(This is post is Part 1 of a weekly blog series I’m calling “Who Will Go?” about my journey of sharing the love of Jesus with the adult entertainment industry.)
So, how did a girl that used to have a problem with pornography end up in strip club ministry?
(I’ll give you more of my porn addiction background story in my book.) I’d had an increasing awareness of the problem of human trafficking over the years. I’d always felt burdened for the children and women who were caught up in it, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it other than donate money to anti-trafficking organizations. When I suddenly found myself leading women’s ministry at my church, I read two books which changed my life: Lioness Arising by Lisa Bevere, and Undaunted by Christine Caine. Both books were incredibly inspiring and encouraged me to rise up and step into my purpose. Both authors told stories of women and girls who had been trapped in sexual exploitation. My heart broke for them. In tears, I cried out to God, “Father, this breaks my heart! What can I do?”
I heard him speak very clearly to my spirit. “Courtney, I want you to go to the hurting, the broken, and the enslaved, and tell them I will set them free.” I felt immediately that God was talking about getting involved in the anti-trafficking movement somehow, but the first thought that sprang to my mind was, “I can’t do that! Remember my own history of looking at pornography? This will just cause me to slide right back into it. This kind of ministry is for other people, not for me.” Though I had obtained significant freedom from that sin in the last few years, I still felt vulnerable in the area of sexuality. I was extremely nervous about my effectiveness and holiness if I forayed into the dark world of commercial sex.
I asked, “But Lord, what about my own shameful history with sexual immorality, and the ways that I helped fuel the industry by watching pornography?”
Again, I heard him speak clearly: “I want to redeem that for you.”
I had no idea what God meant by that, and no idea how he wanted me to respond. It seemed like only a miracle could redeem my history with pornography. I had just started a job leading the women’s ministry at my church. I assumed that sex trafficking mostly took place in foreign countries. Between my position at church and my family responsibilities at home, I was not in a position to leave the country any time soon. So, not knowing what to do, I began to pray about it.
While I prayed, I researched. For almost two years, I researched every organization I could find that was working to end trafficking. I read a lot of statistics and a lot of first-hand accounts. I learned early on that pornography fuels the sex trafficking industry and every kind of sexual crime. There is a direct link between the two, and it is common for those featured in pornography to be trafficked victims. Sex buyers can only watch porn at home for so long before they began to act out their fantasies, and that’s when victimization of women and children occurs. While some prostitutes claim that they “chose” the life, nearly all of them started out as victims. They had been sexually abused as children or sold for sex early on, and they believed the lie that their bodies had no value other than to make money.
I discovered that sex trafficking was not just a problem overseas, but was also rampant in my nation and in my own city. I live just outside Portland, Oregon, which has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the nation. Oregon has some of the most liberal laws in the nation concerning the sex trade and strip clubs. Prostitution is legal in Oregon, as long as it is under the guise of a performance. It is legal for a stripper to “perform” sexual acts with a client for money, as long as they are on a “stage”. This has created a state that is an ideal location for strip clubs.
For many young women (and men), stripping is usually the gateway to prostitution. Many strippers are being trafficked, and don’t even realize that’s what’s happening. They often have a boyfriend or pimp who encouraged or forced them to strip, and now they have to hand over some or all of their income to him. They got sucked into a life that promised them financial freedom, but gave them over to bondage in many ways, instead.
Some anti-trafficking organizations focus their efforts on trafficking prevention and rescue by ministering to the dancers and other employees in strip clubs. By bringing gifts and providing needed resources, they establish trust with the employees and are available should a dancer ever need help. They hope to offer help and resources to women in crisis before they make choices that could result in loss of their freedom, but in many cases, women who are stripping are already being trafficked.
I now began to envision the girls involved in pornography as daughters, not sex objects. Whether they realized it or not, they were victims, not fantasies. Finding out about the connection between pornography and trafficking put the final nail in the coffin of my pornography addiction. Before, the consequences of my actions had seemed limited to affecting my walk with the Lord and my relationship with my husband. Now, I realized that my clicks had also been helping to fuel an entire industry that stole people’s freedom, worth, identity, and futures.
I discovered there was a church in my city that had recently started an outreach to strip club employees. Intrigued, I set up a meeting with their leadership to find out more about their ministry. My women’s Bible study regularly took offerings that we donated to other local ministries, and I thought this could be one of them. It turned out God had something so much more in mind. By the end of the meeting, I was feeling God’s call to be involved with the ministry myself and join the outreach team.
To say this idea scared me would be an understatement. I wanted more than anything to protect my purity. But I couldn’t shake God’s command to go “…to the hurting, the broken, the enslaved. Tell them I will set them free!” I went home and prayed about it for a few weeks. I knew there was a whole world full of people who were never going to walk into a church to find God. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, doesn’t just wait for the lost sheep to come home. He leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one lost sheep. I could feel the Father’s heart yearning for these lost ones that he loves. I could hear him saying, “Who will go for me?” I knew He wanted me and my fellow believers to do more than sit at church on Sundays and hope the pastor’s message somehow reached “the lost”.
The thought of going into strip clubs was unsavory and intimidating.
But I knew that God was calling me to do it.
(to be continued)