Way Out of the Comfort Zone: How One Woman Reaches Strippers for Christ
Michelle finally got up the nerve. She got out of her car and walked to the club’s door. As she opened it, she prayed, “Okay, Lord, You go first.” Michelle wasn’t a stripper or a customer. She was called to minister to women caught up in the sex industry.
Her decision to minister at strip clubs in Wichita Falls, Texas and Lawton, Oklahoma wasn’t made lightly. She’d spent 5 months praying hard, she told The Stream. “Lord, if You want me to do this, then give me the words. I don’t know what You want to say.”
She told the manager she wanted to bring the women food and a gift every month. His reaction surprised her. He nodded yes. “I was waiting — I was waiting for him to say, ‘Why? Who are you?’ But he didn’t say anything.” He not only agreed she could bring food and gifts, he also gave her permission to go into the dressing rooms to speak with the women.
Michelle’s ministry Talitha Cumi (meaning “Damsel Arise”) was born on Valentine’s Day, 2015. The Lord showed her a Scripture. The part that stood out to her made her mission clear: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
She never intended to persuade the women to leave the club. She was there to love them — to show them God’s love. “We’re called to love them while they’re in their sin,” she explained. “Everything else comes from that.”
A downtown club didn’t accept her as readily as the first one had. It was a rough neighborhood. Some of the women at the club were prostitutes. Some of the employees questioned what she was doing. Slowly, she built a rapport with them. But she was allowed — from the first night — in the dressing rooms to give the women food and gifts.
Then one day she brought a friend to the club. She told her friend that she wanted to ask the women if they could pray for them about anything. One woman in the club scoffed at the idea. “Oh yeah, prayer. You want to pray for us. Oh yeah, go ahead and pray. Come on ya’ll, she wants to pray for us.” Michelle’s heart sank. But she looked at her friend and saw that she was smiling and nodding her head.
Michelle pressed on. “And we began praying back there, you know. And I remember the prayer that the Lord was pouring in me was just that they would experience His love in real and intimate ways and see it.” All the women sat in a circle holding hands with their eyes shut tightly. Women who just came off stage also joined the prayer circle. That night changed everything. Now, every time Michelle goes, the women all pray in a circle.
“Many of them believed that they had gotten so far left that God wouldn’t listen to them anymore, that it was over. And now they testify to us about how they’re praying now and many of them will testify how they believe that God’s just opening these doors and they get so excited and they have this belief and faith now that God does love them and He’s pursuing them. That’s a spark — that’s a new spark for them that wasn’t there before. And there’s this hope that you experience among them that wasn’t there before.”
Michelle isn’t just a fresh-faced kid who stepped off the Sunday School bus. She was able to relate to these women in part because of what she went through when she was a kid. She’d been molested as a young teenager. And at age 15, she found out she was pregnant.
Her mother and father took her to Dallas for an abortion. “Those tiny places of hope and life in me that had survived the sexual abuse literally died as I laid on the abortion table and listened to the doctor discuss his search for my baby. On the way home as I sat in the back seat of my parent’s car, I felt my soul drifting off into a deep dark eternal space of nothingness. Two weeks later, feeling ashamed and dirty, I quit serving as a musician or attending youth [at church]. A week after that, [I] attempted suicide.”
A few years later, Michelle married a man who abused her. The night before her baby shower, at 8 months pregnant, her husband beat her. He gave her two black eyes. She stayed with him for 9 years. “Looking back now I see how he fulfilled exactly what I was seeking — someone who would punish me for the sexual abuse I blamed on myself and for taking my child’s life.”
Even as horrible as those years were, it was a time of restoring Michelle’s relationship with God. “I began calling out to him for help, for strength, for protection and a way of escape and Father God began answering those prayers through dreams, signs and miracles and the very real sense of his presence.”
When she finally got away, her husband secretly followed her. One day when she went to the home she shared with her mom, her husband was waiting with a .357. Michelle was able to get a note for help to a friend. Police finally arrived and arrested her husband. “Later the sheriff told me ‘you are a very lucky woman. He told us he was going to kill you, then kill himself, and still doesn’t know how we knew.'”
Many years later, her daughter became a stripper. That led to her being taken into the sex trafficking business and held against her will for three months. She became pregnant with triplets. Just before she was taken to get an abortion, she escaped and ran away. Michelle began stocking up on baby clothes. Her daughter, however, was intent on giving the babies up for adoption. “I was hysterical,” she says. “I told her ‘No! We can’t do this! We can’t give them to someone else! They are our blood and God will make a way!”
Yet it was not meant to be. Michelle’s daughter had the babies and gave them up for adoption. Michelle cried out to God in her pain. “It was very, very hard on me.” After the adoptions she visited her son in Austin. On the way home God showed her a vision.
It was so vivid that she pulled the car off the road and stopped. “It was of a woman and she was sitting in a corner, crouched in the corner, in a dark corner. … I was just bawling. And the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘Go tell her I love her.’ And I knew it was the clubs.” She and a friend from church prayed about it. It took several months to work up the nerve, but she finally went.
Michelle, along with others in her ministry, see amazing changes in the lives of the women they reach in their area. She’s seen women leave the business, become saved, get baptized and commit their lives to Jesus. She’s also seen some go back. “We do see them leave. We see more stay. We see more staying than we do leaving. But every couple of months another one leaves.”
When one woman left then returned to the club, one of the girls in Michelle’s organization began crying. “I told her, ‘Girl, you know that’s like all of us. All of us do it. This is her bondage. But it will never be the same again for her because she loves Jesus.'” The woman eventually left the club for good.
The Important Part
Along with loving the women at the club and providing food and gifts, Michelle’s organization keeps up with them outside of the club as well. She’s even given baby showers to those who became pregnant. “It’s all those times, it’s the things that are happening outside the clubs that’s really, I think, the important part.”
This past Christmas, Michelle and 40 women from different churches in town took special gifts to the women in the clubs. The group first spent time in prayer for the women in the clubs. Then they journaled for 40 days, focusing on God’s heart for the women. They also painted pictures on canvas for them. “It was powerful as the women picked out their journals and canvases. Some literally were brought to tears.”
Recently, the Lord called Michelle to step down as director and begin writing her story in earnest. “I’ve become more involved in sitting down and trying to write the story. And so that’s where I’m at. … Trying to write the story out and tell of what all God has done and leave the rest to the Lord.”
Boldly Step Out
So what’s new for Talitha Cumi? They’re getting ready to expand into more clubs. They’re also starting up a “text line” where women in the clubs can text prayer requests or needs. They are putting lists of resources together that will help the women find housing, an abused women’s shelter or perhaps a substance abuse recovery center.
Michelle hopes her story inspires others to take action to love those who are lost. “I encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and reach out to the world around them. There is an anointing from God unlike anything they could imagine for believers who will boldly step out and share the love of God that is found in Jesus Christ.”