Parents News

Ministry Doors Open in Sin City

by Sarah Cushing - University Communications | Nov 03, 2016
CityReach Church Las Vegas East
The city of Las Vegas, Nevada, is like a two-sided coin. On one side are the ostentatious casinos, mesmerizing neon lights, and famous show-stopping nightlife. On the other side are the thousands of people churned out by "Sin City" who live in destitution on the streets or in the underground sewer system. Las Vegas presents challenges for any church to launch, let alone thrive, but God's calling challenged six families from Pennsylvania to plant and grow CityReach Church Las Vegas East in the middle of a physical and spiritual desert. The church launched on Sept. 18, 2016, celebrating one year of God's provision.  

University of Valley Forge (UVF) alumnus Russ Cambria '02 lived a normal and steady life with his wife Jennifer (McSurdy) '02 and their daughter, as the registrar of UVF. Yet, God was building something underneath the surface of this pastoral counseling major and credentialed minister, watering a seed that was planted when Cambria first led two Teen Challenge centers, one in Las Vegas from 2003 to 2004 and then in Buffalo, New York, prior to accepting the position as registrar in 2009. While at UVF, Cambria maintained contact with CityReach Network, the Assemblies of God church planting organization, which partners with the Church Multiplication Network, while he periodically considered returning to Las Vegas to plant a church. 

The Cambrias relocated to Las Vegas for the second time in 2015, along with others whom God called to the desert: Emily (Jerzak) Goins ’04, former director of advising, her husband Jim ‘06 and their son; Melissa (McSurdy) Beauvais '03 and her family; and Douglas Smith, former UVF institutional research analyst, and his wife. The team arrived, knowing many teams before them had done the same only to leave the desert years later. “It was more of a risk to come out here and lead everything. We left good jobs and a good home. So we knew that when we came out here, no pun intended, it was a gamble.” Russ said.  

The CityReach Church Las Vegas East team spent their first year connecting with the city community and building relationships. Russ quickly learned that his new role as a church plant pastor revolved around building and establishing these relationships. He spent a lot of time walking through neighborhoods, sitting in coffee shops and engaging in conversations. Jen works as a teacher in the public school district; Jim works as a clinical director for A Better Today Recovery Services; Emily is the food pantry director; Melissa serves as the church's missions coordinator/pastor; and Douglas works on the church's sound, audio and visuals. 

To prepare for the church launch, the team became involved with the members of the local community. They visited makeshift homeless shelters in an effort to one day invite them to a church service. They found their ministry niche in serving the local homeless and hosting community outreach events to invite people to the official launch day. “We are in a very tough community, where interaction with our neighbors takes time, patience and consistency. We are not in a city where you can meet someone and in five minutes gain their trust. It takes weeks and even months to do that in Las Vegas,” Russ said.

When the church launched in September, it implemented a service style referred to as "CityReach in 60." The church service is informal — they meet for an hour, sitting at tables, while drinking coffee and eating pancakes. During this time, one team member shares a short message. 

Since the launch date, the team has seen returning faces and new faces attend Sunday services. Russ and the rest of the team plan to partner with local schools to further their ministry opportunities. In addition, the church has became an official city food pantry. They hope to establish recovery groups for those seeking help against the battle of addiction. In light of their fruitful year and the hope for future growth in their church and their ministry, Russ simply shared "As God leads, we will follow."

PE News, the official news source of the Assemblies of God, published an article on the Las Vegas church launch, recognizing the challenges of church planting in a city like Las Vegas. 

Read the story at