Through The Father’s Eyes

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.

Treasures in Darkness

(This is Part 2 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. You can read Part 1 here.)

The week that I made the decision to apply for the strip club outreach team, the devil did his very best to intimidate me and make me change my mind.  Over the course of just a few days, my household  became just a little bit like the house of Job in the Old Testament.  We could have been the subject of a country song where everything goes wrong.  Our refrigerator died, our stove died, we had a major plumbing disaster, one of our children was diagnosed with a parasite, another child got the stomach flu, I got the stomach flu, our car needed thousands of dollars-worth of repair, our bank account hit zero, I came down with shingles for the second time in a year, and we experienced a major relational rift with one of our children.  Amongst other things. 

But the devil’s efforts at intimidation only served to strengthen my resolve.  His obvious techniques only heightened my awareness that this was a ministry close to God’s heart.  I became more aware than ever before of the invisible warfare that was going on over my family.  Inspired by the movie War Room[1] and Priscilla Schirer’s book Fervent[2], I began writing out Scriptures to pray over each person and area in my life.  I taped them to my wall next to my bed, where I would see them every morning and every night.

Honestly, I felt fearful and anxious about participating in a strip club ministry.  I had so many questions that I didn’t know the answers to.  What if I found it sexually arousing?  What if I slid into sin myself through exposure to that world?  What if I couldn’t get the images I saw out of my mind?  What if it affected my relationship with my husband?  What if I was so disgusted with the customers that I could not be loving towards every person I encountered?  What about my physical safety?  As I prayed about it, the Holy Spirit led me to several different passages of scripture.  I wrote them out and taped them on my bedroom wall. I prayed through them out loud any time I was starting to feel fearful, and they gave me courage and peace every time. The first pivotal Scripture He gave me was from Isaiah 45:2-3:

I will go before you
    and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
    riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

God told me that he was going ahead of me and would break down barriers on my behalf.  He promised that I would find hidden treasures in dark places.  I’d always thought of God as only being in the light; but now I learned there were hidden treasures I would only find by venturing into those dark places.  I would find greater intimacy with him through depending completely on his mercy and protection.  I would grow in my understanding of my identity and of His.  As I left my comfort zone, He would teach me things I could not learn any other way.

Next, he highlighted Isaiah 42:6-7 for me:

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

This passage echoed a word I’d received from him two years earlier. I felt it cemented my calling to be a part of this ministry and I also knew that he would be holding my hand all along the way.  I knew that God had called me to be a light, to open eyes, to free captives, and release people from dungeons.  I could not think of a darker place than a strip club.  The spiritually blind eyes and the soul bondage the employees and customers experienced was obvious.  I could see the strip club employees as captives in prison, sitting in dark dungeons, and I wanted to help set them free.

In Isaiah 43:1-2, he promised me that I would not be harmed as I walked through those dark places:

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

I belong to Him no matter what.  Because I am called by his name, He will be with me every step of the way. I could walk through rising water, rushing river, or fierce flames, and not be harmed.

I had one final concern about participating in the strip club ministry.  Team members were required to commit to regular attendance on outreach nights, occurring the same Saturday of each month.  For years, I had frequently been ill for long periods of time, but I told God, “If you want me to participate in this ministry, you are going to have to keep me healthy enough to do it.” 

For three years, I never once had to miss an outreach due to being ill.


[1] Written by Alex & Steven Kendrick, and directed by Alex Kendrick, War Room, released 2015

[2] Priscilla Schirer, Fervent, B & H Publishing, August 2015

Tell Them I Will Set Them Free

 

(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? 

Only God. 

(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)