I had been loving and serving dancers in strip clubs for several years when my teammates and I decided to do something special. While we usually just did hair and makeup, on this particular night we decided we would give the dancers pedicures.
We were given our usual greeting as we walked into the club and began setting up in our usual spot near the back of the stage. “The Church Ladies are here!” While we have never called ourselves “Church Ladies,” and, in fact, don’t come from one particular church, for nearly ten years our ministry of Jesus-loving women who go into more than a dozen strip clubs around Louisville every week have been dubbed “the Church Ladies.”
“Is your mom feeling better? I’ve been praying for her this week.”
“How did your husband’s interview go?”
After catching up with the dancers, many of whom we’d grown very close to, we began setting up. We had heated up water in a kettle before we left the house so that when we poured it into our basin it was the perfect temperature for a relaxing foot soak. Then we set out our different nail polishes and the dancers excitedly began picking out their favorite shades of reds and pinks.
In between dances, the women would take turns getting pedicures. My teammate and I loved it; it was the perfect way to serve and love the dancers while also getting the opportunity to talk with them and cultivate relationships that we worked so hard each week to form.
After a couple of hours, we were about to pack up when I saw a woman glancing at us from the corner of the room. I felt the Lord urging me to go over and talk to her, so I walked over and said, “I think I’ve got just enough hot water for one more pedicure if you’re interested?”
She hesitated but then finally agreed. As I poured warm water into the basin, we began chatting. I found out she had been dancing in this club for more than fifteen years. Fifteen years ago she had different plans for her life, she told me, but several unavoidable accidents and a few bad choices had resulted in a life she had never wanted or even thought possible.
I knew this woman wasn’t alone. I had been working with these women for long enough to know that many women working in the adult entertainment industry feel utterly trapped and helpless and dream of a better life. The statistics surrounding the world of the adult entertainment industry are staggering: 69% of women in the sex industry experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (1), 85% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children (2), and 89% of women working in the industry say they want to escape but have no other means for survival (3).
I asked this woman a few questions, but mainly I just listened. When I was ready to begin the pedicure, she unstrapped her six-inch heels, revealing bruised and calloused feet. I began washing her feet in the warm water, and it took me a couple of minutes to realize that she’d stopped talking. I looked up to see a face of horrified sadness, with tears slowly rolling down her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Is the water too hot?”
“Why are you doing this?” she asked me.
I smiled. It was not the first time I’d been asked this by a dancer, and I knew what she meant. Unfortunately, Christians—“Church Ladies”—don’t have the best reputation of being loving and nonjudgmental. Sometimes I think it’s because of a misunderstanding or a personal conviction, but mainly I think it’s because Christians are too often known for the things they’re against rather than the things they’re for.
“I’m doing this because this is exactly what Jesus would do,” I told her. “I’m doing this because I want you to know that you are loved, not just by me, but by the God of the Universe. You are loved. You are valuable. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how off track you think your life has gotten, because you can’t do anything to make God stop loving you.”
“I’ve never known love like that,” she told me.
It struck me in that moment that this small act of washing this woman’s feet represented something much bigger, for it wasn’t my own love that this woman was experiencing. For the first time in her life, this woman was experiencing the love of Jesus Christ, True Love. A completely selfless, sacrificial, all-encompassing love that brings us peace and hope. It’s a love that brings about change. It’s a love that compels us to share it with others.
I never got to finish this woman’s pedicure. That night, this veteran dancer of fifteen years cleaned out her locker and left the strip club, never to return.
This is one of those special stories of hope that I cling to when this ministry gets hard, and this ministry is often hard. I don’t always get to see women freed from the industry, and oftentimes it takes years and years before a woman is ready to change her life. But every now and then, God gives us a clear and beautiful picture of his powerful and transformative grace. In these moments, we praise him, and in the moments when we can’t see how he’s moving, we trust in his sovereignty and goodness. Either way, I know what he’s asked me to do; he’s asked me to love and serve like Jesus.
Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (John 13:4-5, 12-14)
(1) Melissa Farley, from “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and PTSD.”
(2) Alegria, M., Vera, M., Freeman, D., Robles, R., Santos, M., & Rivera, C., (1994). HIV infection, risk behaviors, and depressive symptoms among Puerto Rican sex workers. American Journal of Public Health, 84(12), 2000-2002.