Those Christians. And These Strip Clubs.

*This post was written while on assignment with World Next Door: a digital social justice travel magazine. Check out our website (www.worldnextdoor.org) for more information and download our most recent issue! This blog became an excerpt of this feature story our Las Vegas magazine issue about The Cupcake Girls, published in February 2014.

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Well. We’re going on a cupcake-delivering-strip-club-run tomorrow. Jeff and I will stay in the car, of course. The point of all of this cupcaking is to build relationships, and bringing a couple of eager new photojournalists into the clubs just to see what happens, outside the context of relationship, sort of turns it into a side-show.  Plus, you have to serve on another Cupcake Girls committee for 90 days first, which we haven’t done. I guess “Eating Cupcakes” is not one of their other service areas, anyway. Blast!

That said, our second week has been filled with interviews and tag-alongs with various volunteers and staff within the Cupcake Girls, and each interaction has stretched us into new areas of growth and perspective.

Here’s the way it all works, we’ve discovered:

The Cupcake Girls knock on the door to a strip club or brothel with a box of cupcakes. Sometimes they’re invited inside—not to the club part, but to the behind-the-scenes part where the women hang out to get ready.  Along the way, they cupcake (see? I verbed it) bouncers and doormen and valet guys and bartenders and DJs until, as you might imagine, they become widely welcomed, and almost everyone looks forward to their visits. Because, really. Who doesn’t love a good cupcake?

Once inside, they talk about kids and pets and vacations; they talk about how hard it was to get to the club that night from all the flooding or traffic; they compare the best ways to apply perfume and lashes. They offer help with hair and makeup while the women get ready. And sometimes, they just sit and eat cupcakes together.

The Cupcake Girls, in turn, field a million questions with a smile and a laugh:

Are you guys lesbians?
Are you cosmetology students?
Do you take tips?

Funny, but a steely reflection of the assumption in this business—in this whole town, really—that nothing is free. You can’t even get a picture with Hello Kitty or Darth Vader on the corner without the expectation of a tip, the founder explained to us during orientation. There is always an agenda. Everything is a trick. Freedom is an illusion.

So, in walks a group of trendy-looking women with cupcakes and a bag full of products, and of course suspicion abounds.

We’re not lesbians.
We’re not cosmetology students.
We don’t take tips.
We’re just here to love on ya, they say. We offer support to women in the industry.

Awesome.
But it’s the last question that really breaks my heart:
Are you those Christians?

Which Christians could they be talking about? The ones who picketed clubs last week, or the ones who threw tracts inside? The ones who dropped off beanie babies and bibles with a church invite inside? The ones who condemned the city with giant billboards explaining how their lust is dragging them down to hell?

Are they talking about those Christians who want to save them, but don’t know their names or how many kids they have or what options they had to choose from? Or maybe the ones who stay on the other side of the giant invisible wall that separates them from this area of town, except for when they pour in to feed the homeless or something at Christmas. Those Christians?

Maybe they’re talking about those Christians who don’t know what to do with sex workers.  The ones who easily say, “Jesus loves you” from a distance, but never consider saying, “I love you” right up close.

I might be one of those Christians, I thought, who doesn’t know what to do with the sex workers. Honestly, I had never even considered the sex workers before. I had only recently considered the hungry and the homeless and the poor, the vulnerable kids and women in far away places, the oppressed and disabled.  The marginalized.

The marginalized.

Do you know what marginalized means? It means the powerless or unimportant people within a society or group. Confined to the outer limits of social standing. Pushing people to the edge of society by not allowing them a place within it.

Could it be that those Christians are the ones accidentally marginalizing sex workers?

It’s easier to say, “Jesus loves you” instead of “I love you,” Joy C, the Director of Cupcake Care, explained. “To separate ourselves in that way—offering third party love instead first person love. But when we say I love you, we glorify God, Christian or not.” Joy C (not to be confused with Joy H, the founder) arranges for the care of both industry women and volunteers through counseling, trainings and support groups.

So, No, the Cupcake Girls say. We are not those Christians. We’re a non-religious organization— and they are.

Because here’s the thing. If you are a Christ-follower, you don’t have to go into full-time ministry or label your work Christian. You don’t have to be a Christian something-or-other. If you are a Christian, no matter what your job is, YOU ARE ALREADY IN FULL-TIME MINISTRY. So no, I agree, they’re not those Christians. They’re these Christians. They’re the ones who love you right here in this club. They’re the ones who know your names and how many kids you have. They’re the ones making deposits of love without anyone even knowing. And they’re the ones walking out into the margins to do it.

So. Back to how it all works.

After they drop the cupcakes off and visit for a while—or in some cases, drop the cupcakes off for weeks and months until they’re finally invited in—they leave the girls with this: If you need anything, call me! And then they hand over their phone numbers.

Their actual phone numbers.

Each Cupcake Girls volunteer that visits a club (these volunteers are usually referred to as meet-up girls) can build an intentional relationship with up to five industry women. This means they’ll continue to go to that specific club and maintain ongoing relationship with those specific women each visit.  And each week they’ll reach out to the women individually outside the club, offering a kind thought like: Hey, just thinking about you—hope you’re having a good week, usually following up with: Let me know if you need anything!

Eventually, someone does need something. Moving assistance. A bed. Tutoring. A dental crown.  And the meet-up girl does everything in her power to provide those tangible needs through the Cupcake Girls resource network. This network is made up of doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial counselors, educational tutors, moving trucks, federal aid assistance, counselors, etc. The moment of follow-through is the moment the rubber meets the road, the moment when the industry woman realizes the meet-up girl is for real. They actually do care. The providing of the physical need widens the relational door a little bit and deepens the trust.  We watched this happen this week as Jeff was able to help one of the meet-up girls put together a bed for a single-mom’s 12 y/o.  And yeah, the Christian meet-up girl from the non-Christian organization said, “I love you,” as they hugged before we left.

Eventually the need-filling sometimes turns into coffee dates outside the club, and then sometimes even weekly support group attendance and more—but even if it doesn’t, the authentic love and support are still there, week after week, right where the women are: in the club.

So, No, to those who are asking. The Cupcake Girls doesn’t set out to pull women out of the industry. They support each woman wherever she is— both in the industry, or walking next to her as she navigates her way out. They add value to each life knowing that the value will inform the woman’s choices. Because here’s the other thing: Jesus did not wait until we had everything together to love us unconditionally. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And so right there in the club, the Cupcake Girls love the women, simply because they’re lovable.

Also, we love God because he first loved us, right?

Could we maybe love them first, too?

I’m almost done, I promise.

We believe in the palms-up approach at World Next Door. Palms-up meaning that instead of arriving with all the answers, we learn from the people we are there to serve. We believe in saying to the outcast, the oppressed and the marginalized: You are better than me, let me serve you. Let me learn from you.

I know what you’re thinking: What could we (the American church) possibly learn from strippers, right?
But the Cupcake Girls is showing us, I think.

 

IN CONCLUSION (yes, it’s ending) I woke up this morning with this song on my heart:

Take it away, N. Nordeman:

Oh the days when I drew lines around my faith to keep you out, to keep me in, to keep it safe.
Oh the sense of my own self-entitlement to say who’s wrong, who won’t belong, or cannot stay.
Cause somebody somewhere decided we’d be better off divided.
And somehow, despite the damage done…

He says Come

There is room enough for all of us
Please come, the arms are open wide enough
Please come, our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the one who stands before the open door and bids us come.

Oh the times when I have failed to recognize how many chairs are gathered there around the feast.
To break the bread and break these boundaries that have kept us from our only common ground:
The invitation to sit down if we will come

Come from the best of humanity
Come from the depths of depravity
Come.

For the follow-up to this post: click here
For more about our time in Las Vegas: click here
To download the most recent issue of World Next Door: click here

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70 thoughts on “Those Christians. And These Strip Clubs.”

    1. Amazing. This is the future of Christ’s Church right here: “instead of arriving with all the answers, we learn from the people we are there to serve. We believe in saying to the outcast, the oppressed and the poor: You are better than me, let me serve you. Let me learn from you.” Can you imagine what our world would look like if this was every Christian’s attitude? Thanks for sharing this Lois!

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  1. There are a few Wesleyan Churches around the country who have embarked on the journey of ministry to strip clubs and the women who labor there. This article provides good insight into what is going on behind the scenes as well as one group’s approach to this type of ministry.

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  2. I love this so much!! Please take a minute to read this to learn about The Cupcake Girls!!

    I am so proud and blessed to be a part of an amazing organization!

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    1. This is fabulous…so many people can learn from the way this organization works. I can’t imagine the impact you are all having on these women…and men. Within 20 miles of where I live there are at least 4 clubs…my heart aches for those women…maybe God is leading me to do something similar on the east coast…thanks for sharing this Carla – it certainly has stirred my heart even more.

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  3. My good friend, Joy Hoover runs an organization called The Cupcake Girls. I often try to brag about all of the work she does and I sometimes struggle to explain it. Here is an incredibly written blog article explaining her work. If you have a chance please take a look. The one specific part that really stands out, and one of the reasons she and I are able to be such great friends, is the description of how she (and the other girls) are not “those Christians.” As a gay atheist, it is truly amazing to have a friend who is able to show she is a Christian simply through her actions, without ever needing to say it or prove it. She is the epitome of “practice what you preach.” Christians would not be Christianity’s worst enemy if they all took a page from Joy’s book.

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  4. God is showering me with amazing reading tonight! Joy Contreras- love u and the wonderful things u and the Cupcake Girls do for this organization and for the beautiful women in Las Vegas!

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  5. Wow! Thanks, Brooke for giving us a glimpse of what goes on behind club doors. What a fantastic and LOVEly ministry. Viva la Cupcake Girls!

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    1. Kelly, as far as Cupcake Girls go, they’re only in Portland and Las Vegas. I haven’t heard of any others orgs set up like Cupcake Girls, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I also know of a similar org in the red light district in Hamburg, Germany.

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  6. Everybody should read this. Christian or not, there is something in here for you. I promise. Thank you, Brooke, for sharing your heart and your work so eloquently!

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  7. I loved this read!!! Unfortunately, though I identify as Christian, it is “those Christians” that keep me away from attending church. I’ve often felt left out and alone since I’m an unwed mother. Can’t even imagine how alone girls in the sex industry must feel.

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  8. I’m sorry to hear that, Jennifer and unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me… many Christians tend to lose site of our purpose here and the one we are supposed to modeling ourselves after.

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  9. What a small world. The girl who wrote this article works for an organization started by my old pastor’s son who used to babysit my kids. Good article by the way.

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  10. This is a great read, and has been with me ever since I read it earlier this week. I am amazed and inspired by the work this group is doing, I am grateful for the insights into the industry, and I think that whatever your religious inclination, this should be how we all strive to approach those around us.

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    1. The Gospel in one word is love, so I would say, yeah. They hear the Gospel. Do you mean do they hear the plan of salvation? If any woman expresses interest in spiritual resources or asks a cupcake girl her personal testimony, then the cupcake girl- as she would in any authentic relationship- can share her faith. The woman is also hooked up with a handful of supportive churches if she wants access.

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  11. Thanks for your wonderful insight and challenge as always, Brooke. You might be interested to know that the folks at Hope Alive here in Fort Wayne have a similar ministry. I had to laugh when one of my internship students met up with the director for an interview at a strip club. My student was quite shocked, but it was a wonderful lesson for her. Regarding the bondage of the girls, I learned long ago while working at the psych hospital in NOLA that most of the girls in the industry are pimped out, addicted, and/or psychologically tormented. Even those who seem to have more freedom find that leaving the industry is quite difficult because of the money. So glad that there are Cupcake Girls and others that risk loving like Jesus.

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    1. Thanks for the info on Hope Alive- I’ll check them out! We have seen that the bondage of attention and money is as strong as any physical chain… and it’s more deceptive. Many sometimes don’t even realize they are in bondage- a good example: a girl we recently interviewed who had voluntarily engaged in the sex industry, but was locked in a hotel room 6 days a week for 20 hours a day, didn’t even realize she was a sex slave until she came across an article on human trafficking. She had been working for the promise of money, not actual money.

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  12. I have one question.. If it is in the pimp’s interest to keep these women dependent, why do they let you talk to them. Why do they let them talk to you? Do you guys ever get threatened or chased away? Do you expect to?

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  13. Reblogged this on Beth Bates and commented:

    Here’s the deal. Indy-based social justice magazine World Next Door deploys micro-cadres of talented photographers and writers each year to report on injustice throughout the world in order to raise awareness among us entitled folks tucked all cozy and tight in our top 1% bubbles. I’m proud to call the writer of this post my buddy not just because of her skillful, winsome way with a pen (which really, at times can tend to infuriate MFA-writer-me) but also the clarity and power with which her content challenges readers. Brooke has a gift for throwing down the gauntlet while making readers laugh, cry and fist-pump the air. (Check out her fist pumping in Nepal post when you’re done with this one. And if you have an iPad, why not download a World Next Door while you’re at it?) Strippers, cupcakes, and no-strings love: Vegas, baby.

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  14. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I currently work with minors who have been exploited and/or trafficked. I’m continually being reminded to be an expression of God’s love and to love as he loves. Your article is a GREAT reminder.

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  15. Am doing the same with “sex workers” who wait on truck drivers in Kenya Nakuru a center called Salgaa. I invite you to come and see what Christ is doing as we visit them “without an agenda” Christ brings the agenda!!!

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  16. I think the work you guys are doing and your heart towards the girls/women is great, but it never sits right with me when people talk about “those Christians” with such disdain and condescension. As much as you clearly express the unconditional love of Christ towards the girls in the industry, it doesn’t seem like you hold that same love for brothers and sisters in Christ who may not have the same level of understanding on how to minister to the industry, or the same level of maturity in the Lord. I think it’d be great to see a little more grace extended to “those Christians.” After all, while they may be acting out of ignorance of what types of ministry are actually effective with these girls/women, aren’t they at least usually motivated by the same motivation you are, that being the love of Christ and desire to extend that love to the industry?

    In any case, keep up the good work!

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    1. The “or the same level of maturity” comment above was referring to the believers whose work isn’t helpful. After rereading my post I realized it could come across as aimed at you, so just wanted to clarify that it’s not.

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      1. Hi Josh, thanks for your thoughts. I consider myself to be one of “those Christians” in some ways, and the phrase is an example of how outsiders view the Christian community in part because of our behavior *at times*. The things we are doing to earn this title actually ARE distain(able). The only way to grow in our maturity and increase the level of understand to effectively minister in this area is to call it by name, and then stop it. As one of “those Christians” I am calling out to the rest of us. We have to stop it.

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