Growing up I was told to avoid the “bad” crowd, but somehow I always ended up befriending them anyway. When I became a Christian I realized God had given me a heart for the "bad crowd" type of people – because he has a heart for them. Because we are all bad, we are all sinners, and we all need Jesus. When I moved to Charlotte, God led me to get involved with an organization called Justice Ministries. They focus on rescuing and helping people who have been trafficked, including women in strip clubs through their ministry called Rise Up. I currently lead the south Charlotte Rise Up team where we meet and talk with dancers, offer them relief and a way out of that lifestyle, and show them love and care like Jesus would.
Going into a strip club is not what you would expect. The dancers are not glamorous like they are portrayed in the movies – they are desperate women using drugs or alcohol to numb their conscience. I’ve had more than one dancer tell me, “How else could I do what I do? In a year and a half of working with Rise Up, I’ve only met a handful of girls who say they want to be there, and most of them were not convincing.
When we first walk into the dressing room, the girls we haven’t met tense up thinking we are new dancers who will be competing with them for tips. We offer them gift bags and they always ask, “How much is it?”. Nothing in their world is free; everything involves an exchange of money or services. They don’t understand why we would just give them free stuff without asking for anything in return. We talk with them during their breaks; ask them about their lives and listen to their stories. They tell us how they dance to provide for their children or families, to pay the bills, to support themselves. Others stay because they think they have no other skills that could provide an income.
As they get comfortable with our visit, they become interested in why we are there, in what’s motivating us. “Did you used to dance?”. We tell them we are there because we care for them and because God loves them. We say we are with a ministry and we want to support and help them. We give them our hotline number and tell them to call if they need anything.
The most shocking thing about going into the strip clubs is realizing how normal these girls are. This could have been me. If circumstances had been different. If I had not had parents who cared or a church family who supported me. If I didn’t have a high school degree, or a college degree. If I had fallen in with the wrong crowd. This could have been me. These girls never aspired to be strippers, they became strippers to handle life’s challenges.
They don’t know there is so much more out there for them. People have said to me, “I could never do what you’re doing”. But we all can, because God gives us the strength and the call to reach out to those who are poor, brokenhearted, and held captive by the sins of this world.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” – Isaiah 61:1-2
The gospel is powerful and the work of Jesus in our lives is real. There is so much hope for people if we are willing to show them God's love and redemption.
It doesn’t take a perfectly planned speech, just aligning your heart to God’s heart and a willingness to simply be with people. That’s the best part – God does all the work; we just have to show up.
As a church that loves Jesus, how do we share that love with others? Who has God put in your life for you to show His compassion – a friend or co-worker, a homeless man you pass every day, tutoring underprivileged kids, feeding the hungry? Let’s be willing to show the "outcasts" and "outsiders" of our society that they are made in the image of Christ (Genesis 1:27) and to love like Jesus loves (Luke 7:36-50) with hearts motivated by the gospel.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:40