Monday, August 23, 2010
Snickerdoodles for Strippers
I like to bake cookies for the teachers at my school.
Meg Munoz likes to take cookies to strip clubs.
In doing so, Meg is striving to bring Jesus’ love to a segment of our society with which most of us are unfamiliar. It’s a group with which she can identify. It’s a group that’s hurting and one that needs to be wrapped in the loving arms of the church.
The sex industry employees.
God has called Meg to start a ministry to the sex industry called, Abeni, which in Swahili means, “A girl prayed for.” She gets a little squirmy when the word “ministry” is used. She’d prefer to lose the word altogether. She’s just trying to live out a lifestyle of love and build relationships. Relationships built on trust, commitment, follow-through, availability, and consistency.
Meg is not one to hide her past. Her website (abenionline.org) includes a three-page testimony that at first reads like an episode of A&E’s popular show Intervention. She was drinking by age 7, smoking at 9, and using drugs at 11. The buzz words read like the script for a bad dream: depression, porn, anorexia, bulimia, speed, methamphetamines, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, beatings, failed rehab, abortions, and attempted suicide. And that’s only page 1.
Page 2 doesn’t get much better. Next came part-time work in the sex industry doing private shows to pay for her drug habits. Later she toured southern California full-time from Ventura to San Diego for five years as an escort. And though the money was good, many of the old buzz words remained, and included their very unfriendly emotional colleagues; scared, unlovable, worthless, ashamed, guilty, degraded, unsafe, used, and rejected.
Before I cheer you up with the good news of page 3, let me hit you with the OMG-statistics of the sex industry:
• It’s an industry that makes 97 billion dollars a year.
• There are 2,700 strip clubs in the United States, more than any other nation. In comparison, there are only 1,724 Target stores in our country.
• Members in the sex industry have a higher rate of substance abuse issues, rape, violent assault, STDs, domestic violence, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder.
• Commercial sexual exploitation or forced sex work is growing and is about to overtake the illegal drug trade as the largest criminal industry in the world.
• Between 200-300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk for being pimped out this year alone.
• Craiglist.com ads featuring adolescent females yield three times the transactions per ad… meaning that under-aged girls are purchased for sex three times more than adult women.
God’s loving fingers pried Meg from this industry. And now she’s going back in. She and two others from Abeni head out twice a month to visit local strip clubs armed with cookies and gift bags chock full of girly lotions, soaps, and lipsticks. The cookies are for the bouncers and managers of the strip clubs, because what guy can’t pass up a batch homemade cookies. And it helps to be able to get past the muscles at the front door. Just think of what Jesus could have done with cookies. Forget the fish and loaves. Had he been multiplying Snickerdoodles, half of the Roman Empire would have been listening to his sermons.
Anybody who’s been turned off by a Christian witnessing on the street corner probably thinks Meg is also filling her gift bags with evangelistic tracks, or pocket New Testaments. Nope. All that’s included is a simple, artistic card listing her website and email address. Meg doesn’t want the girls in the clubs to feel preached to. She wants them to know that they are amazing and are loved. In a world where everything is a transaction, where every lap dance or striptease comes with a price tag, she wants the girls to know that they’re getting something for nothing.
Abeni is not a new concept, though she is the first to reach out to Orange County’s strip clubs. Other such groups around the country include Hookers for Jesus, JC’s Girls, 4 Sarah, Pink Cross, Silver Braid, and Scarlet Hope. In Los Angeles County there’s Treasures (iamatreasure.com).
But neither is her ministry model new, in fact it goes back a good 2,000 years. However it is something of which I and many other Christians need to be reminded. Jesus lived counter to his culture and spent years tending to the physical and spiritual needs of the outcasts of his day: the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the blind, and the crippled. Meg’s goal is to be a friend and to be available. Because she knows how these girls live and think, she’s there to help them move to a new apartment or to provide child care. Maybe they just need a cup of coffee or someone to listen to them, understand them, and pray for them.
Meg is open to whatever God wants to do with Abeni. She hopes for a prayer team, she senses extending Abeni’s reach into the Riverside area. She dreams of a scholarship fund and a transitional living facility. But, she also has great desires for the church to be different, to be more Christ-like; and less critical, judgmental, and exclusive. She wants Christians to stop grading sin and to study Jesus’ life and not let theology get in the way of bringing a love like his to their neighbors, because in her words, “The state of the world depends upon it.”
After talking with Meg you can’t help but come away encouraged, and also with a feeling that she deeply cares for the women in these clubs. And I’ve got to believe it’s because of page 3. It tells how God led her out of “the industry,” helped her gain sobriety, and walked with her down the path to freedom from the enemies of our souls – shame, guilt, fear, self-loathing, and rejection.
I am reminded of the story in Luke 7 in which a ‘sinful’ woman anoints Jesus with kisses, tears, and perfume. A Pharisee named Simon is aghast that Jesus is letting the woman touch him. It’s an incredible picture of Jesus’ heart. He doesn’t judge the woman or rebuke Simon. He calmly tells a story of two men, one with a larger debt than the other, who both have their debts canceled by a moneylender. He asks Simon which man will love the moneylender more? The one with the bigger debt, of course, is Simon’s answer. Jesus agrees and then goes on to contrast the woman’s grand gesture of love to Simon’s indifference.
Spiritually speaking, can one man owe a larger debt to God than another? In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus tells a story of a king’s servant who owes his master ten thousand talents, a sum equal to 2,000 years wages. In the story, the king forgives the debt. Translated into a spiritual context, the sum represents the magnitude of our sin-debt before God. I can imagine that at one point Meg thought her debt of sin was too much to be forgiven. But, in reality, her debt is no greater than yours or mine. The story of Simon and the sinful woman shows us how two different people view themselves and respond to the expansive covering of Jesus’ forgiveness of our sin: One is poor in heart; the other self-righteous.
You’ve seen what Meg’s response has been. What will yours be? Mine?
I know I’d like to be more loving to the people in my sphere of influence. And, perhaps, it’s also time to start baking some Snickerdoodles.