Pastor Chris Marlin and his wife, Katherine, moved to Las Vegas three years ago to serve a church called Grace City. Marlin calls Vegas a “city of transplants” that oftentimes doesn’t feel like much of a community. But after the tragic events of October 1, 2017, Marlin has hope that the city—and the church in particular—can come together to bring about positive change.
“We’re sin city and the biggest thing we need is for Jesus to break through here,” Marlin says.
We caught up with Pastor Marlin to hear his thoughts on how the church can be the church to Las Vegas as it attempts to heal from Sunday’s shooting.
Q: What is it like to live in Las Vegas?
A: We are a city of transplants. Hardly anybody is born and raised here… There’s not a whole lot of city pride… Everyone moves here to make money while you’re a millennial. Maybe you stay until you’re 35 or 40 and then you try to get out.
[The mass shooting] has brought the city together more than anything. In terms of blood banks, they’re at capacity. Everyone I know is collecting gift cards or food and passing out water.
Q: What has your church done to minister to people in the city?
A: We walked the strip yesterday and were praying for people and offering prayer. It was the strangest experience I’ve ever had on the strip. And then my wife and other people went to UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and were praying for people there. Especially at UNLV, people are really shaken up and open to things that they haven’t been open to before.
We got to pray for a number of people that I don’t think would claim Jesus as Lord. But one [of our worship leaders], her name’s Lia, felt like the Lord highlighted this woman to her on the bridge as we were walking across Las Vegas Boulevard. She went and she started talking to her, and this woman has three children: One’s in Puerto Rico, one’s in Florida, and one’s in Houston. So, all three of her kids in the last month have lost almost everything because of a hurricane hitting each one of those places. And her husband died two months ago.
This woman used to be in faith, and for almost understandable reasons, has walked away. And she just wept with Lia as Lia prayed for her and shared the gospel with her…and got to pray and speak hope and life into her. This woman actually was at the concert and what she believes was a nine-year-old boy died in her arms. This woman is homeless and she’s hopeless… The woman said, “You know, I thought I was going to go get drunk after this because there is no hope in my life anymore.”
I’ve surveyed our church. There are some people that go straight to meeting physical needs while others of us went out and prayed for people. That’s the body of Christ, where some people are going to be more given to [one form of service than another].
Q: What have you learned from this experience that you can offer to pastors who are trying to help people cope with trauma?
A: The thing I’ve learned most in my few years here is to not come in—especially in times like this—with an agenda. As people are vulnerable (and this is such a time for Kingdom expansion), I don’t want to just let people get through their stories so I can jump straight to how Jesus fixes that. I want to truly be invested in what they’re saying. And of course I’m going to present the gospel because that’s the only thing that truly heals, but I think if we come in with too heavy of an agenda…I think we could maybe do more wounding than even help. But if we truly love the person in front of us—and it’s slower and it’s less efficient, but it’s more real—then we might help less people because it’s going to take longer, but Jesus really loved the one who was in front of him. I think really not coming in with an agenda to shell out the gospel as quickly as we can but actually listen and then say, “How would Jesus respond in this incident?” It might be slower than we would like.
No one wants you to be selling them something in the midst of tragedy. If our primary objective is to love that person, the gospel is going to come out as a natural flow instead of as you’re vulnerable, let me push this on you.
What specific prayer and action points can you offer those who are eager to help Las Vegas?
1. Pray for the Kingdom to break through. Marlin says he’s never seen people in Las Vegas so open to the gospel than they seem to be in the face of this tragedy.
2. Pray that churches won’t use this as a time to fight against each other, but that “there would be a real unity among churches in the city.”
3. Pray for Christians in Las Vegas to actually go out and be the church. Marlin hopes that there would be “church happening on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana, and there would be church happening at the airport, and all these other places.”
4. Pray for the move of unity that is happening, especially among younger, smaller churches. Marlin hopes the churches in Vegas would not be hindered by things like territorialism but would focus on a common, Kingdom mission. “Pray that my church would work with the big one and the newest one, and whatever.”
What you can do:
1. Look for reputable churches or organizations on the ground you can give to.
2. Consider sending a team from your church to Grace City or another Las Vegas church to assist in their evangelism efforts. Marlin says his church is ready to receive teams and they have a program already in place through their School of Ministry. More information is available on their site or by contacting [email protected]
Pastor Chris Marlin moved to Las Vegas in 2014 to intern with Grace City after feeling God leading him to leave his job in corporate finance. He is passionate about teaching the Bible and being a part of a family on mission. Chris is now the lead pastor of Grace City Vegas, a church on mission to see Sin City transformed into Grace City.