I walked into the club with my friend and was greeted by the doorman. I had been praying for this first strip club outreach for a year, and now I was inside the club with gift bags in hand. I had painstakingly put the bags together the night before. Christmas gift bags loaded with makeup, jewelry, Christmas candy, Bath and Body Works, and little whimsical Christmas items. I took great care placing the tissue on the top, stuffing it down and fluffing it out until it looked just right. I wanted everything to look as special as I believe these ladies to be. I finished the bags off by attaching a Jesus Loves Strippers tag to the outside with some curling ribbon. And now I was here. I was nervous and excited all at the same time.
“Hi, we’re here to give some gifts to the ladies,” I said in a tentative voice to the man sitting at the counter. I looked around me and saw a purple and blue movie theater style carpet that looked like it had been there since the 80s, which also corresponded with the brown paneling on the walls.
“WHAT??” the doorman bellowed at me. The doorman was a short, round man that wore a permanent scowl on his face. He sat hunched over the counter working a crossword puzzle and there was no doubt that he was not pleased with my intrusion.
Finding my voice, I said in a more assertive tone, “We are here to give some gifts to the ladies.” He sighed loudly and I knew we were about to be escorted out.
God intervened, and a woman walked out of an office area and asked, “What is going on here?”
Again, I said, “We are with Lace Ministries and we are here to give some gifts to the ladies.” I had found my voice by this time and was not so willing to take no for an answer, but also knew it was a good possibility that we would be leaving gift bags at that counter…with the doorman…and his scowl. Instead, the woman welcomed us inside, told we could go anywhere we wanted, showed where the dressing room and smoking area were, and told us to make ourselves at home. Whatever I expected, this was not it.
That was December 2015. We served 25 women that night in a little mom-and-pop club in the West Texas city of San Angelo. West Texas is a Bible Belt region that would gladly escort strippers to hell rather than tell them that Jesus loves them. It is a region that dictates we battle a religious spirit more than we battle spirits in the club. But that first outreach proved how hungry they are for love. Dancers were coming off their stages to receive a gift, and I received a screenshot of a Facebook post that one of the women had posted stating it was the “best night ever.” We spent the following year serving the women and men in this club by providing regular gifts, Easter dinner, collected summer toys for their kids, collected school supplies, writing resumes, helping with financial aid applications for college, and then gathering Christmas gifts for the kids the following Christmas. It was a full year, but I knew there was more. I felt the call early on to expand into a neighboring city and began praying for the clubs there.
December 2016 we expanded to Abilene, Texas, 112 miles east of San Angelo, where we visited two clubs. For those that have never visited this area, West Texas is very rural with cities situated every 100 miles or so and an occasional small town in between. We were pros now, and we walked into these Abilene clubs like we owned the place. The first club stated we could not come in but could leave the gifts at the front desk and the women would be called to get them. It was a blow and I wondered if I had really heard God’s call. But he knew where we were needed, and over that next year, we built the best of relationships with the DJ, owner, and manager. I often joke that we are in that club more for the men than the women. The manager often texts questions about the Bible, and we actually spend more time at that club talking than at the other clubs.
I laughed when I entered the second Abilene club because it had the exact same décor as the very first club we went to in San Angelo the year before. I later learned the two clubs previously had the same owner. We were warmly greeted by everyone there, even the Wiccan house mom that let me know she did not need any of our “Jesus stuff” but made sure everyone else received theirs. A couple months later she presented me with a white wicker basket with four white candles and four small black King James Bibles. The candles had beading around them that said, “Strippers love Jesus”. A smile consumed her face as she proudly presented me with the basket and told me how much they appreciate us for coming. It was a landmark moment in the history of Lace Ministries.
We were content to go into these three clubs for a few months until the call to expand came again, this time to Midland/Odessa, Texas, 130 miles in the other direction. Midland is a white collar oil field city and right next door is the blue-collar city of Odessa. The two cities are so intertwined that many people refer to them by their geological name, “The Permian Basin” which references a large sedimentary basin on which two cities are situated. The Permian Basin is known for rich petroleum and natural gas. The money flows when the oil does, and when it doesn’t, well, there’s a mass exodus to find the next black gold rush. West Texas is currently booming, which brings people from all over the country. A popular saying is that you live in Midland and play in Odessa, evidenced by the fact that Midland does not allow strip clubs within city limits, but just outside those city limits, where Odessa begins, there are two franchise clubs situated right next to one other.
Again we prayed for a year and actually spent some time planning our permeation into the Odessa clubs. Although I knew I would be making the drive to Odessa each month, Lace Ministries was fortunate to have a board member living in Midland that could be the point of contact for that area. We entered the clubs with less swagger than going into the Abilene clubs. Both Odessa clubs are franchise clubs, which was new territory for us, and we had heard rumors of other ministries not gaining access to those franchises in their cities.
I approached the first club with the Odessa team. We were giving fuzzy socks, earrings, and a Jesus Loves Strippers Bible all packaged together in a cellophane bag. I had decided when approaching the door person, I would show the gift, but would present the side showing the socks and earrings. My thought was not to bombard them with the Jesus stuff until we got inside for fear that we would not get in. I learned an important lesson that night: Jesus will always lead this ministry and he will never take a back seat…not even to fuzzy socks.
As I entered the club with the team I was struck by the natural wood paneling that gave the appearance of a West Texas honky-tonk establishment rather than the lights and glitter of a strip club. I looked around and saw a large cobweb in the corner with a layer of dust bringing emphasis to the tiny silk strands. No doubt it had been there a long time. The bouncer stood at an entryway into the club on the right and to the left was a woman behind a counter who was eager to take patron money. I approached the woman and was immediately struck by how beautiful she was. She was dressed in white shorts and a white bikini-style top with fringe that rocked and swayed with her as she moved to the music blasting from inside the club. Her big hoop earrings caught the light from neon Budweiser sign, casting a reddish glow to her jawline.
“Hi,” I began our familiar verbiage. “I’m with Lace Ministries and we would like to bring gifts to the ladies tonight.” I had picked a gift from our stash prior to entering the club and ensured that it was in the right position to show the socks when presented. But when I held the bag up for her, there, bigger than life, was the Jesus Loves Strippers Bible with the reflection from the neon Budweiser sign dancing on the cellophane bag. I have no doubt that God intervened in my presentation and I knew at that moment that we were getting in that club. She excitedly grabbed the gift and ran off with it. The team just stood there with each of us looking at one another. We knew this was the moment that some manager somewhere would give his approval or the bouncer would show us to the door. But I was not concerned about getting in, I knew God would have his way. I was more concerned that my foot was sticking to the floor.
When we saw her next, the door-girl was standing at the entry guarded by the bouncer. We would not be allowed in, but the women in the dressing room were permitted to meet us in the foyer. They eagerly accepted the gifts and we were able to talk with them for a bit. The following month we were escorted to the dressing room, and currently, we are developing a relationship with the house mom who had been blessed by another strip club ministry when she was working in the Dallas area.
When we entered the second club we found an environment that diverged from the first club in the same way the cities of Midland and Odessa are variant in culture. A clean, white tile floor greeted us as we made our way to the door person. I thought I even detected the scent of Pine Sol. Again, I explained our purpose and we were given free access to the club. We distributed our gifts throughout the club and the dressing room, working quickly and efficiently while attempting to personally greet each person. The atmosphere of the franchise clubs are definitely different than the mom-and-pop establishments, and I feel like it takes longer to develop a relationship with the women in those clubs. However, we are starting to connect with some of the women.
This December is the four-year mark for Lace Ministries. The ministry was actually part of a grad school project that was birthed into a mighty work of God. Although I can see God’s hand in every step of my life for the very purpose of those served by Lace Ministries, I will never forget how the love for a culture hidden in darkness, for a people that had been ostracized by the light, grew incrementally, day by day, with every article read and every paper written. It was a calling that didn’t die upon graduation but became a reality the very next day. However, I never dreamed God would use Lace Ministries to reach so many people over such a large area. Our Odessa expansion positioned us to serve a total of 150 women and men in three cities over a 200-mile area. Each expansion brings the exclamation, “This is it, we can not possibly go to any other cities!” But just as God will not be second to a pair of fuzzy socks, he will not be confined by the smallness of my faith.
December 2018 God will stretch Lace Ministries in the same way a skilled archer pulls back the string of his bow, strategically propelling the arrow to a predetermined bullseye. In the center of that bullseye sits another 100 or so women and men in Amarillo, Texas, 250 miles north of Odessa. We have been praying and have our Amarillo team in place. We are working on stockpiling more fuzzy socks, and are eagerly anticipating what God will do there. Although Lace Ministries started with very humble beginnings, God has bigger plans — he has commissioned us to reach all of West Texas.
I have always thought Romans 10:12-15 was a good explanation of strip club ministry. I have recently discovered the Mirror Bible and love how this version presents those verses:
“Nothing distinguishes the Jew from the Greek when it comes to the generosity of God. He responds with equal benevolence to everyone who sees themselves identified in him. Salvation is to understand that every person’s true identity is revealed in Christ. How is it possible to convince people of their identity in him while they do not believe that he represents them? How will they understand if the Good News of their inclusion is not announced? What gives someone the urgency to declare these things? It is recorded in prophetic scripture, ‘How lovely on the mountains are the feet of them leaping with the exciting news of victory. Because of their eyewitness encounter, they are qualified to run with the Gospel of peace and announce the consequent glad tiding of good things that will benefit everyone.’”
Written by Strip Church Network Partner Jaz James of Lace Ministries