Monday, June 29, 2009

What I saw in Vegas

Last week, I was in Las Vegas on business. Given the downturn in the economy, we were able to stay on the Strip for $45 a night, which is convenient for walking to various attractions and restaurants. I was able to enjoy the show of the fountains at the Bellagio, and though I was not able to see the art gallery, I had a pleasant enough evening.

There were the normal things you find on the Strip in Vegas - the people handing out explicit cards promising "Girls to you in minutes," some men sitting on the sidewalk with a cup in front of them for money, men selling "ice cold water, one dollar" from coolers along the sidewalk, and lots of tourists.

But the things that sticks with me the most is a scene and an image from my last morning there, as we were preparing to leave the hotel. As I waited in a chair by the elevators, a couple coworkers came up, and I asked how they were that morning. "Oh, fine - just been watching the hookers." I hadn't been paying much attention, but there were a few women in suggestive clothing wandering around the casino floor, which was largely empty that early in the morning.

When I went over to get a warm drink from the coffee shop, I was able to get a look at the woman who had propositioned my coworker, and it was that look that sticks with me. There was a rather young woman hunched over the bar, looking tired in every sense of the word. According to my coworker, she had a number of bruises on the outside of one arm, suggesting that she's been a victim of violence before, though I was too far away to see that.

I can't really capture in words how sad a picture this lady painted for me. I don't know her story - what brought her to the place she was at. I think hearing such a story would probably break anyone's heart.

And what it drives home to me is this: Jesus was a friend to the tax collectors and sinners. Here is a woman who society regards as inhuman - an object at best and a problem to be solved at worst. To see someone who embodies utter tiredness is to know the offer Jesus makes when he says "come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest."

And it reminded me of this - that God's kingdom is one in which the people you normally honor are ignored, and the people you normally ignore are honored. It can even happen within a church, where the pastor becomes the local celebrity, while someone sits in the back corner of the room alone. Bu tif I am to believe that God is Mighty to Save, I have to believe that it is not just effective - but most effective with the lonely, outcast, disillusioned, broken people that society does not even notice.

I have to believe that God can reach a tired prostitute waiting to snag a client at a bar in Las Vegas, because it is the sick who need a doctor. And I have to believe that God would leave the 99 obedient sheep in a field to chase down one that has wandered away... and if that is what God is doing, then it's what the church should be doing, too.

So if you would, pray for this girl. Pray for society's lost and forgotten, and pray for the courage and wisdom to step out in the world and love them. And pray for the same courage and wisdom for me.


Rob Woods said...

Great post- it's sad how we can stereotype so quickly and don't care to think about other people's hearts and feelings.

Ben said...

Thank you for this post, Dave. It's stunningly easy to dehumanize people. I need reminders like this to get me to look up and see the people around me. And then I need to pray and take action, with the Spirit's leading. Sad how often I don't even SEE the people around me.