Vegas, baby. Sin City. That’s where the story starts. Which is appropriate considering the subject. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
Last month, I had to be in Las Vegas for a trade show. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan — of trade shows OR Vegas. But when I stay in Las Vegas, I always stay Downtown….old Vegas. Maybe it’s the low key vibe, away from the glitz and glamour of The Strip. Maybe it’s the local Arts District. Or maybe it’s the $5 craps tables. Either way, Downtown is my jam.
The only problem with staying Downtown is the commute south to The Strip, where most conventions are hosted. Traffic can be bad, and it’s just a hassle shuttling back and forth. I’d get a ride to The Strip in the morning, back Downtown after meetings, again to The Strip for dinner with mucky-mucks and then back Downtown to hit the sack. Taxis are great and all, but you can’t beat the convenience and “new-schoolness” of Uber, right?
After four days in Las Vegas, it was time to head home. I’d had somewhere between 8–10 Uber drives at that point. Most were fairly talkative. I think it stems from a place of being hospitable and wanting to avoid awkward silence. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind silence. I’ve got two small children, so my whole life is filled with noise. A 15 minute drive in silence sounds just dandy to me, but it makes most people uncomfortable, so I’m happy to carry on a conversation.
So there I was. Standing outside my hotel, bags in hand, ready to see my family again. I requested an Uber and five minutes later, Donald arrives. He was in his early twenties. He wore his Yankees hat low, just above his eyes and spoke with a New York accent, although he looked like he could be Puerto Rican or something.
I threw my bags in the trunk and sat down in the passenger seat, preparing myself for the typical, “What are you here for” types of questions, which came immediately. I answered Donald’s questions and then, trying to even out the conversation, I asked him how his day was going.
His eyes lit up.
“Oh man…this is second best day of my life. I mean, my kid being born was the best, but today is a great day.”
“Oh yeah,” I replied. “Why?”
He spoke fast, like he couldn’t get the story out quickly enough. “I’m from New York,” he said. “I moved out here because I have a respiratory condition and the winters there were too hard on me. But my family is still there. I was born in New York, but my parents are from Puerto Rico. They came into the United States illegally, so I’ve been trying to get my citizenship for two years. It’s a long process,” he explained.
Donald looked directly at me for a second and said, “I want to do it for my girlfriend and our kid, you know? So they can have a good life.”
He explained to me that his girlfriend’s mom doesn’t think much of him. That she thinks her daughter could do better. Donald is respectful about it, but you can tell that he’s got a chip on his shoulder about it and wants to prove her wrong. “My girlfriend is Italian, and smoking hot,” he tells me. I get the feeling he may think his girlfriend’s mom is right after all.
He continued the story. “So after two years of going back and forth trying to get this shit taken care of, I got a call this morning that my citizenship was accepted. I literally just got off the phone 20 minutes ago with the guy. I’m so f**king excited! Now I have to book a flight out to New York next week to take the oath and make it official.”
His phrase, “so f**king excited” didn’t even do it justice. You could see it all over his face. Pure joy.
And in that moment, driving to the airport in Las Vegas with my Uber driver, Donald, I was given the best representation of the gospel I had ever heard in my life.
Here was a guy, who was literally born into a country he didn’t belong to. He was an orphan looking for an identity — living within the walls, but needing to be adopted as a citizen…as a son. And now, after all those years, he had been accepted into the country he’d fought and sacrificed and traveled so long for.
Isn’t that the way the Kingdom of God works? We feel the call to travel, to pack light and walk towards the whisper a Kingdom away. And even though we fight and carry on, we still need help. We come to the end of our strength and wait for the voice on the other end of the phone to say, “you’ve been accepted.”
The thing about Donald was that his being accepted brought joy — and joy brought a declaration of allegiance. I was his first ride of the day, but I imagine everyone after me heard the same story. When you’re accepted and understand the work it took, and that in the end, you don’t have much to do with it at all — when THAT happens, you’re filled with joy and tell people about it. Perspective matters. It’s what dictates our response. Let’s make sure we tell our stories. They’re the best gospel we have.
Maybe that’s why I was sent to Vegas? Not for a trade show, but to hear the good news of the Kingdom of God from Donald. To take that story and tell it in other towns — or here at least.
“But he said, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’” — Luke 4:43