Some people believe that what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas. But what if the stories are too good to keep secret? What if they need to be told and, more importantly, need to be heard? Nowhere is that more evident than in UNCENSORED GRACE: Stories of Hope from the Streets of Vegas. As senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jud Wilhite has a backstage pass to what goes on behind all the glitz and glamour of the Strip. He has watched those who have been devoured by Sin City and yet, when all hope seemed lost, discovered the redemptive power of God.
Wilhite writes: “People come here looking for something new, but what they often find is the killing effect of unbridled pleasure, money, and excess. Even more, they come face-to-face with their own limits. They came here to win big, but many lose everything. They are stripped. Then, finally, they are ready to get honest about their lives, their faith, and their pasts.”
The book profiles eight people who Wilhite encountered in Vegas, but make no mistake, these are no ordinary tales. He shares the stories of two exotic dancers who not only fell in love with each other but also fell in love with God; the adventures of a flying Elvis --- a skydiving Elvis impersonator --- who discovers grace; and a young teen who stumbled on God before tragedy struck. These accounts are colorful and vibrant with rich details, leaving readers not only with an insider’s guide to the person’s life but also an aspect of life in Vegas.
In one particularly intriguing telling, Wilhite shares the story of a young man who tries out for “American Idol.” The chapters go into great detail of the various stages of the national singing contest and unexpected challenges that viewers never get to see on television. While the spiritual side of the story is compelling, the “American Idol” backdrop provides a strong hook to keep the reader engaged and intrigued with every page.
While the stories differ in their approach and length, each one highlights a person’s unique encounter with God and demonstrates the length to which He will go to reveal His love and care. Throughout the book, Wilhite shares snapshots of his own faith journey and move to Las Vegas. He describes a life and a city that is different from most, and his work is not without its challenges. In this unique culture, he has learned simple yet profound lessons. He writes, “I’ve discovered that it’s okay not to be okay. Everyone goes through good times and bad. Nobody is perfect. When you fail, you can be honest about your mistakes with God and others.”
Such moments are lead-ins for readers to experience the grace described throughout the book.
If there is any weakness here, it’s the hunger that is stirred to hear more of Wilhite’s story that goes unmet. Nevertheless, UNCENSORED GRACE is worth reading and sharing with others. When redemptive things happen in Vegas, everyone should know.
Reviewed by Margaret Oines on December 16, 2008