Viva Las Vegas! (or something)

Morning friends!

We are just a few hours from taking off for our next assignment in…   Las Vegas!  (You should see the look we get when we tell people this. Wait. Maybe it’s the look you have right now?)

All year-long fellows are able to choose one Stateside assignment of the five, and we are partnering with an organization called The Cupcake Girls.

The Cupcake Girls is a group of volunteers who are committed to providing non-judgmental support, consistent caring, and messages of faith, hope and love to women working in the strip clubs. The volunteers do this without agenda and believe that sometimes it’s the smallest act of kindness that leads to the greatest change.  Many of the individuals working at Cupcake Girls are Christians, but after hearing heartbreaking stories of Christian groups coming into the clubs throwing tracts at the girls in the name of Christ without ever talking to them, they understood that the real way to show Christ’s love would be through relationships.

For that reason, they purposely formed The Cupcake Girls as a non-religious non-profit in the hopes of breaking through some of those thick barriers. This group is essentially living out Christianity without the Christian sign on their foreheads.

It was obvious when talking to key staff and volunteers that their faith is their motivating factor. They have the freedom within the organization to share their own faith if someone asks what motivates them to do the job they’re doing, and volunteers link women up with spiritual resources through the churches that support them, but they don’t “push” Christianity onto the women. They establish trusting relationships and walk with them in or out of the industry. As their trust grows, monthly cupcakes turn into coffee dates and the Cupcake Girls are invited into the women’s lives where they’re able to assist the women in whatever ways they can through their services at the Women’s Resource Center:

Medical Assistance, Dental Assistance, Federal/County Aid Application Assistance, Financial Advisor, Educational Tutors- for both entertainers and their children, Nutritionist, Law Consultation, Coffee and Cupcakes Groups, One on One Mentoring, Emergency Care Packages, Moving Assistance, Drug and, Alcohol Rehab Assistance, Domestic Violence Assistance, Safe House Assistance, Hosting Baby Showers and Birthday Parties.

Literally, everything anyone could possibly need, the Cupcake Girls tries to provide for.

So, here’s a little trivia question. What US city do you think has the highest rate of strip clubs per capita?

Hint: It’s not Vegas.

Would you believe our beloved Portland?! Yes, Portland has the highest rate of strip clubs per capita in the US, so the Cupcake Girls has opened a location in Portland, too, and we hope to get the chance to visit the programs there, because the ultimate goal of the Cupcake Girls is to open in every major US city.

Jeff is also hoping to hook up with an organization called MST Project, which focuses on the mens. MST believes that the men who patron the brothels and strip clubs are themselves made in the image of Christ and are deserving of love and healing. We don’t know a whole lot about this org, other than that we first found them in Phnom Penh, and their headquarters are in Portland with a branch in Las Vegas. They keep popping up in all our cities, though, so we’d kind of like to see what they’re all about.

So. We feel inspired by The Cupcake Girls, and while the time between Nepal and Vegas was (too) short, we are excited to get started in Las Vegas!

OTHER EXCITING NEWS:

Book Launch Group Pic Storytelling 2

Our book launched on Tuesday! We had a fantastic party filled with desserts and storytelling from Nepal and Bangladesh. This is a hard-copy book of all the adorable kids from the places and organizations World Next Door has partnered with all over the world. November’s (free) magazine is a special issue companion to the book with about half the photos but a ton of additional video clips of the kids. So cute.

s&d-fb-ad

The book is available here for $17 along with calendars and postcards. These would be great Christmas gifts :)

NEPAL STUFF

Speaking of magazine issues… Our Nepal issue will be available on the World Next Door app in your newsstand in December, and you WILL NOT BELIEVE everything we experienced there. Undercover brothels, border station interceptions, modern day 101 y/o prophets, awe-inspiring parents of 14 kids in a children’s home, entire albums of monkeys and mountains, a bunch of lost-in-translation moments, and some Everest trivia.

If you just can’t wait until December (I don’t blame you), here are links to blog posts written along the way while we were there.  These are Jeff’s reflections in the brothels, Nepal as the land of extremes, the back story of Tiny Hands, and what the border stations were like.

Fist pumping alone in my pajamas wearing a headlight

Undercover: A night out with the guys… and girls

Land of Extremes: Valleys and high places

The back story, which is kind of THE story, and the borders

Thanks for following, pals.

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Rooftop pools.

Honesty, I was just trying to get to the mall.

But then I saw a Starbucks in the Sheraton on Canal St. and ducked in for my little icy nonfat mocha. You know me, the Starbucks led to the spectacular lobby, which led to the elevators, which led to the balcony, which led to the courtyard, which led to the pool deck, which required a hotel key, which I did not have. But it got me thinking. Hotels are the key to success if you live in a hospital-ish dorm with no immediate pool access, and they create the best avenue to fake yourself into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Hotels could be my new car dealerships.

So today I went through every major hotel on Canal street to scope out the pool situation.

Harrah’s was a fabulous maze of casino and food courts and shopping areas which left me feeling very nostalgic for my annual Brookie-Dad-Sprinky-Mylissa weekend in Vegas. It would have been happening next weekend had it not been preempted by all these blasted school acceptances and weddings and unemployments. Next year.

I got a tiny bit braver and asked the front desk for a hotel map. Then I asked where the fitness room was, and then where the pool was. The concierge gave me a tour. She also told me that Harrah’s has an arrangement with Lowe’s next door to use their rooftop pool for $10. I just had to notify the bellman.

Harrah’s eventually wound around to Fulton Street, which was a pedestrian walkway with cute little outdoor cafés and restaurants, and Fulton Street wound around to the Hilton. Counting on the same success with Hilton as with Harrah’s, I asked the concierge for a general layout of the hotel. We matched the streets with the map and located the main pool deck on the third floor. I thanked her and made for the escalator, befriending a Spanish-speaking caterer on the way who escorted me to the pool deck, thrilled that I could speak in Spanish, as he could only understand about 7 words of English.

I examined every square inch of the Hilton, which was connected to the mall, and discovered that while the small pool on the riverside deck requires a room key, the main pool is open and available to all who can find it! Success!

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool, and then hopped a streetcar to the Canal St. shoppes, where I had planned to see a movie for $5.50. But then Macbook crashed. Daggers!

I started to walk home to figure out how to un-crash it, but a pop-up rainstorm landed me back in the Sheraton lobby in a plush leather chair on the phone with the Mac help desk listening to soft jazz and piano music from the bar. We reinstalled the installation disc over the phone and all was resorted, thank GOD. Me with no macbook? I would sooner die.

*It crashed again. Gotta go. You might not hear from me for a while- tomorrow I have to give little Macbook to the Mac surgeons.

Vegas and Jesus coexist

I have these two groups of friends, and one half doesn’t understand why I keep writing things about Jesus, and the other half doesn’t understand why I go places like Vegas.

In fact, someone actually said to me, “My sister would never go to Vegas with you. She is doing more important things with her life like building houses in New Orleans.”

What the?

Why do we do that to each other?!

I believe in Jesus and in building houses. I’ve been side-winding along this one-step-forward-two-steps-back journey toward becoming a better “neighbor” to the entire world, or to my coworkers and friends, or to Indianapolis or Belize or whatever, and also trying to articulate what that looks like to everyone else. FYI (or FMI): Jesus is what that looks like. That’s why I keep writing about Him.

Also, I believe in vacations: bright lights, fancy rooftop meals, chicken-fights in the pool, time with friends and family, 20 bucks in the slot machine, a musical light-and-fountain show, singing pirates, an exact replica of the NYC skyline or the Eiffel Tower, and, I EVEN believe in alcohol and dancing, when the time is right.

Like it or not, Las Vegas has truth and beauty. The sun rises and sets, mountains surround the entire city, and the Grand Canyon is one short helicopter (or low-flying plane) ride away. It is also has lots of sin and depravity. But so does Cleveland or Tokyo or Paris or California or Florida. So does New Orleans. So does Fort Wayne. You can find mostly anything you want in any city if you look for it. You can build a house in New Orleans and be a depraved person. You can go to Vegas and be a moral person. And here’s the real shocker: Jesus is EVERYWHERE. Even in Vegas. I saw a piggy bank there in a gift shop that said: I love Jesus. If that isn’t proof, I don’t know what is. I took a pic with my phone and sent it to my mom. But I misdialed because I was too drunk. Just kidding.

Now for the daily excerpt from Velvet Elvis (I know, I know, why don’t I just marry it?):

I can’t tell you the number of people I know who experience truth outside the boundaries of their religion and abandon the whole thing because they think it’s a choice.

But it isn’t a choice, because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” If you come across truth in any form, it isn’t outside your faith as a Christian. Your faith just got bigger. To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it.

It is dangerous to label things “Christian”. Something can be labeled “Christian” and not be true or good.

In the same way, something can be true and not be labeled “Christian.” Paul quotes Cretan prophets and Greek poets. He is interested in whether or not what they said is true. To be able to quote them, Paul obviously had to read them. And study them. And analyze them. And I’m sure he came across all kinds of things in their writing He didn’t agree with. So he sits and sorts and separates the light from the dark and then claims the parts that are true.

It is as if Paul is a spiritual tour guide and is taking his readers through their world, pointing out the true and the good wherever he sees it. Notice what he does in the book of Acts. He visits the city of Lystra, which hasn’t heard of Jesus or the God Paul believes in, and he tries to figure out how to explain the Christian worldview to them. He tells them “[God] has not left himself without a testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Paul essentially asks his audience: Have you had enough food? Who do you think it comes from?

Has it rained so your crops could grow? Who do you think did that?

Have you ever laughed? Who do you think made that possible?

Have you ever heard missionaries say they were going to “take Jesus” to a certain place? What they meant, I assume, was that they had Jesus and they were going to take him to a place like China or India or Chicago (or Vegas!) where people apparently didn’t have him.

I would ask them if people in China or India or Chicago (or Vegas!) are eating and laughing and enjoying things and generally being held together? Because if they are, then Jesus, in a way that is difficult to fully articulate, is already present there.
___

Now, I’ll be honest. I had a good time, and by good time I mean I drank too much and spent too much money on danceries where people were flying around on trapezes from the ceiling. But I looked at my friends and understood deep in my soul that these relationships are real and true. Two of these people showed me Jesus 8 years ago when I couldn’t discern up from down or light from dark. The glue between us IS Jesus. And we just happen to be in Vegas this weekend.

Footnote: I’m not advocating moral relativism here; the key is balance and self-control. I don’t have either of those qualities, but Vegas is not really my vice. Pastries are. People should be more worried about me in France. I’ll eat those beignets in sinful glory.

For the Vegas crew:

Best meal: dinner on the 64th floor of the Mandalay overlooking the strip at sunset (3 words: coconut curried Lobster).

First impressions: How are you at chicken-fights?

Most used quote: Hey bay-bay (that’s my song, turn it up)

Second most used quote: Where’s Erin?

In the words of Melissa: I LOVE her!

In the words of the waitress: Thanks, Marlena.

In the words of Myllisa: No really, what’s your room number? That was only 4 digits.

In the words of Best Dad Ever: you guys need to find me a 50-year-old to take to dinner tonight.

Theme of the weekend: magical

Worst moment: falling asleep at Raffles in the middle of breakfast

Most absurd: How much is that picture? 17 dollars.

Most rad: private stalls with floor to ceiling window views of the Mandalay pool complex

After the fact: I don’t have any pictures. My camera broke on the first day. It has spots all over it. I think it had unprotected sex with another camera.

Magical: champagne toast at midnight (or quarter after, whatever)

Next Year: Elaine?!

Biggest loss: (say it with me) Wheel! Of! Fortune!

That’s all I can think of.

Looking forward to next year. I hear Hard Rock has a swim-up bar and blackjack table. And a swim up church, too. Kidding, kidding.

Love you guys.