I know the news cycle has moved on, but can we still have a conversation about What Happened In Vegas?
For a long time we have been living with the lie that what happens in Vegas stays there.
But the truth is Sunday October 1, 2017 was a wake up call for America. That night was our deadliest mass shooting, including over 50 dead and over 500 injured.
The problem is the loud, piercing sound of our alarm is still going off and we are sleeping right through it. We have ears but cannot hear.
I wrote this for anyone who wants to go beyond the headlines to the heart of the issue.
This is for my fellow Americans who still want to talk like we have a soul.
Steve and his wife, Abra, were in the back of the concert when the shooting began.
Suddenly, they were running for their lives as the bullets whizzed by around them.
One bullet grazed Steve’s back. Another hit him in the leg.
He and his wife and others were able to get in a van, which took them to the hospital.
As they began to treat Steve’s leg, he told them they were going to need the beds.
Body after body began to come in. There were more patients than the hospital could handle.
Abra was out in the waiting room.
She went up to a woman whose husband had just been taken in and offered to pray for her.
Someone else literally said to Abra that’s not what this woman needs right now.
But Abra prayed for her anyways.
After the prayer, the grieving woman looked Abra in the eyes, “That’s exactly what I needed.”
Steve called me while he was driving back to Orange County. The hospitals in Vegas were so overcrowded; Steve was actually driving to a hospital here in the OC for treatment! The bullet was still in his leg!
Steve was coherent and speaking clearly. He thanked God for protecting him and Abra while the bullets flew by them. He said it was faith that comforted him in a time of trial like this.
The next morning I went over to Steve and Abra’s house to pray with them. Ever since they became a part of our church family three years ago, I have known them as a quiet and peaceful couple who love their family. But today Steve was upset.
He had done interviews with news media outlets about the shooting, but they had edited out what he had said about God in the interviews! I could feel his frustration that the media would try to make him a hero of the story, when God was the one who had saved him.
While we were talking Steve & Abra’s neighbor came to the door. She was crying over what had happened to them and a personal issue she was dealing with in her own life. We were able to pray for her. We shared the hope of a new life in Jesus with her.
What the media edited out could still be shared face to face, neighbor to neighbor.
Steve & Abra’s neighbor has been coming to our church ever since. In fact, this Sunday she brought a friend.
Steve & Abra were there at church too. The bullet is still in his leg!
Austin was at the front of the concert.
When the shooting began he hit the ground.
He wanted to run away but there were so many people on the ground around him there was nowhere to go.
Clinging to the grass, he watched and heard people get shot close to him.
Every time the shooter would stop to reload more people would make a run for it.
Round after round, Austin lied there on the ground, waiting for his turn.
Finally the time came to run as fast as he could.
He got separated from his friends and found himself hiding behind a storage container with two women he did not know.
Austin thought the shooter was down on the ground and might be coming after them, so they decided to hide inside the storage container.
As they sat there, they were sure the shooter would open the door at any moment to murder them.
“DO YOU KNOW THE GOSPEL OF JESUS?” Austin asked the women in alarm! “Because if you don’t we are going to die in this storage container and your soul will go to hell!” He began to tell them the gospel about how Jesus is the Christ who died for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead to give us a new life. Sitting there in the storage container, they were listening.
I met Austin when he was younger in high school. He decided to become a Christian. His definition of a Christian seems radical for America today. He told me a Christian was someone who was ready to die for Jesus.
I remember one day he told a class full of students at his high school that if someone pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger he was ready. He knew where his soul was going when he died. You could hear a pin drop in that classroom. They were listening.
Now it had happened in Vegas. Someone had shot at Austin. Hundreds of bullets had gone right by him. I asked if he was still sure about his soul going to heaven when he died. He said yes. His faith gave him assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen.
Austin is still in touch with the two women he met that tragic night. He is still praying they will believe in the gospel of Jesus. They may be out of the storage container, but in Austin’s mind their souls are still on the line.
Ryan was across the street when the shooting began.
He was working security for the filming of a television commercial.
There were some police officers working with them and they took off running towards the shooting.
Ryan ran over to see if there was anything he could do to help.
Nothing could have prepared Ryan for what he experienced in Vegas that night.
Ryan walked into a battlefield full of bodies lying on the ground.
People began working together to get the bodies in vehicles that could take them to the hospital.
Ryan told me that he saw bodies get put in the back seat of taxis.
He saw bodies get put in the trunk of taxis.
Ryan lifted up a woman’s body to put her in the back of a truck that would take her to the hospital. But her neck snapped back because she was already dead.
This was more than Ryan could handle. He began to throw up and had to get air. Because he was staying at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooter was it wasn’t until 5:00 PM the next day he could get back into his hotel room.
Ryan walked the streets of Vegas all night and throughout the next day with blood on him. Blood that was not his own.
When I talked with Ryan two days later he was still shook by the scene of death he had experienced. Life as we know it could be over at the speed of a bullet. We talked about how human beings are not bodies. We are souls. When our bodies die, our souls will live forever in eternity.
Ryan had to go back to Vegas to work security for filming more of the commercial. He took a bunch of tracts from our church called THE 3 MOST IMPORTANT WORDS. The tract is inspired by how Jesus preached to “repent and believe in the gospel.” The tract defines these three words: Gospel. Repentance. Faith.
Ryan told me he was going to hand out the tracts on the street where the shooting had taken place in Vegas.
He was going to talk to every single person on that street as if they were a soul.
Brad had a work conference at the same Mandalay Bay hotel a few weeks after the shooting.
Although the work conference was scheduled before the shooting, Brad bought his plane ticket after. He booked a round trip flight to Las Vegas for $60.
When Brad got back to Orange County, we grabbed breakfast the next day at our usual spot. Brad shared with me he was disturbed by what he saw there. He saw people who were still doing the same sins Vegas was famous for.
Brad told me the song “Poor, Unfortunate Souls” started playing in his mind. It took me back to a scary childhood memory from the movie The Little Mermaid. I heard the song of the tentacled temptress Ursula. I could see Ariel signing the contract that sold herself for some legs to go walking up where the people are. I pictured Ursula’s underwater lair where the old shrunken up souls had turned into ghoulish looking creatures, the life sucked out of them.
When Brad said this, I stopped chewing:
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
O America, when are we going to wake up?
We are like the dog that returns to its own vomit.
We act like there is no bullet in Steve’s leg.
We don’t feel like we need Abra’s prayers.
We can’t hear Austin begging in the storage container for us to get out of hell.
We go on as if what happened in Vegas will stay there.