WENDOVER, Nev. — Pastor Larry Dickey has been around the block. As a minister, he has also taken second jobs driving trucks, working with law enforcement and — for a spell in Arizona — picking up corpses for the local mortuary.
His message is "Come to Jesus."
But his motto is "I go where they are."
"Having a second job helps me get into places," he explains.
And he has gotten into a lot of places in West Wendover. His little Baptist chapel, tucked among a dozen casinos, is the only church in town. When he talks to his parishioners about the seductive glitter of the world, he doesn't have to paint a picture.
He just points out the window.
Of course, being a minister in a casino town sounds like a living hell to some. But the Rev. Dickey wouldn't feel at home anywhere else. He likes the rough and tumble.
Born in Gary, Ind., he grew up wanting to be a police officer. But when a bad back sidelined him at the academy, he decided the next best thing would be to minister to police officers. He became a police chaplain. He still works as one today.
Over the past 34 years, he and his wife have ministered in mostly hard-scrabble towns — helping down-and-outers, living off the grid, find a dose of hope. They did minister for a spell in balmy Southern California, but the urban setting and toasty climate, he says, "took all the fun out of it."
So the two of them went looking for trouble. They found it in West Wendover, a town he calls "the last stop on the gaming train."
"When people have trouble in Vegas, Reno or even Winnemucca," he says, "they end up here."
He likes the setting. He was bred for the dust and chill, for working with souls who feel that dust and chill in their souls. And he hopes those folks will eventually be led to his door.
Large and likeable, the pastor is both "everyman" and "one of kind." Yes, he's a maverick; but he comes by that honestly. His grandfather once grew a stand of tobacco in Utah, "just to prove it could be done."
Not surprisingly, the Rev. Dickey tossed away his collar years ago in favor of wild Hawaiian shirts.
"You can hear me coming with your back turned," he says with a smile. The point, he explains, is to brighten up the badlands and maybe lighten up someone's day.
He loves it when people smile. He likes them to feel at ease. In fact, in a field dominated by pulpit pounders, that unassuming style may be his most endearing trait. He doesn't push. He gently tugs. The best sermons, he says, come from a person's life.
"Over the years, I've found you can preach a number of sermons without saying a word," he says. "In ministry, you don't always have to be doing something to be present. The question I always ask myself is, How can people see Jesus Christ in my life without me having to say anything? I don't point fingers or tell people to change their ways. My job isn't to convince people they're sinners. That's the Holy Spirit's job. My job is to minister to people who are hurting."
And there will always be people hurting in West Wendover — financially, physically and 50 other ways.
That's the ugly side of things.
The bright side is there's also a broad and bearded man in town, a man who specializes in pointing lost souls at the stars, often without saying a word.