My heart had been beating wildly all day. Goodness, I wish it would slow down. But my body was telling me what I already knew. I was about to do something new for the first time.
Should I wear this shirt or this button up? Earrings or no earrings? Necklace off or I know, I can just put it under my shirt. Wear my hair down or back in a ponytail? Oh, the decisions!
I got into my car, flipping between the stations one by one, faster than I realized. Take some deep breaths, slow DOWN heart! I turned off the radio, silence would be the best choice. I drove at 10 and 2 and followed every traffic law, from all the nerves.
I pulled into the public parking spot and shut off the engine. I saw our small group meeting off to the side. I put my head onto the steering wheel, took a deep breath, looked at myself in the mirror one more time (trying my BEST to mimic Sarah, Plain and Tall!), and reached for the handle. I was about to enter the strip-clubs, not as a customer, not as an employee, but as a rescuer.
Not five minutes after waiting for everyone to arrive, it began. “Do you see that club way over there and do you see this gentleman walking this way? He parks over here and walks all the way over so no one recognizes his car. See how he’s looking around nervously, as though he’s about to get caught? That’s one of the biggest and most well known clubs in Charlotte. We’ve tried to get in there but they won’t let us, yet.” It was only 5:45pm. Gulp.
I have never felt such emptiness and brokenness all around until I pulled into that first parking lot. I waited to walk around to the secret back door, you know, the black one, where you rap the code that allows the door to open? Yes, well, that never happened (I must watch WAY too many movies!). Up to the front doors we go, the exact walk of every customer that chooses to enter. Once we got past the bouncer, our arms filled with goodie bags, I walked into, what felt like, utter darkness. I look to my left and my eyes make contact with her. She’s doing her thing while her eyes cut clear through to my soul. Hollow. Shallow. Baring all. Silently pleading. My heart is being ripped out of my chest as I force myself to pull my eyes away from her shame. We walk in as a group over to the back tables, pure light cutting through complete darkness. And they love us. They run to us, excited to see what we’ve brought them this month. They can’t wait to talk about themselves, their children, both good and bad, while their smiles light up their entire face. Beautiful. Each one being unique and special and hand crafted by God. And they have no idea and if they do, there’s no way they believe it. And it’s only 7pm. Gulp.
This continues on into the night, each club the same: the darkness, the burden, the weight. The phrases all float around me as this “out of body” experience leaves me speechless: “Oh girl, I’ve been here all day. I’m so tired. I still have to go an hour and a half away and then I have to be back here by 10pm (dead give away that she’s possibly being trafficked)”, “I saw y’all at a different club a few months back, they move us around a lot. Yes, I had purple hair over there!”, “so sorry I’m sitting here with no clothes on (laughing non stop, clearly dazed and probably drugged)”, “well see, I live on a farm with my 2 kids and my mom’s farm buts up to ours. I always put my babies to bed first before coming in. I like to tuck them in (sucker punch to the ribs and a dead give away that this is a choice)”, “this is my first time here tonight so I’m a bit nervous (she quietly whispers, her eyes looking like they will spill over from shame, guilt, and total fear; sucker punch to the gut now)”. Each club, each story, each soul: all the same. And this is an account of only the ladies who are the employees. Want to discuss the men? I know THEY don’t want it to be discussed! When the door opens (at the club that is 20 minutes away from where I do life), I make eye contact with him. The first look is one of fear and panic at wondering if his wife is amongst our group to an “oh crap, do any of these woman know me”. And on average, each male was the same: average age, middle-income business men, and they were all alone. No friends with them, not a group of guys hanging out (on this weekday night), but alone. Most of them were sitting off in a corner, huddled in the darkness where features were hidden, silent and full of guilt and shame. Why?! Why are you here and what is it you are trying to find? Who is waiting for you at home and what lie have you told them? Are you single and not married? What do you men think you will find, supporting the illegal activities of a possible trafficker?! My thoughts don’t seem to want to stop.
As the evening goes on and after gaining momentum, building confidence, and finding the fight within to come out conquering for these women, you want to know what it feels like walking in to each new club? It feels like a shield of protection encompasses us, as though nothing can break through our covering. We are bathed in prayer, covered in love, and rescuers on a mission, His mission. You want to know what hits me the most? It is like experiencing love at a level so deep that you didn’t even know it existed. It was as though it all became clear to me standing in front of that stage: THIS is the love that Christ has for me and for you. Agape love. In its purest form, agape love requires no payment or favor in response. Agape love that says, “I come to you. You are dead in your sins. I will walk into the face of darkness and death to sweep you out of here, to clothe you in MY robe, to make you whole. No sin is too great, no valley too deep, no shame I can’t handle.” Agape love that says “I chose to leave Heaven, became a man, walked in your shoes, and died the most horrible of deaths on a cross so I could take your sin upon Me in order for you to run free.” Agape love that says, “Aren’t you tired? Why don’t you let Me do this for you. It only requires that you believe in Me, make Me the Lord of your life and I will meet your every need.” How is this possible? How is it possible to stand in the center of a situation like this and to feel God as I have never felt Him before?! How is it that I have never experienced a love this deep anywhere else? And for this reason alone, it’s why organizations like the one I am becoming a part of, walk into the face of darkness to rescue these trapped souls. To be His hands and feet.
You know what’s most difficult about reading this story? There’s a good chance you, or your spouse, have inhabited one these strip-clubs in your past and possibly even still today. There’s a good chance that when these girls walk out to their cars after an emotionally draining shift (a most vulnerable time), there’s a trafficker who’s waiting to sweet talk her into his “too good to be true” world. It’s not just happening in other countries around the world, it’s happening in your own backyard. It’s happening at the schools in your county, where you run errands, and at your local mall. I can give you story after story of examples of incidents miles from my home where this illegal activity is taking place. I can tell you about the local teen who was trafficked and taken in our local mall. I can tell you about a busted porn ring that was renting out a local multi-million dollar home to operate out of. I can tell you how the corridor between my house and the next big city over is the route the traffickers take. I can quote you statistics that would make your stomach lurch and your heart explode to realize how close this is happening next door to you. But I will save all of that for a different time.
Compassion to Act is a non-profit organization that has many facets to it, this being one of them. They go into the strip-clubs to foster relationships with these women, pray over them, and rescue them when they are ready to take that step. The club owners/managers know this, allow this, and accept this. It’s absolutely baffling. Not all women in strip-clubs are being trafficked, but the chances are greater that they will fall privy to it, if they are not yet. The goals for this organization is to rescue, equip, and make whole the women who have been, in a sense, left for dead, left to fight on their own, and in some people’s eyes, not worthy of even making eye contact. They are starting up Campaign 8, which will allow others to give $8 a month to help a girl come out of slavery and into freedom, a Haven of Rest if you will, where she will learn how to breathe again. The goal is to have a “Compassion to Act” ministry in every state and then every city, leading the charge. The goal is to speak and train and educate the public about the awareness of what is happening in our own backyards! This problem the entire world is facing is not a christian/non-christian or godly/worldly issue. This affects every single person in every city and town across the world.
As a culture, we are being lured and enticed and sucked into desires that will meet the needs of our selfish nature and it’s destroying us from the inside out. While we are internally rotting, we are searching for pleasures that will stop the mold and mush from spreading, but finding when that doesn’t do the trick, chaos still reigns. The only answer, my friend, is in the form of Agape Love and his name is Jesus.
I have been called to walk into the face of darkness and while doing so have experienced a love so deep that few will chose to experience unless fear is put to the side and faith presides.
My name is Stephani Ritter and I am Not A Fan but I am a follower of the One True King.
If you are interested in donating, please see the website. If you are interested in having the organization come speak and educate your corporation or church/youth group, please leave a message in the comments below and we can set something up. I pray you will watch this video, as it will truly pull at your heart strings.
So get out there and “Act with Abandon”.