Monday, October 14, 2013

My Night at the Strip Club

Click on this image to be directed to the Treasures ministry site.
A few weeks ago I went to a conference training for a remarkable program that outreaches to women in the sex industry, primarily in strip clubs. I think I've processed it enough that I can finally write about it.

I was so impressed with their ministry model and level of integrity, personally and professionally. I was blown away by the personal stories women shared, of their time caught in the trappings of the world and mistaken, personal identities and under-valued self worth. This program offers to meet and love the women right where they are at. Through the safety of a support group of encouragement and acceptance, personal mentoring and the love of Christ.

The founder, Harmony Dust, stated from the very beginning, "We don't save anyone. Only Christ saves." This perspective is exemplified in every aspect of this ministry and how they treat the women they are ministering to. Often reaching beyond the strip clubs and dancers to prostitutes and those working in the porn industry.

The program's first point of contact is through gift bags delivered directly to the women, while working at the various clubs. Inside the bags are tiny gifts like nail polish or lipstick, a piece of jewelry such as a pair of earrings or bracelet and then a postcard that shares one woman's story and ministry contact information.

Around 8pm, it was time to hit the pavement. Harmony made it clear that the goal of the evening was to get the gift bags IN the club. However they made it in, whether hand-delivered by us or the bouncers, was ok. There were two buses and our bus hit twelve clubs that night. I began to feel afraid. Of what, I am not sure. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I noticed the first area we were in looked very familiar but I wasn't sure why. The bus parked on a side street, adjacent to the club. I looked over at the opposite corner and saw the improv theater/bar that the Mr. regularly performs at. I had walked this block many times...and never knew or noticed there was an 'exotic club'.

I felt a strong, physical pressure on my chest, around my heart. I began to hope I was one of the first teams to enter the club just to get it over with but at the same time, felt very inadequate. I would end up being on the last team. Still unsure of what what happening to me spiritually or emotionally, I prayed for protection, of course and surrendered to God's will for me and my role in the evening. The farther we drove from the improv club, the pressure on my chest lessened. I thought we would be entering in through back doors, heading to dressing rooms. I don't know where I got that idea from, but it wasn't like that at all. We would enter through the front doors of the clubs and deliver the gift bags directly into the hands of the women, as they were working.

The experienced leaders that accompanied us, were phenomenal. When it was finally my turn to approach the club to deliver the bags, the bus once again parked on a side street. Someone prayed, like at every stop, before we exited. We walked down a short alleyway, turned a corner to the entrance on the side of the building. We were stopped at the door by a security guard. He looked...normal. Our leader, a former 'dancer' herself, assumed competence and confidently shared that we had gifts for the ladies. He was friendly and called a bouncer out from inside. He was dressed in an attractive suit and greeted us with a smile.

Just like they had warned us in training, he began to ask the regular questions.
"What's going on ladies?"
"Oh, we have some gifts we'd like to give to the ladies tonight."
"Are you selling anything?" He asked suspiciously.
"Oh no. These are free. Some of used to be in the industry and we just want to give the ladies some gifts."
"What's in the bags?"
"You can take a look. We have nail polish, a bracelet."
He smiled flirtatiously, "Can I have one?"
She smiled back, "I don't think you'd want lip gloss."

He agreed to take the bags in for us. Our leader asked how many girls were working that night. It was still early in the evening and more would be arriving. We left 15-20 bags. I can't remember exactly. I felt relieved that we did not get in. I felt ok with that. I was not curious at all. The side of the building had large framed posters of scantily clad young women. One of those beautiful women, a former porn star, has given her life to Christ and newly married. She owns no rights to any of the images of herself. They are used everywhere and plastered across the internet.

The second club I was part of approaching, we were again, stopped at the door. This guy was also in a suit, no security.
He barely looked up from his phone and greeted us with an, "Ok."
Our leader explained with the usual script.
Again he answered, "Ok."
"Do you want us to bring them? That's what we did last time."
"No, I'll take them." He didn't smile.
"Ok, great. HOw many girls do you have working tonight?"
I don't remember his answer.
"Thank you. What was your name again?"
I don't remember his name either.
We smiled, said thank you and walked silently down the dirty sidewalk, pass the bus stop, around the corner to our bus.

Each of our 3 women teams on the bus approached at least 3 clubs that evening. The last stop I was part of, we were allowed into the club. It was unlike the others. There was no security. The front entrance didn't even have a real door, just two velvet curtains that weren't very discreet. You could see into the club, through them and it was actually bright inside. As we approached the club, our leader stated that the 'notes' indicated that there were Russian girls, last time they visited. In my naivete, I thought that meant this was an issue because they wouldn't be able to speak English. It meant they have been 'imported'...trafficked, into the country and into the club.

There was a slightly chubby looking, young Hispanic woman, wearing a button up, black rayon shirt at the front desk with a man sitting next to her. We had to pass through a turnstile.
Our leader asked, "Do you want us to take these to the dressing room?"
"No, it's ok, you can just hand them out here."

Keep your eyes focused. Do not stare. Smile.
There were billiard tables, a bar and couches. I tried not to look any further, hoped my facial expression was at least neutral and made a bee line to the bar. I smiled and put the gift bags on the bar, next to the women, "Hi, these are for you."

I chickened out approaching the stage. "Oh, I'm already out of bags, do you want to go leave on on the stage?" I told my teammate. She handed me more bags but headed for the stage. A few women approached me tentatively. "Hi, would you like a gift? These are for you." They smiled. I handed another bag to another woman.

Harmony's story, Founder and Executive Director of Treasures Ministry
I remember one man's face, who was sitting at the bar...he made a strange expression. Annoyance? Agitation at this interruption? Confusion? I wasn't sure. We had stolen all the women's attention. Before we left, we went behind the front desk to leave a few gift bags with the 'house mother'. She was an older, rough looking woman. She did not smile at us. I think we stood a little too unnecessarily close to our leader. I felt relief when we left.

It was nearly 2am when I arrived back at my hotel room. I couldn't go straight to sleep though and wished I had someone to debrief and share my heart and experience with. I had received a complimentary upgrade to an executive suite. Which meant I had 2 free bottles of water and a king size bed in my room. Really, God? I laughed when that happened. Now I had an even bigger bed to sleep alone in.

I knew the evening had triggered something in me emotionally. My heart felt like it had a clamp around it, is how I explained it to a friend a few days later. When I got home I immediately made an appointment with my prayer counselor, to sort through and get to the root of the issue. I am unsure what my involvement will be from this point forward. I am not even sure why I was at this training, at this point in time. I believe God knows though. Only time will tell, how it will all come together.

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