I never thought I would be a resident of Las Vegas. I grew up in the midwest and didn't really know much about Las Vegas, other than the strip or CSI. Honestly, I think that is what most people think about when they think about Las Vegas. But after visiting we felt led to move there... We lived there for 7 years and we LOVED it. Actually, we still love it, and I imagine we always will. Flying into Las Vegas in many ways feeling like coming home. I have more memories than I can count that make me smile and thankful for my time there. Spending my twenties there shaped me and helped grow me into the person I am today. The desert, in many ways, was and continues to be an oasis for me.
What we found in Las Vegas is more bright and shiny than the lights of the casinos. We found a deep sense of friendship and community. Approximately 10% of the people who live in LV were born there, that means 90% of the residents have moved there, and in doing so had to create community. We experienced people being open to inviting us into their lives and families. Holiday parties and traditions. Weddings and birthdays. Everyday life. All of it, without hesitation we were welcomed in. Vegas is where we had two of our three kids and I will always be thankful for the meals that were brought to us, the showers that were so generous and encouraging. We were fortunate enough to find an amazing group of friends, couples when we first met- now, 10 years later, we are all families. In our group of friends we witnessed one couple get married and seven babies (I believe, it is hard to keep track though...at this point, we are at 14 between all of us) who were born during our time there. We have covered a lot of ground during those years.
One thing I love about Las Vegas is that it is more diverse than anywhere else I have ever lived. There are many different cultures represented in any given place. Personally, I found that to be really great. We were invited into a couple large Hawaiian families, whom we love dearly. And there is a broader picture of/standard of beauty. I felt a freedom to explore and refine my own personal fashion sense and style, because so many other people were doing the same. What a gift.
We were in Las Vegas during the recession, we bought a home right as prices were beginning to fall. We witnessed first-hand the heartbreak, uncertainty, and pain that was suffered during that time. Now, years later, to watch it thrive makes my heart soar. To see the local economy strong and the housing market back thrills me. I love a good come back, especially from somewhat of an underdog.
Vegas is more than the strip
Yep, the strip despite all the glittering lights is dark. Totally. I get it and I don't deny that one bit. I also know of several amazing people who are working at/have founded ministries to address this darkness, rather than simply judging it. So, yes that is bad, very bad and dark. But there are also people there who are doing amazing work to bring light, justice, and compassion into that area. That is something I am encouraged by. There is hard work being done every day by many people to restore and make things right.
Another quick note that should be mentioned is that a lot of the darkness isn't from locals or residents. To me, it seems the majority of the bad things that happen in Vegas is because there are a demand and expectation from tourists. People who come from wonderful, wholesome places that make poor choices and cut loose when no one is looking. Just something to keep in mind.
Vegas is unique and kitschy. It has a rich and somewhat complicated history. I like that. There is no end to the activities you could do in Las Vegas. Museums to visit (for real!), restaurants to try, shows to go to, trails to hike, free exhibits to explore. There is so much personality, charm, and character to be found if you are willing to look for it.
Ministry in Las Vegas
I loved doing ministry in Vegas. It was a totally different context than what I was used to. One thing I learned quickly is that people would be honest. Really honest. There wasn't nearly as much shame, hiding, or pretending. As a small group leader, my girls asked really thoughtful, honest questions. And they gave me SUPER honest answers to my questions about their lives. This makes ministry much more fun and much easier. I actually got to know them, all of them. Not just the side of them they wanted to present to me. This was true for adults as well, of course.
There was also a lot of brokenness. For some Vegas is a place they were running to, getting away from the sins of their past. But certainly, not everyone. At some level though, we all have our stuff. Our own sins and hurts from the past that can affect us in our daily lives. I think this is just magnified in Vegas because there is sin and it is hurt everywhere- I think most people have them just gotten very good at masking it or denying its existence. In many ways it seems like everything is magnified or turned way up in Las Vegas, excess is kind of normal. As someone who easily leans towards excess, this doesn't totally offend my sensibilities. I get it.
Honestly, I could go on and on about this city and the place it holds in my heart. Like any place, Las Vegas is what you make it out to be. If you are looking for darkness and depravity you will find it, certainly. I would challenge you to go to your local Wal-Mart parking lot and you could probably find some there as well. But if you are looking for wonderful people who are doing hard and meaningful work you will find it there too. You can find the unique beauty that the desert holds. There are churches and non-profits showing love and dignity to those they serve. There are kind, generous people living their lives, doing their best to make their corner of the world a better place as they raise their families and do the daily work of showing God's love those around them. I am so thankful they are. And I will forever be grateful for this city and the people who make it fabulous.