Love Your Neighbor: Las Vegas Edition

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“Hey, do you have a lighter?” He asked me across the chain link fence and alley that kept my world from his. My world of worship nights and prayer rooms, financial supporters and the missionary label. His world of fasting for Allah and walking to the mosque, smoking marijuana and making drug deals.

In his request for a lighter, I kicked myself for not having one on me or even in the base. As I had to turn him down, I feared that it meant the end to our conversation, but he was back minutes later and called me over to the fence.

The questions started flowing. Questions about the worship night my teammates were having in the courtyard across the alley. Questions about Christianity. Questions about Jesus. He told me about himself – about being Muslim and about being high and about being Minnesotan. The Minnesotan thing got me jacked and formed an instant friendship as we bonded over having met so few Minnesotans out in Vegas.

In the half hour or so that went on, we talked about our state and religion and race and poverty and drugs and Jesus. He told me about making bank selling Adderall to the U of M students during finals week. He told me about how he took care of his 6 younger siblings for two years while his mom was in jail. He told me about dropping out of high school and running away to Vegas with his dad. He told me about being a student of the Koran and fasting for holy days. He told me about his overdose on pills that should have killed him and we both agreed, God has a purpose in keeping him alive.

And yes, he was openly high during this time.

And true to the nature of the neighborhood, a woman walked through the alley drunk as can be and when I said hi, she stopped to talk. She said that she was drinking to fix the brokenness inside. I got to pray over her and hug her and tell her of God’s love for her.

Loving your neighbor takes on a whole new meaning in the ghetto.

It sometimes means hugging a drunk woman or answering the questions of a stoned Muslim.

It sometimes means forgiving the men who call women over into their cars.

It sometimes means tracking down a sweatshirt for the woman who is mourning the life of her baby-daddy who passed away recently.

It’s a little crazy.

Each day is different.

There is no such thing as predictable.

Like on the 3rd of July when the fireworks were going off and our next door neighbor got locked out of her house. As the boys on our team helped her break in, I had the opportunity to hold her precious six year old daughter who was terrified of the fireworks. For about an hour, I just held and prayed and proclaimed that she was safe. As we stood outside of their little home in this rundown mini apartment complex, we witnessed prostitutes going into cars and drug deals before our eyes. This family has the odd position of being situated with darkness on one side and YWAM on the other.

And while loving your neighbors in this context is definitely an adventure, it is anything but glamorous. It’s staring into the face of brokenness that is so raw and in-your-face.

But there is something so beautiful in the brokenness. It’s heavy, it’s painful, it will tear your heart into a million little pieces – but in those moments, I catch a glimpse of God’s heart for these people and for the world. I see how much He hates the pain. He hates seeing people screwing themselves over time and time again. He hates seeing babies grow up in an environment that breeds fear and sets them up for failure. He hates seeing people chasing after a mirage and passing up on the real thing.

It’s easy to ask Him in these moments why He doesn’t do more. I don’t understand how our neighborhood is full of churches side by side to drug houses and illegal brothels. The problem of human hopelessness is the one that causes me to doubt the most. But in those moments, where the situations and environment tempt to overwhelm me, He reminds me of my identity. My identity is that of daughter of the King, vessel of the Holy Spirit, and one who is redeemed and empowered by the blood of the Lamb. We are meant to walk in authority – to see change and to love the socks off of people.

God never promised us that loving our neighbor would be easy. He never promised that they would love us back. He never said it would be clean – in fact, in the story of the Good Samaritan, the man had to sacrifice, be inconvenienced, and get messy in getting to see a man rescued and healed.

That’s what God calls us all to – whether your neighbor is the drug addict in the ghetto or the middle class soccer mom. Love thy neighbor. Thy messy, broken, and a lot like you neighbor.

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My precious little neighbor girl. She completely and totally stole my heart.
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Viva Las Vegas: Week One

Nowhere has felt like mine faster than Las Vegas. No church has felt more like a home church faster than Grace City.

Currently, I’m one week into my ten week internship and my heart is bursting at the seams. I am writing this from an airplane a few thousand feet in the sky as I fly back to Fargo for a wedding this weekend. Honestly, as excited as I am to photograph a sweet wedding, it hurt my heart to leave Las Vegas – even just for 48 hours. In one week, it feels like we’ve been here a lot longer, even as all of us interns are still adapting and just finally got our bodies on the right timezone.

I am going to do my best to do an update once a week complete with photos. I may also do a few other blog posts with specific stories throughout the summer. For the sake of organizing my thoughts, I’m going to share updates from 4 categories: Goonies, Grace City, Me, and Miscellaneous.

News from the Goonies:

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The Gospel Goonies (aka: any variation of goons or goonies) is the name that my intern team gave ourselves. And boy, are we a motley bunch! It’s so cool to see how God brought 10 individuals who are extremely different from each other and set them in place to serve, live, and worship together for an entire summer. We are from all sorts of backgrounds, life experiences, and personalities. Yet our prayer from the beginning was for unity and I really believe that as long as we seek God on that front, we are going to build some of the most amazing friendships of our lives and have an amazing summer. I have no doubt that God will use our unique gifts to compliment and grow each other.

We are already having a blast on the shenanigan front. Starbucks, smoothie, Target, Walmart, and thrift store runs have all been a part of the first week. We went down to the Strip on our afternoon off on Thursday to see a few hotels, and even though that’s a so-so thing for me, it’s great just hanging out with the goonies. They’re the type of people that are fun to get stuck in traffic with after long 12+ hour days. Which is a good thing, because that’s a pretty common occurrence. We are working over 50 hours a week and our first full day off isn’t for another week, so it’s really exhausting, but everyone has been a good sport thus far. We are guaranteed to be a bit loopy by this next Thursday, but it makes for the most laughs and the best quotes.

What God is doing in Grace City:

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Grace City is an incredibly unique (and wonderful) church. They have three locations: the high school where they have Sunday morning services, Grace City Flamingo (GCF) where they have Sunday evening and Wednesday night services + an outreach center, and the House of Prayer where they meet for morning prayer and have the offices. They really and truly embody the concept of loving God with your head, heart, and hands better than any other church I’ve personally seen.

This week was Burn week – where the church gathers every single night in addition to a prolonged time in the mornings, in order to worship God and seek His heart for the city. They are seeking to see revival and as Pastor Dave said on Monday: “God is revival. The more of God we experience, the more of revival we experience.” We have had times of repentance, confession, praise, praying over each other, reading truth from scripture together, and a fair amount of dancing. (Which is seriously so. stinking. fun. There’s so much freedom tied to so much biblical truth.)

Our schedule has looked like worship, prayer, and studying the Bible from 9am-noon and then again from 7-8:30pm every single day this week. Pressing in like this is incredible. It’s also amazing to spend so much time around the Grace City family. The mornings are heavily staff and committed church members (including former staff who have gone off support to get paid jobs, but are still heavily involved). The evenings are such a wide variety! Tuesday we had a ton of middle school students as it was youth group night and Wednesday night there were many families and homeless individuals as we served a meal before the service.

Though this schedule has been spiritually exhausting (us interns have also had orientation/staff meetings/testimonies most afternoons as well), it’s been such a good opportunity to get to know people by seeing many of the same faces every day. There are so many amazing individuals and families that come to Grace City: from nonprofit interns to single moms to college students to homeless individuals. It’s a beautifully diverse crew.

What God is doing in my heart:

This is the hardest part for me to write about and put into words. God is doing so much in my own heart, but there hasn’t been a ton of time to process it all. He’s growing me, stretching me, and molding me. He’s healing areas of my heart that have been broken almost all my life and areas that have just recently been damaged.

He is teaching me about humility, vulnerability, honesty, fear, forgiveness, bitterness, compassion, spiritual discernment, His worthiness, and about how to do this lifestyle of ministry + missions. If that seems like a lot, that’s because it is. It feels like a fire hydrant most of the time.

This summer is not about me saving Las Vegas. This summer is about three things: 1) obedience to God’s calling. 2) increased intimacy with God and knowing Him better. 3) learning how to better do ministry and be a missionary.

Honestly, this season is not about changing the world, it’s about God changing me. Recognizing that I cannot do anything apart from Him, that I need changing, that He desires my heart more than my service, and that He is worthy of obedience no matter the results.

Miscellaneous:

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One of the sweet things about Grace City is their close partnership with YWAM. We are living at the YWAM base, being trained/overseen by a lifelong YWAMer, cooked for by YWAMers, and making friends with the YWAM girls. The base is in the inner city in a very rough neighborhood. There’s a lot of poverty, drugs, and prostitution. Despite that, we are safe and use proper precaution. It’s beautiful being in a neighborhood that reminds you every single day of the brokenness that exists in this city. My heart is just in love with that neighborhood and I love that it focuses my heart on the mission.

We just got a short term church team in on Thursday from Indiana and us interns get to hang out and help out with this group of college students for a week. They are an awesome team of 6 that we affectionally nicknamed “The Brethren” due to their church having brethren in the name.

The weather is beautiful. 95 degrees never felt so good. I can understand now why people live in the desert. And the mountains… oh.my.goodness.gracious. I’m in love with mountains! Vegas is surrounded and I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of the sweet views everywhere you look.

Overall – we are off to an amazing start! Thank you all for praying for me and for following along on my summer adventure!

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Las Vegas: Summer Edition

In January, I wrote to you all about my weekend in Las Vegas.

What I haven’t put up onto the pages of this blog yet, but what all my facebook friends know, is that I am going back! For 10 weeks. From May 30th-August 8th, I will be a part of Grace City Church as part of their Missionary Experience internship.

This is an incredible experience that goes far beyond just interning for a church plant. This is a rich time of training and hands on application into the world of urban missions and a movement of revival. Grace City has a big vision. A crazy vision, even. They are praying to see 100,000 people come to know Jesus in Las Vegas. They believe in relentless prayer, loving people, training disciples, and living in community. It’s beautiful and incredible. Every time I talk with a staff member, watch a video, or listen to a sermon online – I’m struck by how on point it is and I get really, really excited.

The whole experience of how I’ve wound up going to Las Vegas is pretty crazy and completely directed by God. He’s orchestrated and set my path clearly when it comes to this summer. I know that this is precisely where God wants me. That living in Vegas for this summer means living in the center of God’s will for me. I know that I will be changed as much, if not more, than Vegas is changed.

My only expectations are these: to be grown + stretched and to see God move.

What that’s going to look like is a mystery, but that’s the exciting part. This summer is a journey of faith – not of certainty, but of stepping out to places so far beyond my comfort zone that all I have is God to rely on.

So on this blog, I’ll keep supporters updated. You can also follow along on facebook at LIV Takes LV and on my instagram @livcreative. Here are some bullet point details for your praying purposes and to get all the important information in!

  • I will be flying in to Las Vegas on May 30th! I will be flying back for 3 weddings that were booked before I decided to do the internship. So pray for safe travels and that the time I’m gone from Vegas will not be overwhelming!
  • I still have a lot of money left to raise! If you feel led to give, you can go HERE.
  • We (the interns) are reading the book of Joshua and John chapter 15 as we prepare our hearts for Vegas. This is the portion of scripture that will be used in our training. Our focus will be on how to actively pursue God’s kingdom, while also abiding always in Jesus and the rest He gives. Solid stuff.
  • Pray also for the other interns! I’ll be living in community all summer with a super cool group of college kids from Liberty University. God has shown me already what He can do through a bunch of college kids during my time at Chi Alpha and I am so excited to see it in a new context!
  • We will be all living at the YWAM Las Vegas base! This will be an experience for us to live with a missions mindset and constant reminder of why we are there. The neighborhood is impoverished and crippled by drug abuse and prostitution. It shows the brokenness of Vegas so clearly and it serves as a backdrop for the work we will be doing and bringing “loving your neighbors” a real face.
  • Pray for my health! I’ve been struggling this year with low iron levels that’s left me anemic. It’s been really hard getting my iron levels up, so much prayer is appreciated! I want to have the energy to get the most out of this summer.

This draws the first blog post to an end! I am so thankful for all the support I’ve received from the people in my life. You guys are truly going along on this adventure with me. I truly believe that. So I’ll do my best to keep you updated!