This one is bittersweet to write. I (Michelle) have been with Strip Church since its launch on the Las Vegas strip over a decade ago. I’ve seen this ministry go from an idea that was birthed out of XXXchurch to a full-blown on-the-ground ministry in over 200 cities across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the UK. I love this ministry with everything in me and have appreciated the opportunity to lead it.
While Strip Church front-facing has been run primarily by women, our founder Craig Gross has been the mastermind behind making things happen from the beginning. He funded the launch, selected top-notch leaders, made training opportunities a reality for hundreds of ministries around the world to model. He gave direction and created resources to be distributed in strip clubs around the world including the infamous Jesus Loves Strippers Bible. He provided opportunities for like-minded ministries to come together annually to be encouraged and strengthened to go back to their cities and lead effectively.
I have been so fortunate to work alongside Craig all of these years. I have learned more than I ever imagined and I have seen more through this ministry than I have elsewhere in my lifetime. Sadly, in leadership, many are competitive and want the world to know all they’ve done (ministry is no different) but I’ve seen Craig just go and get things done. He makes things happen. I’ve watched people (whether it be press or self-righteous people) tear him down and criticize his style of ministry or envy that he ran with ideas and made things happen that only others talked about. It’s not always been easy, that is for sure—but it has always been worth it.
For almost two decades Craig Gross has operated nonstop while raising two children with his wife, Jeanette. He has traveled the world advocating for those we serve. Craig has mentored countless people in ministry and in business. He’s given himself over and over and over again. He doesn’t brag about what he has accomplished but I am taking this opportunity because it is long overdue.
It was Craig who sat down with an idea to write up a plan for the “Esther Fund”, a ministry within XXXchurch that helps women who are exiting the sex industry. The fund started out helping them pay their rent so they could go back to school or begin a new line of work. Then we added other immediate needs– counseling, medical attention, and various items. It evolved into a full-blown mentorship program where women were paired with other women for encouragement, friendship, and bible study. Individual life plans were created and financial assistance provided under the guidance of that life-plan. Ironically what most people never knew was that there was no “fund” (reserves) because not many people would donate to this cause– so every time a need came up, Craig went out and fundraised to meet those needs.
It was through our outreaches to the sex industry that we met and helped so many women. One of those women is Brittni De La Mora (a former porn star) who we first met at a porn show outreach almost ten years ago. Her story is one of the most incredible we’ve ever witnessed. You can read more about Brittni’s story at XXXchurch.
I loved Brittni the moment I met her all those years ago. I’ve watched her rise above many challenges and I’ve witnessed her growth in the Lord and in her life. She worked incredibly hard for healing and she cooperated with God’s plans even though it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Three years ago Brittni married Richard, a pastor at a church she began attending after she left the industry. Their romance did not happen instantly– she actually swore off dating for a year which gave them an opportunity to form a beautiful friendship. They married in February of 2016. They are now pregnant with their first child due in August.
Fast forward to earlier this year when I really sensed that Craig’s time with XXXchurch and Strip Church was coming to an end. I had seen a lot of changes in Craig over the last several years leading up to this, so it was not a surprise to me when he told me he was going to embark on new endeavors. We, as a team focused on coming up with plans and strategies for the future of XXXchurch and Strip Church and we thought we had it all figured out when God interrupted. And boy did He interrupt in a big way.
God spoke to Craig’s heart and told him to give XXXchurch to Brittni and Rich. What? Wow.
We could have never seen that coming when we started these ministries all those years ago, but it makes total God-sense. For two decades people have asked Craig: “Why this kind of ministry?” Brittni will never have to answer that question.
Brittni has so graciously accepted our offer to continue to operate Strip Church alongside XXXchurch. We know she will be a blessing to our network and to those we serve.
This ministry has such a huge piece of my heart, but I know that God has called me to work alongside Craig and his wife, Jeanette. So with Craig’s official retirement from XXXchurch comes my retirement from Strip Church. Craig and I will no longer be front-facing but instead, we will be available to Brittni and Rich during this transition to offer them everything they need to run these ministries successfully.