Building a Life of Purpose in Las Vegas
As a city known for having the best attractions, the best entertainment, and the best food, Las Vegas may be the last place people would expect to find anything meaningful for their lives. But for a growing number, this Church Of Christ house of worship located just minutes away from the Las Vegas strip is the city’s main attraction. Learn what they were able to find here and why they don’t want to keep to themselves.Show/Hide Transcript
[Source: youtube.com/ MDW Boxing]
Nan Zapata: They say if you want to make it big in boxing, the best place for you to go is Las Vegas, Nevada.
Kevin Johnson: To pursue my boxing career. This is where the fight capital is at.
Nan: But Las Vegas is becoming known for something else. And it’s not what you think.
Nan: What many may consider the Las Vegas Strip and escape from their day to day life. How did this worship building just a few blocks away, become the refuge from it all?
Kevin: That’s why we have chapels here in Las Vegas. Although you say, oh, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What happened in Vegas, got remembered..
Nan: I’m Nan Zapanta. As an Industrial Designer, I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architectures from all over the world. But I found Architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building, discovering the characteristics that make it unique, and understanding the purpose behind its design. Most of all I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan in putting it all together. Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
[On-screen text graphic – Blueprint]
Nan: It’s Friday afternoon, the hot Las Vegas Sun is beating down on anything it can touch. Miles away from the crowds of terrorists making their way to the Las Vegas Strip are a group of young aspiring boxers getting Ready to train.
[On-screen text graphic –GOOD BOY K.L.U.B. BOXING GYM, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA]
Nan: Leading the group is Louie Daniel Taquiqui, a boxer and trainer known to most as Ludan. I met him while I was still living in Las Vegas and was excited to see the work he’s been doing at his new gym. I tried my best to keep up with these young disciplined boxers.
[On-screen text graphic – NAN ZAPANTA, INSTAGRAM@NAN.ZAP]
“I do not know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m doing. But we’re gonna try this out.”
Nan: Head down, we practiced our footwork and tested our stamina. Several times a week, Ludan opens up his doors to offer training for free. In exchange, they get a chance to learn the basics, the discipline and at the same time gain something else that’ll help inside and outside the ring.
[On-screen text graphic – LOUIE DANIEL “LUDAN” TAQUIQUI, BOXING TRAINER]
Ludan: Absolutely. Because that’s pretty much how I started training. I started training people and training for people for free. And then I’ll be, “Hey, do you want to come to Bible study?”
Nan: This isn’t the first time he’s used the sport to introduce his faith. A few years ago, he introduced Kevin Johnson, another boxer while training together.
This is a creative and effective way.
[On-screen text graphic – LOUIE DANIEL “LUDAN” TAQUIQUI, IGLESIA NI CRISTO]
Nan: To get the word out there to share the faith. And he’s not the only one sharing his faith. Since opening up the gym. He’s invited youth members of the Church to train and invite their friends to Bible study.
Ludan: They’re starting to write more because I tell them. I’m like, listen, you guys see me bringing people to Church.
[On-screen text graphic – LOUIE DANIEL “LUDAN” TAQUIQUI, SHARES HIS FAITH THROUGH BOXING]
Ludan: Bring people to Church. Tell them to come here, we’ll have a Bible study here. Boom. It’ll all start working out. All right, I’m going to go grab the kids and get everything ready.
Nan: Okay, okay.
Ludan: Okay guys, let’s get ready. If you guys have any cell phones, please put them on silent. Because we’re going to get ready for Bible study.
Nan: It was interesting to see the room transform in minutes from a training gym, to rows of seats ready for Bible study. And for Ludan, whose goal is to invite them to the house of worship. He knows this Bible study is just the beginning.
[On-screen text graphic -Attend a free Bible Study in the Church Of Christ, visit iglesianicristo.net/directroy.]
Ludan: But over here, it’s just literally marketing, it’s broadcast.
Ludan: Alcohol is full again legal, marijuana legalized, women, drugs, alcohol, all that’s in your face here, when you walk down, you can’t go, you already know, we can’t go to know, even a gas station without a casino.
[On-screen graphic – There are over 190,000 slot machines in Las Vegas.]
Nan: Right. You can’t even drive and not see a billboard of all these different crazy things, right?
Ludan: It’s literally all in your face, and for us to stay strong, we have to always listen to the words of God and twice a week, even four times a week in Bible Studies. So it just equips us with the strength that we need.
[On-screen text graphic – LOUIE DANIEL “LUDAN” TAQUIQUI, DEACON – LOCAL CONGREGATION OF LAS VEGAS]]
Nan: Right. It’s awesome that you are utilizing your place, to share the faith. And then you also mentioned some of the pro fighters that come out here and go to the worship service.
Nan: So how important is it to not only have this place but even a house of worship?
Ludan: Extremely important. Because they’re gonna see, okay this cool and all that, then they get to see this, but to actually see God’s work.
Ludan: When you go to Church, and you see the temple, where you see the actual house of worship. It represents us.
Nan: Up until 2001, there was only one congregation of the Church Of Christ and all of Las Vegas and one place of worship. But that all changed suddenly during the housing boom. Among those that came in during that time was Samuel [Sam] Gana, a longtime New Jersey resident.
[On-screen graphic – Las Vegas became the 2nd congregation in the area.]
Nan: We met up with Sam, now the Head Deacon of the Local Congregation of Las Vegas.
I heard so much about you. You’re the one that’s been so involved here in the [Local] Congregation of Las Vegas.
Samuel (Sam) Gana: My wife got tired of snow you know. Blizzard, 43 to 48 degrees…
Nan: You have to shovel the snow.
Sam: You have to shovel every now and then.
Sam: And a lot of accidents, so we have to move.
Nan: Right. So why not go to the desert right? The complete opposite.
Sam: The brotherhood there is really…you’re like a big family. But God has His purpose you know.
Nan: A longtime carpenter. He spent many years on the East Coast helping build the necessary items for their worship services. A responsibility he didn’t realize would follow him to Las Vegas.
Sam: I left all my things, my carpentry things because I thought I could not make use of those things anymore.
Nan: Immediately after moving to Las Vegas, he was asked to help renovate the rented hall for the new congregation that was being established.
[On-screen graphic – SAMUEL GANA, HELPED WITH THE RENOVATION OF THE LAS VEGAS HOUSE OF WORSHIP]
Sam: That’s where it started.
Nan: So it really was perfect timing, the plan…
Sam: I don’t know the plan of God.
Nan: The congregation moved from rented hall to rented hall, including one location that had them surrounded by businesses that were common in Las Vegas.
Sam: Our neighbors are you know, a lot of nightclubs are…
Well, that wasn’t the most desirable location. Due to it being in Las Vegas, the place of worship was the odd man out, and the congregation requested to once again move.
Sam: Brother Art is really persistent. Even warehouses, we go to warehouses. “Oh you think we can make use of that?” But, they won’t allow us. It was not God’s purpose.
Nan: Right, right.
Sam: Until the time came that Brother Art said, Let’s go to the back there’s a chapel there, maybe they will allow us to rent it.
Nan: The response they got was even better.
Sam: “Oh we don’t do that. But I’ll show you a place. It’s not on the market [yet], it’s being sold for two years now.”
Nan: The building was a former protestant church worship building, and it was on the market for a couple of years. It required a complete overhaul including dealing first with the asbestos problem that the building had.
Sam: So instead of just constructing it, they have to demolish everything — the inner part, inner walls, roof…
Nan: Construction began with the addition of a completely new facade facing Cedar Avenue. Traditional moldings were added along with a fresh coat of paint, and the Iglesia Ni Cristo seal. On the backside of the building, a brand new entrance was added to allow for a more grand entryway into the foyer of the worship building. From this entryway, an overhang was extended to welcome arriving attendees.
And this entry is all new?
Sam: This part. This part yeah.
Nan: So this wasn’t existing at all?
Nan: What was in this site originally?
Sam: It’s only flat, from here going there.
Nan: All the way from that wall.
Sam: There was no entrance here, this was all parking lot.
Nan: Oh I see, so even part right here was all parking lot.
Sam: Yes, this was a parking lot for handicap.
Nan: A unique feature of the building can be found outside of the overhang where a circular driveway allows for passengers to be dropped off, prior to parking on the compound’s large parking lot.
The work of renovating the building was handled by KALB Industries of Nevada. The contractor who also worked on the construction of the house of worship in Henderson, Nevada.
Can you kind of describe, what were the major differences between this one, and the Las Vegas one.
[On-screen text graphic – DARREN KALB, GENERAL CONTRACTOR WHO WORKED ON THE LAS VEGAS, NEVADA HOUSE OF WORSHIP]
Darren Kalb: The major difference was, Las Vegas chapel, all the bones and shells was there. So we didn’t add anything to the building. We just literally did an interior remodel on the building.
Nan: Okay, so nothing structural.
Darren: Nothing major structural, we put some spires on the top of the building, which call it had some structural stuff. The biggest challenge with that one is we built it in about 48 days, ran three shifts 24 hours a day to get that one built.
Nan: While the members of the congregation weren’t able to help with the actual construction, they found other ways to pitch in.
Sam: Helping in any way, not really [helping with construction], just clean up, guard…
Nan: Whatever you can do, right?
Nan: As we took a tour of the house of worship, the building that Sam spends a lot of time in as a Head Deacon of the congregation, we reflected on the journey the congregation took to get there.
Sam: That’s a divine guidance….everything. From Sahara, Desert Inn, coming here…
[On-screen text graphic – SAMUEL GANA, HEAD DEACON – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA]
Sam: The temporary worship service holder, going back here, dedication…
[On-screen text graphic – the house of worship (Before & After)]
Nan: Well, that’s an amazing journey.
Inside the sanctuary. What used to be bare walls was now replaced with traditional moldings, both along the walls and the ceiling of the worship building. The installation of the moldings were particularly challenging because it required a crew to rotate during a continuous 24 hour shift to ensure it was installed properly and in a timely manner. But once completed, it transformed the plain interior completely. It was further enhanced by the lighting from the chandeliers, the LED lighting and natural light that discreetly flowed in from hidden side windows.
Sam: The trademark is here, once you see it, “oh, it’s the Iglesia Ni Cristo [Church Of Christ.]”
Nan: Right, right.
Sam: You know the design, the color, the color combination, the architecture design blended all together.
Nan: Right, yeah definitely the color.
Sam: Let’s make it perfect, it’s so simple.
Nan: But it’s so elegant it’s so inviting.
And it wasn’t just an aesthetically pleasing building. Like all the worship buildings in the Church Of Christ, it was transformed to compliment the worship practices of the Church.
Sam: You know, because for us, in the Church Of Christ, it’s the orderliness, that’s where God comes you know,
Sam: if it’s in order, it should be [a] hallowed place.
Nan: Exactly, yeah and I mean we already see it with the two sides and everything has a space.
One particular area that required a complete transformation was the former stage area which consisted of three levels and an opening in the back. To transform this area, the entire structure had to be removed before building a new podium, pulpit, and Choir loft. The house of worship was completed in 2013. After it was transformed completely, it was dedicated in a worship service led by the Executive Minister of the Church Of Christ, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. It was a day that culminated in a long journey for Sam, and the whole congregation of Las Vegas.
[On-screen text graphic – Overflow Tent, day of the dedication]
Speaker: “Okay. Give it to the teachers, give it to the teachers.”
Nan: The new neighborhood became an opportunity for the congregation to introduce themselves, reaching out through different INCGiving events.
[On-screen text graphic – VISIT INCGIVING.ORG, LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS]
[On-screen text graphic – MARIANNE BUNDALIAN TEJADA, HELPS COORDINATE COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES IN LAS VEGAS]
Marianne Bundalian Tejada: We were able to give free clothes to the community. We’re able to do a lot of blood drives for the community and that’s very, that’s a great need, so we’re able to do that. And a lot of our activities too is geared towards the elderly.
Nan: Marianne Tejada has helped organize the various INCGiving projects in the Las Vegas region. As a nurse and educator, she’s seen firsthand the impact life in this city has had on the individuals living here.
Marianne: They lost their job. So when what some of them might have resorted to was drinking. And so the reason I know that, because in the hospitals we’ve had an increase patients with liver failure. We’ve spoken to a lot of the patients similar scenarios.
[On-screen text graphic – MARIANNE BUNDALIAN TEJADA, NURSE – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA]
And they had said, well, I lost everything. I lost my family, I lost my house, I lost my job. How was I supposed to take care of money? And so the solution for them was just to see what was available around them-
[On-screen text graphic – In 2016, Las Vegas ranked in the top 10 cities with the worst homeless problem.]
Because of the lack of spiritual…
Nan: Right, spiritual guidance.
Marianne: No spiritual guidance, and so an opportunity, an even greater opportunity for the Church Of Christ to be able to introduce them, because a lot of the ones who do not have that spiritual guidance.
[On-screen text graphic – MARIANNE BUNDALIAN TEJADA, IGLESIA NI CRISTO MEMBER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA]
Nan: Right, and you’re able to share that hope to those families, or to those people right, that might have not had helped otherwise.
If you’re ever at this Iglesia Ni Cristo worship building, chances are you’ve walked through the courtyard, an area enhanced during the renovation, which connected the sanctuary to the adjoining buildings. This open area is one of the places you’ll be greeted by one of the Guests Relation Officers of the congregation, like Gary and Danielle, who greeted us when we got there. Both were introduced to the Church Of Christ by family members. And both are now part of the Light of Salvation. The group responsible for coordinating activities to help introduce the Church to many more people. I got the chance to sit with a few of them after a worship service, many of whom were introduced to the Church in Las Vegas.
So what is it that brought you here? Does anyone want to share what brought you here to the Church Of Christ?
Jesse Lee Moreland: God’s love. His understanding of what He wanted for us.
[On-screen text graphic – JESSE LEE MORELAND, JOINED THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN 2010]
Danielle Frederick: I joined the Church Of Christ because I needed help.
[On-screen text graphic – DANIELLE FREDERICK, JOINED THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN 2016]
It’s because before I was inside of the Church, there was so many hindrances that I could not overcome. Yet when I joined the Church, I saw everything differently. Everybody started to give me so much love that, I was actually surprised. A lot of the brethren here called me, Brother, how are you? And now that I’m going to be almost hitting my four years inside of the Church, I would say that this would be the only place I would be around my actual, my true family where I can actually share my expressions and my true love with everybody.
Nan: All right, that’s great.
As we sat there at the balcony of the Las Vegas worship building, I was touched by the stories they shared, and their hope to share what they themselves found inside the Church.
Rodney Lyons: If you’ve ever been to a baptist church, they’ll tell you something good. But they won’t have any action behind it.
[On-screen text graphic – RODNEY LYONS, JOINED THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN 2011]
Here. They will tell you something good, but then they’ll give you action behind it to solidify that. So to me that’s a, that was a huge difference for me. That’s one thing that I saw, that convinced me was this is the right Church to be.
Harry Ines: I think the greatest feeling of seeing a person, unbeliever to a believer.
[On-screen text graphic – HARRY INES, JOINED THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN 1979]
Harry: That’s the biggest transformation, is the biggest payoff.
Jesse Lee: To see them grow. And to us the baptism is the final step for us, that’s it. To the beginning to the end, and watching them become a member of the Church Of Christ.
Harry: You’d be surprised here in Las Vegas called Sin city. We actually have about 200 database of people who wants to come to the Church.
Jesse Lee: Yes.
Harry: Each following on a weekly basis.
[On-screen text graphic – Community Outreach]
Nan: In 2012, Kevin Johnson was on that list after being invited by Ludan to a Bible study.
Kevin Johnson: And I already knew who was the true God was, Jesus Christ is not God. I already knew that. But just at that moment, it was another visitor as well-
[On-screen text graphic- KEVIN JOHNSON, INVITED TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN 2013]
Was debating with the Minister about the true God. “Isn’t our Lord Jesus Christ God?” So I’m listening, and everything that the Minister was teaching was straight out of the Bible.
Kevin: So that’s when I got enlightened.
Nan: Though he was intrigued. It wasn’t high on his priority list.
Kevin: We had a son that passed away. That’s why it was the layover because I’m like, okay, I’m done, I’m done.
Nan: That is until he watched a movie about the end of the world.
Kevin: I cried tears, man. I cried tears like, I got to do something. I want to be saved too, you know what I mean? Exactly, when I got out, after the movie ended, I called Ludan [and asked], “Hey, when can I get baptized?”
Nan: And while that movie pushed him forward, it was what he learned that cemented what he found inside the Church Of Christ.
Kevin: You cannot, you know…not accept it. You know what I’m saying? Because it’s straight from the Bible. These are God’s words.
Nan: Kevin was baptized in 2013, and today lives next door to the worship building. Where he performs twice a week as a Deacon.
Have you always lived here?
Kevin: No, actually I lived over on the west side-
[On-screen text graphic- KEVIN JOHNSON, DEACON – LOCAL CONGREGATION OF LAS VEGAS]
But when I was a Bible student, I prayed to be closer to the chapel so I can attend Bible studies and so I can be able to be active in all the Church activities. So I prayed for this, I prayed to be close to the chapel and God answered my prayers.
Nan: You can’t get any closer. I mean, you’re literally the building right up against the property.
Kevin: Yes, yes, yes. I’m like right here. It’s a great blessing because I’m so close to the chapel that every activity, you cannot miss.
Nan: A blessing he sees each time he gets up to train by his house.
Kevin: I stand here right bro. I stand here [and] I pray to God, thanking Him that He gave me the strength and the faith.
Nan: Boxing dreams may have brought Kevin to the city, but it’s no longer the biggest thing he’s training for.
How can you compare boxing to like the way life is?
[On-screen text graphic- KEVIN JOHNSON, PROFESSIONAL BOXER – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA]
Kevin: Definitely when you’re going into a fight, you have to cut out carbs, you got to eat healthy, you got to train everyday to get down on your weight. So there’s a lot of sacrifices.
Nan: You have a lot on the line, right? For boxing, even your life could be on the line, right?
Kevin: Oh yes oh yeah for sure.
Nan: Because it’s such a dangerous sport.
Kevin: That translates to our faith. Although you get knocked down, you get back up and continue to fight you know. Finish that race you know, continue to sprint right?
Nan: Exactly! Until the end.
Kevin: Until the end.
Nan: He’s hoping to pass the same lessons he’s learned, onto the kids in Ludan’s gym.
That’s pretty cool. And you’re pretty involved with that?
Kevin: For the kids to know that you can do what you love to do, most of all, attend Church and be faithful to our Lord God. This is a beautiful chapel and it is beautiful in there. And I explained to them that we have congregations all over the world, wherever you may be.
Nan: It’s Friday night and just a few minutes away from the lights of the famous Las Vegas Strip is this building.
Jesse Lee: Welcome! Welcome! (Applause)
Resident Minister (?) 20:46: Tonight is the most happening (?) place in the city. These are the fundamental teachings that we do give out to those who are interested to know about the Iglesia Ni Cristo, or the Church Of Christ.
How long have you been a member Brother Greg?
Brother Greg: 32 Years.
Resident Minister: 32 Years. (Applause)
Brother Steve is my fruit in the Church. (Applause)
Brother Steve: (A member for) 6 years now. (Applause)
Harry: What was your former religion brother?
Jesse Lee: I was a Baptist.
Jesse Lee: Yes I was a Baptist and I had went through a process of seeking the truth. And how do you find the truth? It’s only in one place. You have to search for it. But once you find it, you have to hold on to it. So, that’s one of the reasons, if you’re a guest here, that’s why you’ve been invited. So you can find out if this is the truth that God wants for you.
Nan: While it may not be as glitzy as the hundreds of shiny colorful lights that dot the Strip, this Friday and every Friday, it has everything they’re looking for. Good food, good people and the words of God.
[On-screen text graphic- JESSE LEE MORELAND, LIGHT OF SALVATION PRESIDENT]
Jesse Lee: How do you – and if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do,
Jesse Lee: You’re never going to accomplish anything.
Jesse Lee: And if I search for it, if I say I’ve been looking for salvation all my life and I won’t try to do anything once I get it, in my hands, if I just hold onto it because….No, I’m going to give it to somebody. I’m going to toss it out there and let them take that chance.
Nan: You can’t hide it, you can’t hide it.
Jesse Lee: You’re right. Don’t hide, never hide. That’s why I talk to everybody so, welcome Brother Nan!
Nan: That is great! Y’all keep it up!
Jesse Lee: Always, we’re going to always keep it up.
Nan: Las Vegas may be the last place people would expect to find anything meaningful for their lives. But for these individuals, this place and what they’ve been able to find here, they clearly don’t want to keep it to themselves. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.