The other side of vegas
Las Vegas. Lights, extravagant architecture and huge billboards enticing visitors to the glitz and glamour of live shows by world famous celebrities. The surroundings were a stark contrast to the man walking towards me.
I sat on a retaining wall, in front of the famous Caesar’s Palace casino, taking a break after filming a scene for the upcoming Beyond DVD series. The man sat down beside me. His clothes were worn and marked, his face unshaven, and his hands rough and grubby, telling a thousand tales.
“Whatcha doin’ here?” he questioned. Surprised by his initiation of friendly conversation, I answered that we were filming a DVD series. I kept on the conversation, impressed that this man had a need for company and a story to tell.
“So what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m just a bum,” he answered. “I live here.” He sounded sombre and monotone, kind of like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
“Well nice to meet you, I’m Dannielle, what’s your name?”
“I’m Andy,” he replied.
I asked Andy how long he had been living on the streets.
“Oh about 14 years. I was originally from California.” His family, a wife and now adult children, lived there but he hadn’t seen them in all that time. He mentioned he had done some really bad stuff and had to get away. He was resolved to the fact that his life on the streets was purely the consequence of negative actions.
I thought about that for a moment and my heart broke for him. Fourteen years living on the streets and never seeing his family, or knowing whether or not they are OK. No-one caring for or looking out for him.
I asked the obvious, “Wow that’s a long time . . . are you lonely Andy?”
He seemed a little startled at my question, and amazed that someone would even think to ask him that. He had to stop and think about how he felt—for the past 14 years his thoughts were simply about how he could survive each day.
“Yeah,” he said sadly, “I’m lonely.”
I turned to Andy and just held him for a minute, sharing with him how much Jesus loves him and that God can forgive him for his past. He turned to me and his face softened as he dared to smile. He said, “You know, I’ll tell you one good thing I did in my life.”
Over the next hour Andy shared his story with me. He had been sent to Vietnam and while there, his superior officer one day ordered him to go into a particular house in a certain village and kill the children. Andy entered the house and found a child there alone. He could not, and would not, deliberately kill an innocent child. He grabbed her, cupping his hand over her mouth and telling her in very strong language to shut up and not make any noise. He then fired two shots through the floor and left the house. After telling me this, Andy pointed to a bridge nearby and told me what happened.
A few years ago he was standing on the bridge when an Asian woman came to him and matter-of-factly stated, “I know you!” Andy had no idea who she was and retorted, “I don’t think so, I’m just a bum.”
“Yes I do,” the woman insisted, “It was years ago, but I know that hand.” She pointed to the tattoo of a star on the back of his hand and continued, “Why didn’t you kill me?”
It was the little girl from Vietnam that he had secretly saved from being shot. She had later moved to the US and now had children of her own, whom she gladly introduced to Andy.
Andy smiled and teared up a little. We talked a little longer as he asked all sorts of questions; we sang songs and laughed together, until it was time for me to go. I hugged him again and prayed with him.
“I’ll never forget you Andy,” I said as I walked away.
“That’s good,” he said as he smiled back. “That way I’ll never die.”
I believe Andy met the love of Jesus that day, and so did I. I think about Andy often, his life and his struggles, his homelessness in front of a “Palace”.
It reminds me that we can be just like Andy, even in the “palace” of the church. There are people (and I have been one of them) feeling hopeless, lonely, shameful and rejected.
It reminded me about what is important to God—loving relationships. It is Jesus, and the everlasting Golden Rule, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself, by doing this you have fulfilled the law” (Luke 10:25-37).
We are called to reach out as ambassadors for Jesus, so open your eyes and ask: “Who has Jesus put in front of me today?”
And just love them.
Dannielle Synot is a news reader for the Record InFocus television program seen on the Australian Christian Channel and Hope Channel.