'God's not dead' text reply leads to 87 new Christians in N.D. oil fields, and one very happy wife

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
Dorm-style man camp housing units line a well site in the badlands -- not good for cattle or crops -- of western North Dakota and adjoin the drilling rig which goes as far as a mile below the surface of the earth.

WILLISTON, N.D. (ChristianExaminer)–The 4-year-old pleaded to talk with the man her daddy was talking with. When he turned the telephone over to her, Brandi had one question: "Are you a super-hero?"

Rob Davis told her no.

"Well, you saved my family."

Davis, a Christian for 18 months when this story began to unfold in April 2014, is youth director at the independent Grace Baptist Church in Palisade, Colo., on the state's Western Slope, and being mentored by the church's pastor, Marlion "Marty" Holt.

Davis, who had just purchased a new telephone, received a couple of errant "ugly" texts meant for an apparent employee of the texter. Davis ignored them until coming out of the theatre from watching God's Not Dead, when he received another less-than-uplifting text and decided to do what the movie encourages: "Send someone a text and tell them 'God's not dead.'"

A few minutes later, he received a reply from the man who still thought he was communicating with an employee: "What did God do? Shine a light on you?"

"Yes, He did, and you ought to get to know Him."

"Maybe I should and my wife wouldn't be such a b...."

Davis continued texting to the man.

"I told him how to get right with God and make Jesus his Lord and Savior," Davis told Christian Examiner. "A week later he called me, and I didn't answer. He called again, and the third time I answered the phone. That's when he realized I wasn't the guy he'd thought he was talking to."

The original texter is T.J. Johansen, a "company man" working in the oil fields of western North Dakota. He manages three "man camps" – temporary dorm-style housing for about 1,200 oilfield workers – and the 36 well sites where the men work. It's an 18-hour-a-day job, if not more, ramrodding men who make a good living—often spent on a rough lifestyle that interferes with their ability to do the best job possible.

"He thanked me for what I did, and said, 'My wife wants to talk to you,'" Davis said.

"She thanked me [and said] they had been on the verge of divorce and now he was completely different."

The men continued to talk almost daily, with Davis passing on what he had learned as a new Christian, and what his pastor suggested. A week later, while the men were talking, Brandi asked her "super hero" question.

"I told her I didn't save her family; Jesus did," Davis said. "We talked back and forth and I told T.J. if he wanted to ask me any questions about the Scriptures, about the Lord, I'd be willing to talk with him about it.

"I sent him some Bibles and things [tracts] to give to the guys at the man camps," Davis continued. "Two weeks after I sent them, I got a call at 5:30 in the morning. He told me he had some guys who wanted to accept the Lord. I figured maybe one or two, but it was 11.

"What a good wake-up call, huh? I talked to each one of the guys; took me over three hours but I talked to them all. A week or so later I got another call from T.J. He had four more guys who wanted to accept Jesus."

In early summer, T.J. invited Davis to Denver, where the company he works for was having a gathering. He wanted to meet the man who had changed his life, he said. In Denver, T.J. asked if Davis—a Christian for fewer than two years—if Davis would speak to some of the people about Jesus.

"He said 30 families at the most," Davis said. "I said yes because I knew my pastor would be upset with me if I didn't, and I knew the Lord would be upset if I didn't. I prayed that night about what to say, and the Lord gave me John 3. I called my pastor to get some encouragement and he told me to speak out of John 3. That was confirmation.

"When I got to the place—hotel ballroom—to speak, the lady told me the room would hold 200 people. ... At 3:30 there was standing-room only. I was nervous. I got on my knees and prayed for God to help me through it. I got up there and started speaking. Then the Lord stepped in and started speaking through me.

"Afterward I said if anybody wanted to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, I would speak to them about it, and 65 people raised their hands," Davis continued. "I didn't know what to do, but the Lord told me how to do it. I had them get in groups of 10 so it wouldn't take all day and all night, and I didn't get out of there until 9 that night."

Two weeks later, Davis and Pastor Holt were invited to North Dakota to do more evangelism. In spite of work conflicts, bad directions and other issues, six more people made professions of faith in Jesus Christ. That's a total of 87 new Christians, so far, as a result of texting, "God's not dead."

Bradley and Rob Davis pose for a father and son selfie, Oct. 18. Bradley's love for God brought his Dad to Christ, whose simple text message, "God's not dead," led to 87 roughrods and their family members to give God a chance.

But the story starts even further back, when Davis, a single dad, in 2013 sent his son to a church camp led by Holt. Bradley, 12 at the time, came home a new Christian and started preaching to his dad. The two attended Grace Baptist in Palisade and, "His messages rocked me to the core," Davis said of Holt. "I realized I needed to get right with the Lord, that I needed Jesus in my life.

"Home life is a lot different now," Davis said. "Bradley and I now get along like two peas in a pod."

T.J. Johansen told his perspective on this story in a series of texts. He needs to keep his telephone free for incoming calls related to issues at the well sites or three man camps in Williston and Killdeer, N.D., that together house about 1,200 men, he explained.

"What I can do to tell people how great Jesus Christ is and what He has done for my family, I am more than willing to do so," texted Johansen, who was born in Fargo and moved two years ago to Williston with his wife Pamela and daughter Brandi. "He saved my marriage and made me a better husband, dad and boss.

"You would have to understand, my life was rough before Rob texted me that night," Johansen continued. "I was a very mean person to everyone. ... After Rob got to me in April and he led me to the Lord my whole life changed.

"I really didn't say much to the men," Johansen said in response to a question. "They came to me and asked me why am I being so nice to them and I told them that I repented of my sins and accepted Jesus as my Savior, and they just said, well if Jesus could save me and turn my life around, then they wanted Jesus in their life also. So I would just call Rob and tell him.

"My wife didn't know what was going on when I came home and told her about what Rob did for me. When I apologized to her for the way I have treated her, for the longest time she didn't believe me. She couldn't believe some guy in Colorado could help me. She wanted to thank Rob for doing what he did for us, and she also wanted confirmation that I have accepted Jesus, because she had been a Christian.

"I will always be in great debt to Rob for what he has done for me, and I thank him all the time and he just keeps telling me he didn't do it, and it was Jesus," Johansen continued. "I just love my Lord so much for what He has done. ... I read my Bible daily and talk to my wife about what I read. Plus I talk to the other Christians at camp.

Why didn't he blow off Davis' "God's not dead" message?

"I really don't know why I wanted to listen to what Rob had to say that night," Johansen texted. "Something inside me told me to pay attention and respond to him nicely and find out what he meant by giving God a chance. So I did."