The Overnighters: What Does It Mean To Be Good?

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What does it mean to be good? What does it really mean to love your neighbor? If you’re like me, theory is much easier to come by than practice. I talk a good talk. I’ve often found my love for “my neighbors” to be based on my own convenience. Most of us find caring for our families and ourselves a full time job. Other have to….well…do for themselves. I’ve often stood in amazement watching those who managed to live selflessly, serving others. I usually stand watching from a distance, afraid that looking too closely would motivate my own guilt about what I might could do.

The Overnighters is a new documentary from Jesse Moss that takes place in Williston, North Dakota, a town unprepared for the tens of thousands of unemployed workers who show up hoping to find jobs in the local oil boom. When the seekers begin to overwhelm the opportunity, thousands are left hungry with nowhere to sleep. Pastor Jay Reinke opens the doors of his church, allowing people to sleep in the parking lot and on the floors. Reinke faces massive opposition from his congregation, the local newspaper, the City Council, and those who live near the church. No one wants these men around –- except Jay Reinke. He sees the best in them when everyone else sees the worst.

Pastor Jay cares for the people who have created a refugee camp inside his church. He loves them when their pasts come back to haunt them. He takes them into his home when it becomes problematic for them to say inside the church. He listens to their struggles, cries with them, and hugs their necks in their lowest moments. In one of the film’s most gripping scenes, Reinke tells a drug addict trying to get his life back together, Can I tell you something? You and I are a whole lot more alike than we are different. I’m broken. We’re broken. We’re just broken. We’re in this together.”

We are given a front row seat to Reinke’s brokenness later in the film. He gets upset with men who betray him. He makes a few questionable decisions. He proves to be a man. He proves to be human. In the end, his humanity costs him dearly, as the film takes an unexpectedly shocking turn in the final ten minutes. We are reminded that in so many Christian cultures, a lifetime of selfless service can be undone in one low moment. The person who has afforded grace to so many is left empty-handed when they are in desperate need of the grace they have offered so freely.

This is a film that deals fairly with the complex issues around basic goodness, faith, and redemption. It’s not afraid to ask hard questions about the purpose of a congregation and whether most look more like country clubs rather than hospitals. It’s not afraid to ask the question of what it really means to be a good person—to be a person of faith. If you’re like me, it’s easier to look away than examine these questions honestly. I’m glad this film doesn’t do that. I’m glad Pastor Jay didn’t do that. Having seem him at his best and worst in the film, I walked away still desiring to be more like him. Desiring to force myself not to look away. He said it best. We’re broken. We’re in this together.

Find out if The Overnighters is playing near you and how you can bring the film to your city on their website, theovernighters.com.

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