MAY 2013

As I Am is a service small group based out of DayStar Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. This group of women feel passionate about reaching out to girls in strip clubs and the sex industry to show them God's love. Each week, the group meets to pray over the dancers, the club owners and the men who visit the club. They pray that the women in the industry will learn to find their worth in God and come to know how special they are to Him.

"We love because He first loved us."

1 John 4:19

Loving me "As I Am"

She didn't look like a stripper. Not that I really knew what a stripper was supposed to look like, she was the first one I had met face to face. But she didn't look the way Hollywood told me she was supposed to look, and that's what threw me off. She was in regular street clothes. Her faded jeans were the worn, comfortable kind that you put on to run around town and do errands in. The baggy bubble gum pink jacket she had zipped to her neck revealed nothing of her body underneath, and it gave her an appearance of a young teenager. Her hair was tied in a neat pony tail and her face was bare of any makeup, minus some chap stick on her thin lips. She sat comfortably in the chair across from me, picking off the remains of some chipped blue polish from her fingernails. Everything about her screamed young, teenage girl. But not her eyes. The dark circles under them contrasted greatly with her porcelain skin and gave a glimpse of the pain she had suffered in 19 short years of life. And not the words that came out of her mouth. They spoke of things no teenage girl should know of. This is her story. Kate was born in a broken home. The problems weren't just financial, but were dominated by abusive relationships, improper care of children and absent parents. She explained that the last one was the worst. Because when her mother was gone, that's when the sexual abuse from her father started to happen. As Kate sat across the table from us - strangers to her, the "church ladies" as we were dubbed - she told how one time in high school, she had been hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong time and was convicted of a felony. I didn't ask questions and she didn't elaborate. But the curiosity in me was aroused. Even knowing her current profession and some of the skeletons in her closet, I couldn't picture what this quiet girl could have done to be thrown into prison. After being released, it was nearly impossible for the teenager to find a respectable job. Even local fast food joints didn't want a juvenile delinquent flipping burgers or mopping their floors. Kate was broke, homeless and desperate. She had just enough money to pay for a cheap room one night at a broken down hotel before she would be forced to sleep outside. With winter quickly approaching, she knew that wasn't an option. Getting ready for bed, the 19 year old noticed a purple glow coming through the curtains. Pushing one aside, she looked straight into a sign marking a strip club across the street. The curtains quickly fell closed and Kate fought to let any thoughts of possibilities and opportunities the club might offer creep into her mind. But she couldn't keep them away for long and the next morning when her stomach was raw from hunger, she couldn't keep them away at all. Kate crossed the street and knocked on the door of the club. Standing outside, she could smell the leftover stench of stale cigar smoke and cheap cologne laced with drink spills from the night before. A manager let her in and they discussed business. By that night, she had earned enough money on stage to rent her room at the hotel. The next day, she worked again until she had enough money for another night and some food. The goal was to work only enough to survive and to get another job. But that was five months before we met her at the club and she was still there. Disgust covered her face each time she mentioned her job. She told us how she forced herself to become numb to everything because it was the only way she could continue to work and survive. She told us that some nights as she was getting ready for work, she considered hanging herself with her shower curtain to avoid having to take off her clothes again on stage. Her story broke my heart. But what broke my heart more was knowing Kate's story wasn't unique, it was the same story many of her coworkers shared. Each girl might have each landed in the strip club a different way, but all were numb and lifeless, just trying to survive another day. Each struggled daily, like Kate, finding the will to live and a reason to get through the next lap dance. As I Am recognizes that these girls and women will never find what they are looking for without Christ in their lives. They need to hear that they are loved and special, no matter the decisions they have made or had others make for them along the way. They need the healing, protection and love that only God can give. The group continues to go into clubs and meet with girls like Kate to get to know each of them personally and to show them God's love. Their desire is that as the dancers see God's love shown to them, they will understand it and His grace. Just like each woman in the group has discovered themselves, the hope is for each dancer to realize that God will take them just "As I Am."

Throughout the year, the group goes into the club to do hair, makeup and nails for the dancers. They want the dancers to know they are there for them, even if it means just helping the girls get ready for the stage.

As I Am hopes to continue to share the stories of the dancers in an effort to eliminate stereotypes and demonstrate the need for society not to treat them poorly, but show the love our Father has for each of them. Change Purse fully supports their mission and prays that they continue to make progress in the club with the girls.

Sarah Burchette - As I Am