The Overnighters

The hydraulic fracking industry has turned North Dakota into the new Gold Rush. People from all over the world are showing up in small North Dakota towns in hopes of securing one of the lucrative oilfield jobs. Strong young men are the prime candidates, but men of all ages show up looking for a new start.

In the small town of Williston, lifelong residents share their town with the newly rich as well as the newly arrived. While many people are making a lot of money, housing has become scarce and expensive. This, in turn, means that the newcomers are not only looking for work, they are also seeking (and not finding) housing of any kind. Their plight—and the town’s response to it—is the subject of the documentaryThe Overnighters.

The Lutheran church in Williston, led by pastor Jay Reinke, unwittingly becomes a haven for those with no place to lay their head. It starts out with one person staying overnight in the church building, and without a long-range plan—or a church vote—the Overnighters program is born. People are ushered into the rooms and hallways of the church; some sleep in their cars or RVs in the parking lot.

While Reinke feels the certainty of the call to be hospitable and to serve the needs of the hurting stranger at the door, members have mixed feelings about the toll these visitors take on the church and the congregation. Neighbors feel like the guests are not safe to have near their families. Even the pastor’s family is feeling the strain of the burden.

Meanwhile the pastor fights to keep the program going while debating how much to tell the neighbors and even his church council in his wish to keep the peace.

This documentary offers myriad questions and topics for any church group to explore. Reinke eloquently talks about the need for the church to serve God and his people rather than their own fears. The way the church is torn up by the surrounding need has plenty of real-life application.

There is a major change of direction in the last portion of the movie, one that threatens to derail the kind of discussion that could benefit a church group. The twist may give more insight into what makes the pastor so committed to the program. At the same time, certain conversations make you wonder why he would even have that discussion on camera.

In spite of those issues, this would be a good movie for a small group or a movie group to consider. It raises basic yet complex issues about what it means to love one another. On disc February 3. (Drafthouse Films)

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