On November 2, the Showtime Gentlemen’s Club in Waco, Texas, closed for business. On Good Friday, 20 years ago, the first time I walked into a strip club, Waco was home to three such establishments. Now there are none.

I didn’t go to that first strip club as a worker or a customer but for what would become the genesis of Jesus Said Love outreach. I was 25 years old when I rallied my church in Waco (and my new husband Brett) to get behind my vision of going into strip clubs to extend the love and light of Christ. 

I was a new mom from East Texas. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and graduated from Baylor University. My husband and I traveled around the country with our ragamuffin bandmates through the late 90s and early 2000s, leading campus worship events. 

We rubbed shoulders and shared green rooms and stages with some of the most well-known Christian worship artists. I thought my life and career would be singing and writing worship songs. 

I loved what we did. I was energized by the bigness of it all and the belief that we were making an eternal impact. 

But women in the sex industry changed my life and led me to sing another song entirely. I thought I was going into strip clubs to carry the light of Jesus to the women working there, but I discovered Jesus was already there and ready to enlighten me

A lot has changed in commercial sex and society’s understanding of it. But my heart toward it has changed more.

Through proximity and holding space for the stories of women in the industry, I confronted my personal bias and corrupt theological, political, psychological and societal framework. My belief in “equal opportunity” suddenly felt misinformed and harmful while staring into the face of a single mom who had been trafficked by her own mother at 12 years old. 

Did she choose the sex industry or did it choose her?

What began as outreaches to strip clubs across Texas evolved into extending opportunities to women who wanted a way out of commercial sex. Outreach was never going to be enough. 

Saying “Jesus loves you” with a gift bag while not offering any practical solution or community resources was not only short-sighted but harmful. Year after year, my eyes began to change and my heart beat truer. Women in the industry became my teachers.

We learned to decipher between the sensationalized efforts of Q-Anon, the “Wayfair is trafficking children” myth and Pizzagate noise by looking directly into the eyes of women in our own communities. We focused on local realities rather than Hollywood sensationalism. 

We learned that 50% of women in prostitution do not control their own income, that upwards of 90% of women involved in commercial sex were sexually abused as children and that 89% of them say they want out but have no other means of survival. 

We began to host job training classes and developed a justice enterprise, making ethically sourced and socially responsible goods where every product is survivor-made and survivor-paid. 

We partnered with banks giving microloans to women who wanted to start their own businesses. We provided incubator space for some of these enterprises to give them a running start. 

We opened the Stop Demand School for sex buyers and offered a course on commercial sexual exploitation and how it is fuel for trafficking. Today, we are building apartments and homes for women overcoming sexual exploitation, trauma and trafficking and their children. Jesus Said Love has now become Lovely Village!

While the church and the moral police cheer “Yes! Amen! And Hallelujah!” to the last strip club in Waco closing its doors, we know that this loss of income for the women who worked there creates greater vulnerabilities. Traffickers prey on these vulnerabilities and are ready to swoop in and become a “Romeo”.  

Our phones have been ringing and the office has been buzzing with women who are out of work and terrified. Most are moms. 

Five of the 25 who worked at the now-shuttered club migrated from Cuba. Others have been working there for a decade. Two were former Baylor University students who were once involved in local college church groups. 

None of their stories are the same, but they all find themselves with a shared experience. All of them knew this work was temporary. 

But how do you make a transition from the sex industry and begin another life for yourself and your kids without a stable community, safe housing and living wage jobs to guarantee a sustainable income

Lovely Village is crucial.

What I have learned in nearly 20 years of this work is that a strip club closing down doesn’t mean sex for sale stops. It simply changes. 

Closing a club doesn’t reduce the vulnerabilities that led women there in the first place, nor does it decrease the demand, which drives the supply. 

When the club closes, our hearts must open. 

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