through. We lived apart for a few months and grew a lot through that.”
Diana works as a human resource director for an oil field services organization during the day. After work, she teaches religious education and helps prepare Hispanic families that have come from Guatemala, Columbia, Argentina, and Mexico to receive the sacraments. Diana also cooks for the priests when they visit Watford City. “I make my specialties that definitely open up their sinuses,” she joked. “They love Mexican cooking but Fr. Kovash has had trouble from time to time because it’s so spicy for him.”
Jesus said that he wakes up every morning thanking God for the day. He calls his hour drive to work every morning from Watford City to Williston, a time of adoration in his little chapel on wheels. “I listen to Lighthouse Media CDs and have an application on my phone so I can listen to Scripture readings and Gospel meditations.”
At work, Jesus said he looks for opportunities to spread his faith. “I had not practiced it very much before; I spent more time at the gym,” he said. “I went to church sometimes, but now I want to go to church every Sunday and thank God for the life that I have.”
Recently, a co-worker scoffed at the idea that the Body and Blood of Christ became present at Mass. “I’m not going to waste an hour on Sunday going to church. If I want real bread and real wine, I’ll go to the store,” the co-worker said.
“It’s not bread and wine after the priest consecrates it,” Jesus answered him. “And it’s not a waste of time to spend an hour with Jesus to say thanks for paying for our sins.” Although some of his fellow employees brush him off, Jesus said he doesn’t let it bother him and at least one co-worker has come to church with him and started reading the Bible.
Shawn and Stephanie Ray
During the months when Jesus and Diana Laris Morales needed to live apart before marriage, fellow parishioners at Epiphany, Shawn and Stephanie Ray, made room for Jesus. The five of them lived in a crowded little trailer shared with the Ray’s two small daughters while they built a house from scratch.
Before they met, the couple lived in Los Angeles as aspiring actors, paying the bills by waiting tables. The shallowness and loneliness of it all drove Stephanie to question the value of living at all. But while in the depths of hopelessness one night, an encounter with God helped her to see that the dreams she was chasing were allusions. It also brought her back to her Catholic faith. Shortly thereafter, Stephanie met Shawn who was also ready to give up on acting. Stephanie followed Shawn to his hometown of Tampa, Fla. where they married and he eventually followed her into the Catholic faith once he understood it. He opened a photography studio, and Stephanie found work modeling and acting in TV commercials. But when a prolonged recession dried up their income, the Rays moved with their two young daughters to Watford City.
Shawn landed a job in February 2012, but housing was so scarce, they bought five acres and built their own house. “The thought hadn’t occurred to us that we couldn’t,” Stephanie laughed at their learn-as-you-go project. They bought a kit with instructions and got to work on a 2,500 square foot house, they finished in November 2013—plenty of time before their twins were born the following August.
“In all of our trials, we have grown in faith,” Stephanie said. “God has been right here through everything, and He purifies periods of desolation and consolation. There were times she was ready to call it quits, but Stephanie described her spiritual growth as exponential and credits Fr. Brian Gross with comforting and guiding their journey. “We’ve also made some great friends,” Stephanie said. “There are people from everywhere. I like the boom; I like the activity. It’s exciting meeting new people.”
Shawn grew up in several Protestant churches but once he learned about Catholicism, he embraced it and is even devoted to praying the rosary. His faith, he said, has helped him to adjust to a very different life than the one he left behind. He works now as a plant operator for an oil company.
“I was overwhelmed at first, but hunkered down and learned,” Shawn explained. “The only way I could have gone through this was by praying. The Lord has been stretching me. Fr. Brian has taken us through a lot of spiritual desolations, being away from anything we’ve ever known.”
Shawn explained that he has learned to give it all to God since other avenues were closed off. “We came through hard times, but God has richly blessed us,” he said. “We have five acres, scenery and buttes behind us, wonderful neighbors and our faith has been strengthened.”
The Rays are in Watford City because God has led them there, according to Shawn. “I share our story with others, even at work,” he said. “God has blessed us richly and I share that unabashedly. Sometimes, people share they also felt brought by God and it opens up an avenue to share and grow in our faith.”
When his parents and four siblings needed financial help in Mexico, Ricardo Ortiz took a break as a seminarian in San Antonio for three years, and before that, two years in Mexico City. His goal in coming to Dickenson, he said, is to make money to help them.
“I met Fr. [Casimir] Paluck a few years ago during a reconciliation service in Tucson, Arizona where he goes in the winter,” Ricardo said. “He invited me to Dickinson to work and we’ve been keeping in touch.” Fr. Paluck suggested to Ricardo that he help Fr. Keith Streifel develop a Hispanic ministry. “So I met with Fr. Streifel around 18 months ago and we started working on it,” Ricardo explained. “He also invited me to be on the parish council.”
The number of Hispanics, that attend Mass at St. Joseph’s according to Ricardo, varies from around 150-180 in the summer and 50-80 in the winter. He has helped with outreach to the Spanish speaking community. “They wanted to praise God in their own language, so they were going to other denominations,” Ricardo explained. Working with Fr. Streifel, he assisted in making it possible to have Spanish Masses twice a month. This past December, St. Joseph’s also held a big celebration on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The church was full for the Mass, there was a dinner with music and many of the city leaders including the mayor and people of other faiths joined in the festivities, which lasted until midnight. “It was the first time in the diocese that we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Ricardo said. “We had a First Communion last year, have had some weddings, and we hope in the near future we can invite Bishop Kagan to a Spanish confirmation.” He stated, however, that the church of St. Joseph is one, not two communities, to preserve the unity of the Catholic faithful. “But there are people who don’t speak English very well,” he said.
For Ricardo, he said he simply wants to serve where he is needed. “I believe in the principle that we can become holy and by doing ordinary things, that we become closer to our Father and our faith that way.” He noted that the Spanish people are very grateful for their church’s outreach. “We are thankful for Fr. Streifel for being so open to helping us."