Under the Neon
Las Vegas, Nevada, is a city like no other. On a three-mile stretch of road, one can visit the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, a sphinx, and numerous other famous sites. With nearly 40 million tourists a year, Las Vegas defines glitz, glamour, and entertainment. “Sin City” is a common pseudonym for the community 2 million people call home, and most think that sin defines Las Vegas. “But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more” (Rom. 5:20).
Southern Baptist churches in the Las Vegas Valley pray that their “Jerusalem” will come to know Jesus as Savior and are working diligently toward that end. One avenue that continues to reap an abundant harvest is food ministry.
The Southern Nevada Baptist Association distributes financial support from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to eleven church-associated or church-sponsored hunger relief ministries that share Jesus with a hurting and hungry Las Vegas. These ministries range from a church’s small food pantry where church staff distribute food on an as-needed basis to a non-profit organization that operates five days a week with ten volunteers. In 2005, these ministries fed over 46,000 people. This resulted in 7,600 opportunities to share Jesus individually, and 42 professions of faith.
One of these ministries is Ladies Advocating Christian Entertainment. LACE was started sixteen years ago by Joyce Eatman, a member of Calvary Southern Baptist Church in North Las Vegas, to provide wholesome entertainment for families. As the ladies performed gospel music, Joyce noticed that some of the children were hungry; some had not eaten for days. God burdened her heart to begin a food ministry, and she made a promise to the Las Vegas community of “not letting a child go to bed hungry.” LACE has grown into its own facility in downtown Las Vegas, nestled under the old Moulin Rouge hotel/casino neon sign, now a symbol of hope to those who live in this “hotel-turned-low-income-housing” district.
While Joyce’s passion for helping people in need is obvious, there have been times when she has become discouraged enough to consider closing her ministry. “But He always sends someone into my life to change my mind and attitude,” she says. A couple of years ago that someone was a young girl who gave Joyce a picture she had drawn of a beautiful rainbow. On one end of the rainbow were the girl, her mother, and her siblings. On the other, where one expects to see a pot of gold, was a bag of food. At the top of the paper the girl had written “Thank you, Ms. Joyce!” “I knew then that God wasn’t finished with me or LACE just yet!” Joyce laughs.
Joyce has been able to minister consistently to several families over the past few years. One family came to Joyce right after a house fire. Their infant daughter had third-degree burns on 90 percent of her face, and the family had lost almost everything. After a local news agency ran a story on them, many individuals and businesses wanted to donate to this family. The mother, Jenny,* wanted to go through a non-profit agency to receive these gifts and turned to LACE to help her. LACE had not only the blessing of ministering to this family, but also received a new van from a local car dealer who heard of their assistance to the family.
That was nine years ago. The baby is now a young lady, affectionately called “Tre Tre,” who has few signs of a major injury. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without the help of Joyce and LACE,” says Jenny, who has visited Joyce since then for prayer and food as her family is faced with new crises.
Another ministry that has had a major impact on the Las Vegas community is Hope for the Homeless. Led by founder Jackie McDowell, also a member of Calvary Southern, the ministry has provided toys and food to over four hundred families at Christmas for the past several years. She and her volunteers serve food to the homeless in parks several times a month as well as providing food and entertainment to the residents of lower income nursing homes.
The other food ministries supported by the World Hunger Fund are in local churches. College Park Baptist Church is one example of a church experiencing growth as a result of its food ministry. Many have accepted Christ and been baptized. The church’s hunger ministry has become its largest outreach to the community.
These and many other examples are made possible through the giving of Southern Baptists. I have witnessed firsthand that financially supporting the World Hunger Fund supplies families all over the United States with more than a pot of gold. It provides a bag of food.
Tika Scoles is Ministry Evangelism Specialist for the Southern Nevada Baptist Association, Las Vegas, Nevada.