A "Strip Church" ministry in Tennessee that aims to give love and support to dancers throughout strip clubs in Nashville, Tenn., is being credited by a former stripper for helping her leave the job and have a transformed life. The ex-stripper gives much of the credit to Erin Stevens, the founder of the ministry.
The ministry, which began after Stevens received direction from God to "go feed the strippers," entails Stevens' visiting strip clubs to provide home cooked meals for the women while providing moral support.
Sarah, (whose name is being withheld to protect her identity) 23, was just one of the women who Stevens came across during one of her visits. The former exotic dancer had moved to Nashville in search of a fresh start for her children and herself after her marriage dissolved following her husband's extramarital affairs. However, after attempting to make ends meet by sewing custom-made clothes, she realized she needed another financial outlet, leading her to become a stripper to pay bills.
"I slept on two quilts stacked on the floor because I was not making any money," Sarah said. "I had never used my looks to make money and that was the first time I had to resort to it."
Initially, Sarah questioned her decision and said at times she "tried to justify" her choice by telling herself she would "maintain her morals by not breaking the rules," referring to the 'no touching' policies implemented at strip clubs.
"I felt tortured almost," she said. "Because if you can get up there and take your panties off, you're hired and I thought, 'Oh my God, what am I getting myself into?'"
Over the course of a year, she continued dancing and enrolled in school with the hope to eventually leave her job for a stable career. But it wasn't until she met Stevens, a pastor's wife who visits strip clubs to reach out to dancers by preparing food for them, that Sarah finally found the outlet she was searching for.
"When I first met her I thought, 'She has good intentions,'" Sarah said. "She didn't chastise me and she was the first to tell me 'God still loves you. You're here but He hasn't left you.'"
Stevens offered to help her by giving rides to church and helping out with food. Through time, Sarah began to notice Stevens' outreach was anything but judgmental.
"She wasn't begging or bugging me and she wasn't handing me a Bible and she wasn't trying to change me, she was trying to help me," Sarah said.
Sarah's turning point came when she decided to attend Steven's church, Friendship Community Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., where Stevens' husband, Todd, is the lead pastor.
"I went with full clothing and no makeup on and she [Stevens] remembered me and when she saw me she said, 'Hey come sit with me.' She wasn't just 'BS-ing' me, she really does care about those women and that was the last day I ever worked. I never went back," Sarah said. "Todd had said something during the service like, 'We're a church full of sinners, no one here is perfect, no one here expects you to have been or ever be' and I thought, 'There's someone else here [at church] that did something wrong, but there's something here that's keeping them here.'"
Within a week, a recruiter who attends the same congregation was able to help Sarah find a job as a security guard and now she joins Stevens on her visits to Nashville areas strip clubs to share her testimony.
"The last time we went to the club, one of the girls asked Sarah if the church paid us for coming and Sarah turned to her and said, 'We come because we love you and we love Jesus,' I thought that was awesome," Stevens said. "She and I still go every two weeks to the club and we love it. Several of the girls there have really shown an interest in attending Friendship Community Church and hearing more about Jesus. We just love them where they are, as they are. No condemnation. No judging."
Currently, Sarah continues to attend school and is slated to graduate in January with her associate's degree in criminal justice.