A City of Hope
WARNING: This is not your typical travel blog. It’s not filled with a list of things to do and see, but rather the cry of my heart.
I just got back from my family vacation to Arizona and Las Vegas, NV this week, and I’m honestly still processing everything I saw. We got to see God’s glorious creation while in Sedona and on our day trip to the Grand Canyon. This part of the trip was beautiful and breathtaking. I always enjoy getting to see God through his unique creation.
We also got to see man’s creation while in Las Vegas. Man’s creation is a city filled with extravagant hotels, each with its own distinct allure, more places to get alcoholic beverages in a mile than probably anywhere else, and less clothes on than anywhere else (this may have had a bit to do with the fact that it was 108 degrees, but still.)
The motto of the city is “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” However, what I experienced, I refuse to leave in Vegas.
My heart was broken. My heart was infuriated. My heart was full of love. My heart was heavy. The Vegas Strip is a place full of many broken people just like us, but many who are stuck in sin and so desperately in need of a Savior.
Another warning: It’s about to get PG-13. I saw homeless people sitting on the side of the street begging for money as some of the richest people walked by not looking their way. I saw women dressed in police officer costumes you would see at a college halloween party getting whipped on the streets by shirtless male “police officers” at 4 in the afternoon. I saw girls wearing less than a bra, posing with strangers for pictures and scantily-clad men who would grind on women for a picture. I saw 7 and 12 year old boys walking with their families, eyes open wide, looking back and watching these scenes take place, being exposed to so much of the world that they should NEVER have to see and completely losing their innocence. I saw people spending hours in the casinos, together adding millions of dollars to Vegas’ tourism industry each day. I saw people on Fremont street, another popular area similar to the strip, holding up signs full of profanity and hatred, whether it be for our president or just the world in general. I also can’t erase from my mind the image of this one truck that kept driving up and down the Las Vegas Strip that was advertising prostitutes. It said: GIRLS DIRECT TO YOU! Call 24 hours, and listed the phone number. There were also cards sprinkled along the ground of the strip saying the same thing.
The funny thing is, none of those things infuriated me. They definitely shocked me a little more than expected. They opened my eyes to a part of our culture that I had never seen in that magnitude before. They made my heart heavy. But they didn’t make me mad. What made me mad might be a little shocking, but hear me out. It was the Christians.
I saw multiple “Christians” walking up and down the Strip with megaphones screaming Bible verses of condemnation at people. They held up big signs with Bible verses that told people what they were doing was wrong (see below image). They use the Bible as a weapon to hurt rather than a tool to point people in the right direction. And they are turning people SO far away from ever wanting anything to do with Jesus. This is what enraged me. These people were just walking down the Strip, not looking people in the eye with compassion or love, but basically telling them that they are going to hell because they are living in sin.
The Jesus that I know would never do that. The Jesus that I know ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:13-17 & Matthew 9:10). He told the religious people to put down the stones and forgave the adulteress (John 8:1-11). He met the woman at the well, right where she was, in the middle of her life of sin with deep compassion and mercy (John 4:1-35). The Jesus I know would walk straight onto the Strip and love the people with a heart full of grace and compassion, not ignoring their sin but showing them such extravagant love that it changes their life. Because if we look at the world around us, they are not going to change their sinful ways by being yelled at. They are going to change by being shown the grace of Jesus dying on the cross for us.
After being on the strip for less than an hour and being so overwhelmed with the rampant craziness, I leaned over to my sister and told her I was NEVER going to come back here.
But God broke my heart for these people. He broke my heart for what breaks his. He showed me that these are his people and that they are created in his image, and he loves them so very much. The only problem is that because they are living in sin, he is separated from them. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” But he’s not done with them.
That’s where our job comes in. God has called us to go into the dark places of the world and shine his light of grace and truth. I would love to have the opportunity to take a team of mature Christ-followers to the Strip in the future to simply love the people by asking them about their lives, offering them hope and a way out if they want it. But, the majority of the people I saw on the streets of Vegas were solely visitors looking for an escape from the monotony of life, hoping to find joy in worldly pleasures for a short time. This means that some of them might live across the street from you. Some of them might be the successful businessmen you know. Some of them might be the middle-school boy struggling with pornography or the college girl battling insecurity and giving in to a life of partying, sex, and alcohol. Las Vegas was a huge wake up call to realize that there are people God has placed all around us that we have the opportunity to share the love of Christ with. We don’t need to go somewhere to do ministry. God has given us divine opportunities right where we are, whether it be in our workplace, dorm hall, or our own household. We just have to look and obey his call.