I have two favorite cities: Las Vegas, Nevada, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
I know, both are party cities, but I can assure you that’s not why I go. I go because it’s sin-filled.
Growing up a church kid, I went on mission trips. I’ve traveled to Haiti, Wales, Anchorage, Talladega, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. But before I managed to do all of that, the Lord had to open my eyes to a few things first. And one was the story of Jonah.
There’s a Bible story I learned about in pre-school. It’s the story of a whale and a man who wanted to run away from the Lord’s calling. The man didn’t want to go to the city God called him to because he thought the people were too bad. In the VeggieTales version, they were too smelly. But I suppose either work. Simply put, he did not want to go to Nineveh because of its wicked inhabitants.
You know the rest, he ran, was eaten by a whale, spit out, went to Nineveh, and still ended up being angry with God.
I used to think that the picture of Jonah was so silly. I mean, come on, how could someone directly disobey God by not going to the people He specifically called you to minister? Seems unlikely, right?
I had a Jonah-like experience on my first trip to Vegas. Now, maybe not the whole fish-eat-you-up-and-spit-you-out thing, but I did hear the Lord’s voice loud and clear telling me to go. After a lot of “well God, if you can make this happen, then I’ll go,” He kept making a way. So I reluctantly went and fell in love with the city, the people, and the places we went.
When I pictured this glitzy city, I always pictured the filth, sex, fortune, and sin that flooded its streets. I imagined the bright shining lights of the casinos and the darkness that encompassed them. I couldn’t help it. It’s all I’d seen. But as our flight descended, I saw thousands of homes and quickly realized that sin city was more than I had bargained for.
Quickly, my heart shattered.
Each home represented a family living near to such chaos and filth. Children grew up miles from casinos and streets flooded with discarded cards full of disgusting advertisements of women “offering” sex in surrounding brothels. I uncovered different darker parts of the city with each trip back, but all were more troubling than the “strip” itself.
Homelessness, abortion, sex trafficking, and unchurched hurting people remained throughout this city. But so many, from all that I could tell, were lost.
Heartbroken and on a mission, I continued traveling to the city and even lived there before college. During one trip I heard a co-missionary say, “I don’t want to come back on a mission to Vegas. It’s too dirty!” That woke me up to the fact that the city wasn’t for everyone. Like Jonah, sometimes we replace God’s plans with our worldly opinions of the people He sends us to minister to.
In the Las Vegas metro area alone, there are more than 2 million people. Many are hurting. The point of this blog isn’t to tell you to serve in Vegas. Rather, sometimes God calls us to the sin-filled cities to bring the good Word to the needy. Americans are hurting.
All you have to do is watch the news or scroll on Facebook. What are we doing about it? How are we making a difference? How are we reaching the “dirty?”
Most are afraid.
It’s easy to sit on a comfy pew but harder to minister to the ex-con or woman who has lived a life in prostitution. It’s a little troubling to picture ministering to those kinds of sinners. But in reality, if a sin is a sin in God’s eyes, we’re just as dirty as they are.
Last year, Pew reported 65% of American adults described themselves as Christians. What about the other 35%? Jesus went after the one.
He forgives me just as much as He forgives the drug addict.
But the workers are few.
Some cities are scary, but when the focus is on the person’s soul instead of the place…where you are matters less.
I’m not promising He’ll send you to my new favorite cities, but I can promise He’ll lead the way if you follow. The world likes to gamble with people’s souls, and it seems that they’re winning more and more. If we trust God to lead us, we should trust Him to use us for His glory regardless of where that is.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, (Acts 1:8).
The author ministering in Las Vegas
This article originally appeared on the Stand.