Turning a show floor into a sanctuary, a private lap dance room into a youth ministry space and trading a dancer’s pole for a pulpit are just a few of many changes that took place as a former strip club in Anchorage, Alaska, has been converted into a Baptist church.
Once home to the heavily-frequented Fantasies on 5th strip club, the building was bought by Linda Dunegan, the daughter of a former exotic dancer, and was transformed into the new home of Open Door Baptist Church, according to The Associated Press. The church, which opened last October, is headed by Rev. Kenny Menendez.
“God has been very good...,” Dunegan told AP, crediting God with answering the prayers she said started five years ago about the possibility of owning a building that would serve religious purposes.
The new house of worship is located just off a busy highway leading into Alaska’s largest city. It is situated between a marijuana retail store, a sex shop and downtrodden motels.
Despite its surroundings, the church is now reportedly holy grounds to many who have found salvation within its walls.
The Open Door Baptist Church's mission statement is to create an environment that is “welcoming, encouraging, fervent, family-orientated, Bible-based" and one that shares Christ.
Nearly 80 people showed up for the grand opening last fall. And every Sunday, the church averages almost 50 people at services, according to AP.
This past Sunday, July 25, during a church service, Menendez prayed for God to work through the lives of his congregants.
“Lord ... allow them to see that there can be a refuge that’s in You and how You can be that support and comfort that they need in their lives,” he said. “Father, I pray that if there is someone here that does not know you as their savior, I pray that they can obtain salvation and that they can leave this place knowing that they’re on their way to Heaven because of Jesus Christ.”
Menendez was born and raised in Milwaukie, Oregon, into a Christian family. And he put his trust in Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour at the age of seven.
In 2009, Menendez served at Grand View Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Oregon, as a layman. Serving in various ministry capacities for 11 years, he continued working and training under the pastor of Mike Mutchler. He later met and married his wife, Lydia, in Oregon. He has three children.
In 2020, with nearly a decade of ministry experience, Menendez said he believes God called him to be the pastor of Open Door Baptist Church of Anchorage. He said he followed the Lord’s lead and moved his family to Anchorage in July of the same year.
The pastor aims to reach the Anchorage community and surrounding areas with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. According to the church's website, Menendez hopes that the new church will be a place of help and healing for many people.
In his sermon Sunday, Menendez preached about the first seven verses of Psalm 142, referring to when David was praying and hiding in a cave because he was being pursued by Saul and his men, who were trying to hunt him down and kill him.
The psalm is a prayer of instruction, Menendez said, which can serve as a good life lesson.
“Tears and prayers was all [David] had. ... For David, no matter how dark it got in that cave, no matter how hot the situation probably felt for him in that very moment, the prayer was his go-to, and that’s exactly what needs to be our go-to of course,” Menendez told his congregation. “This reminds me that no matter where we are in life ... we ought to never get to a place where we are ashamed of calling out to the Lord. David had confidence even though it seemed like a hopeless situation and it seemed like the trouble was going to get him, he humbly asked for God’s favor.”
“Though David had no voice, he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord heard him,” the pastor added.