By Anna McCarthy
A while back I was asked by a group of pastors’ wives to go with them to strip clubs.
That sentence alone sounds strange. But hang with me.
At first, I was a little hesitant. And not for reasons you might think.
I love people. Especially ones who are broken; it’s part of my calling. But, given what I’ve walked through, I know how fragile broken people can be.
And I know how insensitive the church can be.
And I was uneasy.
But, these weren’t just any pastors’ wives.
They had a vision.
One that longed to love on women that society had thrown aside.
It reminded me a lot of Jesus.
So, I jumped on it.
Their plan was to visit these clubs once a month to deliver a meal and gift baskets. I joined them the first night and I’ll be honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect.
Now, I had my fair share of time (back in the day) in bars and such, but I’d never been to a strip club. I was totally unaware of what I was walking into.
We arrived and the bouncer ushered us back into the dressing room where we introduced ourselves and began distributing the gifts and food.
I was shocked by what I saw.
And I’ll tell you why:
I was raised to believe that no good comes from places like that. Which is probably true on many levels. (I wouldn’t suggest making it your go-to for date nights.)
But, I was filled (as were many Christian kids) with fear about “places like that.” That “those people” were heathens and doing all kinds of sinful, shameful things.
Which, again, is true of strip clubs.
And many other places.
But, these girls — these lovely girls — were so … normal.
As I talked with one in particular, she reminded me of any young mom I’d talk to in the school pick-up line.
Minus the fact that she didn’t have much clothing on — I tried not to focus on that.
(Oh dear God, she’s talking about strippers in a Christian blog and talking about them being half naked. We should not EVEN be thinking such things! First, my sweet friend, it’s okay to laugh. Like seriously, it’s OKAY. The fact that four pastors’ wives and their pregnant friend even went into a strip club is kinda funny. If you’re going to walk with Jesus, you’re going to find yourself in some pretty awkward situations. And if you don’t have a sense of humor, you’re toast. Like seriously. So, I give you full permission to go ahead and laugh at the mental picture.)
They showed pictures of their children, talked of pregnancy (I was pregnant at the time), chatted about trying to get back in shape after having a baby, etc. It was SO NORMAL.
But, as we talked, and I looked into their eyes, I saw women — young, broken women. Who had stories, probably much like mine or yours.
We didn’t stay long. They had a shift to work, and we didn’t want to overstay our welcome.
But, as we left, they thanked us.
More than once.
As I drove home, I totally fell apart in my car.
Not because I felt sorry for them. Not because I thought I was so much better than they were. Not because I pitied their circumstance.
I cried because my heart was broken.
One thing the Lord continues to do in my heart is humble it. Like over and over. Countless times, I think I’m going in to minister to some lowly soul and then I walk out, completely undone because the condition of my own heart was exposed.
I wept before God asking for His forgiveness in the way I had viewed women in that profession.
Because people — that could have been me.
It could have been any of us.
Had my journey taken a few different turns, I very well could have been on the receiving end of that encounter.
Man. HE WRECKED ME.
I had my baby shortly after that visit and didn’t get to go back for the monthly visits to see the women.
But, I stayed in contact with one of the women organizing it and, every so often, I ask her how it’s going.
They have been visiting them for a year now and received permission to leave a prayer box where the women could leave prayer requests.
The first few times they collected the box it had silly things written in it.
But they continued to leave it there.
Over the following weeks and months (as they continued to love on these women), the prayer requests got real.
Last time my friend and I got together, I asked about the strip clubs and this is what she said:
Her eyes always, always fill with tears when we talk about it because God is SO in love with these precious women.
She said, “The women are starting to reach out more. I’ve been texting with one and getting to connect with her a bit deeper.”
We talked a bit more and she turned to me and said something that I am still rattled by.
“You know what one of them said to me last time?”
“She said that she was so glad we come to visit them because we’re not like the other churches.”
I said, “What did she mean by that?”
She said, “Apparently other churches send them hate mail. ALL THE TIME.”
I’m sure my face turned three shades of white.
Complete shock and disbelief gripped me.
We both looked at each other and about fell into a pool of tears right there.
People — church — WHAT ARE WE DOING?!
Did we forget (or do we just sing it in songs) that Jesus was a friend of sinners?
Did we forget that it’s his kindness that leads us to repentance?
Did we forget that it is ONLY the blood of Jesus that makes us holy?
That ALL OF OUR GOOD BIBLE LOVING STUFF is like filthy rags without Him?
Jesus was UNAFRAID of walking in love to the least of the least.
Like the scum of the scum.
He walked right in, sat down and ate with sinners.
Gross, ugly sinners.
And the religious HATED HIM FOR IT.
A few years ago, I met with another pastor’s wife across the country who shared with me a similar ministry, although, after months of developing relationships with the dancers, they asked the owners a crazy question.
They asked to hold a Bible study.
IN THE STRIP CLUB.
Just for the dancers.
Surprisingly, they were given a yes.
(Something about it building morale in the employees, but whatever. It was a yes!)
So, they started leading a Bible study in the club.
But, something was missing.
And those ministering knew it.
The women they were ministering to needed to be led by a man — not because these women were incapable, but because of the damaged, skewed image they had of men. They needed to see a man who was safe — they needed a man who knew Jesus.
This woman’s husband (who was a pastor) stepped up and took on the challenge. And, for months the dancers wouldn’t even look him in the eye.
But he kept showing up…
Soon, one by one, the women met Jesus through this pastor’s humble, gentle leadership.
There were prayer sessions.
Women were set free.
And many went on to lead healthy, restored lives.
All because this group of women and this pastor were unafraid to go where God was leading them.
I’m not suggesting that we all have this calling.
I am not the Holy Spirit.
What I AM saying to you is that if Jesus were here, walking among us, wouldn’t it be just like him to walk into the most un-Christlike place (strip club or whatever) and completely freak the religious folk out?
Just a thought.
He loved then.
He loves now.
But, he can only reach as far as you and I are willing to go.
About the Author: Anna McCarthy is a writer/speaker who decided to set her work aside to embark on a different kind of journey: just being a Jesus follower. After a few years of doing the Christian writing and speaking thing, she decided to take her ministry out of the church and into the world. Now she’s sharing her experiences in her blog “Just a Jesus Follower.” Her daily life includes being a mom of four and a wife to a pretty cool guy. They recently took a position as youth directors for a local church and are loving it! Check out more from Anna on her website.