Greetings From Williston, North Dakota
Credit: Michael Christopher Brown
It's Easter Sunday, and I stumble into the New Hope Church service at Williston State College a few minutes late and still wearing a wrist bracelet from a desultory night in pursuit of leads at Williston's number two strip club. I can't believe my eyes. The gym is filled to the rafters with more than a thousand shiny people. I am seated next to a comely pregnant lady, who inches away from my field jacket reeking of cigarettes and Taco John's tater tots. This is no small-town Easter thing. There is a full band rocking the Gospel and video screens flashing signs and verses. And gift bags! And doughnuts!

Pastor Mike Skor is running the show in jeans and a cowboy shirt with crosses on it. He looks like the spiritual adviser to the Flying Burrito Brothers. His wife is hot and sings with the voice of a naughty angel. There are touching moments, especially when a little girl walks across the stage with a sign reading 'lost twin sister at birth,' and then flips it over to reveal 'i will see her again in heaven.' The service ends after an hour, and I feel like I've just experienced the best performance of 'Godspell' north of Denver. Nothing can harsh my spiritual buzz, not even meeting a guy from Minneapolis who tells me during the post-church reception that he is coming off heroin while sleeping in the community-center parking lot.

I meet with Pastor Mike in his office a few days later. He has a laid-back California Christian feel to him. Turns out I'm right – he moved to Williston from Sacramento last year. There was no way in hell Williston was getting a Pastor Mike five years ago. But now he sees endless possibilities.

"Usually, you have to travel thousands of miles to do missionary work," says Pastor Mike. "Here, I don't have to leave my office. There are people showing up in our parking lot almost every morning looking for guidance and a meal and a place to stay. There's a real opportunity to do good."