When you think of Las Vegas, you might think of the buzzing strip with flashing signs and casinos filled with indulging tourists.
When Pastor Bruce Folwell sees Vegas, he sees those stuck in their obsessions, something that he knows about first-hand.
Once a drug dealer on the streets of Vegas, Bruce has returned to Sin City, this time to bring hope. After pastoring CityReach Church Columbus in Ohio for three years, Bruce launched CityReach Church Las Vegas on March 6, 2016.
Bruce grew up in upstate New York and attended an inner-city school. He started smoking marijuana at a young age and began selling it in school.
As a young adult, Bruce discovered that he could make a lot of money selling drugs. “My love was money,” he says, “I worked just to cover up making the ‘real’ money.” Bruce moved to Las Vegas to live the partying life-style. He started selling drugs in Vegas on a serious scale. “I thought I was invincible,” he says. “I’d lounge by the pool all day then work the clubs at night.”
At first Bruce hid his lifestyle from Ana, his girlfriend (and future wife). When the couple had a daughter, Bruce decided to stop selling drugs. “I thought ‘I better stop, or I’m going to go to prison or get killed .”
Bruce started his own business based in Ohio and began traveling, selling roofs for hail damage. With his wife and daughter back in Vegas, Bruce traveled the country and continued his wild and crazy lifestyle. “Even though I stopped selling drugs, my life was still consumed with making money and partying,” he says.
Bruce hired his cousin and friend, who were recently released from prison, where they both found God. “I didn’t want to hear anything about it. I didn’t want them shoving it down my throat,” Bruce says.
One night when Bruce was partying at a hotel, Bruce’s cousin came out of his room after praying.He looked at the man that Bruce was partying with and said, “Hey man, I don’t know if you know God, but God told me something to tell you. James, you need to stop treating Ashley like that…” Bruce was brought to tears as he watched his cousin prophesy to this grown man.
“I still wasn’t ready to ask questions, but that really sparked something inside of me. I knew that my cousin didn’t know this guy. They had just met.”– Bruce
After attending church with his cousin in Ohio, Bruce gave his life to Christ at the altar. “It wasn’t all easy after that. I went out and partied again that night,” he says. Bruce’s life slowly began to change. He gave up his business in Ohio and returned home to his wife and, now, two children.
Ana, Bruce’s wife, was not interested in hearing about Bruce’s conversion. She was working as a cocktail waitress manager and living a life full of alcohol and drugs. Bruce started traveling 45 minutes away to attend a church. As a first-time guest, Bruce signed himself and Ana up for “starting point” classes.
“She was furious at first. But, I got her to go. The church surrounded us and cared for us, even though we were still in our worldly stuff,” he says. Bruce and Ana got baptized after going through the class.
“We did well for a year,” he says, “but then I went on the road to sell roofs again. I slipped back into the partying life-style.” When Bruce finally came back home, the couple decided that they had to get out of Vegas. So, they moved to Columbus, OH. They once again found a life-giving church where they felt cared for and accepted by people.
As Bruce grew in his faith and got more involved in his church, God called him into ministry five different times. The fifth time, his pastor, Pastor Konan Stephens of C3 Church, called him and said, “God has given me a vision to plant 50 churches in 20 years. He says you were my first call,”
Bruce finally accepted this call on his life, began taking ministry classes, and after three years became a credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God.
Bruce shared his heart and his story to his district and the Ohio Ministry Network, who connected him with Brian Bolt and CITYREACH NETWORK. Bruce traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with Brian and learn everything he could. He was impressed with the CityReach Hope Homes and wanted to create something similar.
“My plan was to be a sponge and to learn everything I could.”– Bruce
By the time Bruce arrived back in Ohio, Brian had already contacted Pastor Konan and the three men met to create a plan of action for Bruce’s new church plant in Ohio.
With the help and backing of both Konan and Brian, Bruce launched CityReach Church Columbus in September of 2013.
BACK TO VEGAS
Fast forward to 2015, Bruce and Ana are happy and comfortable in their ministry position, leading CityReach Church Columbus and the Hope Home. However, Bruce began to feel that God was calling them to something different.
“God began putting Vegas on my heart. He told me, ‘In the same city where you used to sell dope, go back and bring hope.’”– Bruce
When Bruce talked to Brian about the possibility of a change, Brian had already been seeking a CityReach Network leader and church planter to launch in the west coast.
When Bruce told Ana they were moving back to Vegas, she said, “No way are we moving back there! We have to pray and fast!”
“She had her own temper tantrum with God, but after many confirmations, she came around,” Bruce says.
Bruce and Ana moved back to Vegas in July of 2015 and brought 20 team members with them. After months of planning and preparation, Bruce and his team launched the new church, CityReach Church Las Vegas, on March 6, 2016 in central Las Vegas at Spring Valley High School.
As you would expect, many people in Las Vegas are living a lifestyle aimed at making money and partying. But, the drug addicts and drug dealers of Las Vegas look a lot different than those in other places.
“Vegas brings with it is a sense of fake, with all the glitz and glamour. You have cocktail waitresses or chauffeurs that make top dollar. They look like they’re all put together with their fancy cars or manicured nails, but they’re really stuck in their stuff—in drugs and alcohol,” Bruce says, “They don’t understand why they need Jesus. They don’t look like they’ve got problems.”
Bruce’s goal is to reach people for Jesus and help them get “unstuck.” He wants to raise people up to be leaders.
“I want to see people freed, relieved, restored, and launched into their destiny.”– Bruce
As part of this goal, Bruce wants to start Hope Homes for both men and women.