My first time in the strip club was overwhelming. I could feel the oppressive spiritual darkness in the atmosphere. I could see the hopelessness in the eyes of so many. But when I would give a dancer a small gift and often a hug, her eyes would light up and I would usually see a genuine smile.
My prayer from the beginning was that God would help me to see the people through His eyes. I was relieved to discover that there was nothing about these places that I found exciting or arousing. It was all just incredibly sad. I saw a lot of emptiness in people’s eyes. My heart broke for all the hurting people who were looking for something to help numb their pain.
It was like God peeled back the veil between the natural world and the spiritual world and allowed me to see the spiritual realities that were at play in the clubs. The devil has created a counterfeit culture around sex that is such a terrible lie. The men and women involved have voids in their lives, and they think they can fill the emptiness with sex or money. They have no idea that what they are looking for can only be found in the love of God through Jesus.
I observed that both the employees and the customers displayed so much hurt and emptiness. They don’t know their true identity as beloved children, perfectly loved by God. Nobody has told them they were created for so much more than this. They don’t know that love looks like a Heavenly Father who sees beyond their sin to the treasure they were created to be.
Here’s an excerpt from the update letter I wrote to my personal prayer team after my first outreach:
One club had a super-packed parking lot and I could see a large group of men hanging around the door. One of the team members decided to sit this one out and stay in the van and I could understand why – it looked intimidating from the outside. But I prayed for Jesus to help us and pictured his angels with us. By the time we made it across the parking lot, the crowd had completely dispersed (no idea where they all went!) and there was one girl sitting there with one guy. She was super friendly and happy to see us. When we entered the club there were a lot of girls that were so happy to see us, and it ended up being one of the best experiences of the night. I was so thankful for God’s protection and also that he helped me push past my fear, because what awaited us inside was totally worth going in for.
I’ve now had roughly 36 hours to process my experience, and I’m still processing. I had a good long cry about it the next morning. It’s those girls, you guys. They are SO SAD AND HOPELESS, and I instantly felt such love and compassion for them. It was so hard to see their sad eyes. It was so hard to see how YOUNG they were. Many of them could have been my daughter. I want desperately for them to know Jesus and the real love and freedom he gives. I want them to know who they are and Whose they are. I will never forget these girls and I will never stop praying for them and reaching out to them and loving on them. Even now it makes me cry as I write this. But even that is part of God’s answer to my prayers: to see them as He sees them. He cries for them too and wants desperately for them to know Him.
How the Father Views The Dancers
About six months after I joined the outreach team, my daughter’s dance studio held a recital at the end of the school year. In amongst performances of hip hop, jazz, and ballet, God spoke to me. One of the younger dance classes performed a dance that I will never forget. While I can’t remember the title of the song, the message stuck with me. It was all about children changing the world and making it a better place. These innocent little girls, between the ages of six and ten, were all wearing white dresses and they danced with beautiful abandon. During an instrumental portion of this song, one girl at a time would get a little dance solo. While she danced her solo, you could hear her recorded voice over the music saying things like, “I’m Bella and I change the world by smiling a lot.” “I’m Hannah and I change the world by being kind to people.” “I’m Alyssa and I change the world by giving people a hug when they are sad.” By the time a dozen beautiful little ones had introduced themselves like this while dancing and twirling, I was a crying mess. As I watched these sweet little girls dancing and taking delight in how they changed the world, I heard God say, “This is how I view my precious girls in the clubs. I don’t view them as dirty, or as sex objects. I view them like these little girls here, because that’s how I created them. That is who they are truly meant to be. The stripping, the sin, the dirt…all of that is just like cobwebs and dust that have covered up a beautiful work of art. When you dust off the dirt and grime, you see the masterpiece that was always there. I want you to view the strippers just like you view these little ones. They are just little girls who have not stepped into the fullness of their identity, yet. They just don’t realize yet how loved and special they are.”
I used to be disgusted when I would drive past strip clubs. I would even look away. I had an irrational fear that somehow, the sin in that place might be contagious. Now, when I drive past the strip clubs, sometimes I just cry. I can feel the Father’s heart for the people inside. He longs for them to know how loved they are by Him. His heart breaks for their pain. He is angry for the injustices they’ve suffered. So many have been abused and exploited. Even the male customers get compassion from Him, for they’ve been deceived and are in bondage too. Now I pray over the employees inside as I drive past. I’m praying that each would find true freedom and love in relationship with Jesus Christ.
I love this story in John 8:3-11 about the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus’ surprising response:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
For centuries, the message that the church has preached the loudest has been one of judgment and condemnation towards sinners. The world has received this message loud and clear. A religious spirit always labels people by their sin. But Jesus calls people by their name. He knows all our junk, yet he sees who we are meant to be without it.
We know from the Ten Commandments that adultery is wrong. But Jesus’ grace is so lavish that it is always shocking, especially to religious types. Romans 2:4 makes it clear that God’s kindness is intended to lead people to repentance. If it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, why does the church continue to shout judgment and protest instead of whispering hugs and love? The world doesn’t want anything to do with condemnation. But unconditional, undeserved, and unreserved love is powerful. Everybody wants to be loved. Most people are well aware of their shortcomings and mistakes. To love someone in spite of all that is to love like Jesus does.