WILLISTON, N.D. – “Crank it up for another 90 seconds with A Preacher in the Patch …. Oil Patch, that is.”
That catchphrase is well-known to radio listeners in western North Dakota, where lifelong Williston man Ron Evitt began a radio ministry in 1997 incorporating his oilfield background.
“As I grew up, I wondered about these oilfield hands. Who’s speaking to them?” Evitt said. “I didn’t know of anybody. I’d never heard of an oilfield preacher.”
Evitt, 52, grew up in a Christian home and through his father got involved with The Gideons International, an interdenominational association focused on spreading the word of God.
Evitt said he felt God was calling him to preach on the radio and he asked a radio station if they’d let him preach on the air for 30 minutes.
“They said, ‘We’ll let you preach for 90 seconds and you’re going to have to pay for it,’ ” Evitt recalled.
A Preacher in the Patch is now on 46 stations in oilfield areas of North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming under the nonprofit To The Cross Ministries. Evitt would like to expand the show to other oilfield areas in the country.
“It started small, but we’re headed south,” Evitt said. “We’re headed toward Houston.”
Buying airtime and running the weekly 90-second program costs about $15,000 a month, but “people help us,” Evitt said.
Evitt, who is ordained “only by God,” said one reason he wants to reach out to oilfield workers is because their families often are fragmented.
“Look at how they’re living now. They send the dads out here to our area and mom is back home trying to make it with some maybe ornery little brats,” Evitt said. “They need the Lord. Their families are really hurting.”
Evitt, who has a petroleum engineering degree, owns a small operating company with a handful of oil wells and other oilfield service operations. His son, Riley Dakota Evitt, also works with the business, running well tests for other companies.
“I always say you need a microscope to see us in this Oil Patch,” Evitt said.
Evitt says he and his wife have six kids and one is in heaven. They began singing together as a family band in the mid-1990s.
These days, after working all day in the field, Evitt records his weekly radio program from the basement studio in his home and his son edits and produces it.
In the early days of the program, Evitt would come in wearing his work boots to the studios of Cherry Creek Radio in Williston to record his show, said the station’s chief engineer, Earl Gross.
“He smelled like he just came in from the field,” Gross said.
Evitt always comes up with something new and connects his message to people in the industry, Gross said.
“He’s a phenomenal man,” Gross said. “He’s got a heart for the Lord and he is going to share it.”
A major part of Evitt’s ministry is preaching at the Williams County Jail, where he has spent most Sunday mornings for the past 25 years.
That ministry has grown, too, as the jail has expanded, with Evitt now delivering his message to five cell blocks and 35 percent to 40 percent of the inmates actively participating.
“God is coming to where they’re at. God can save you from your sins, either in jail or in the oilfield or wherever you are,” Evitt said.
Riley now goes with his father to the jail and sings gospel songs and an occasional country tune to the inmates.
“I’ve seen people really encouraged by a simple song,” Riley said.
In 2000, Evitt began holding A Preacher in the Patch and friends crusade events throughout the region featuring Christian bands, including Riley’s Sweet Crude Band.
The growing population in the Bakken means Evitt now has more listeners.
“The whole world has come to this place and I get to preach to them all,” Evitt said.