Poles and Pulpits

Strippers and preachers. Most anyone will tell you that the two occupations are about as different as night and day. Brenda Hughes, however, will correct you and tell you that, "The only difference between the pole and the pulpit is that [the stripper's] sin is out in the open. The preacher's is hidden."

From a very young age, Brenda was drawn to brokenness. She didn't understand why her friend Shirley, who lived in the trailer park, had no other friends. Or why her grandparents would throw out the doll that she loved so much; the ragged and tattered one from the local dump that she had so carefully fixed with band-aids and tape. Brenda's parents, straight-laced, Southern Baptist folk, discouraged her actions, saying she was too compassionate. Too generous. Too caring. But she knew in her core that they were wrong, and she couldn't help loving the broken things and broken people in her life.

Her early adulthood was characterized by a rebellion of sex, drugs and alcohol that, although lasting for just a brief time, led her to reject Christ for several years, allowing room for a deep, dark bitterness to form in her heart. Years passed before Brenda stepped foot in a church again, when she accidentally ended up in a Sunday school class. At the time it was still popular to wear one's Sunday best to church, and she felt like a black sheep dressed in blue jeans, sitting in a circle of women in their sundresses and skirts. And it was during that class that it clicked. The Jesus of the Bible had the same compassionate heart that she did. The same love for the broken. The same love for her.

Just a few years later, a woman at church approached Brenda. Her rebellious, jean-wearing reputation was well known and she was asked to join a ministry that reached out to prostitutes and strippers because "she would be good at it". While most of the women in the ministry struggled to make conversation with the prostitutes and strippers, Brenda found that her past made it easier for her to relate to the women, and that the love and compassion that God had given her allowed her to better form relationships with them. As time went by, the strippers and club owners began to know her simply as "the Church Lady".

It's been ten years since she began working in the ministry, or "mission of love", as she prefers to call it. And it has been all but glamorous. Most of the women working in the clubs suffer from mental illnesses, and deal with more mother issues than the stereotypical father issues. The women struggle financially, which in turn leads to moral struggles. "How far can I go to make some extra cash? When am I crossing the line?" These are their prayer requests. Their gratitude for bringing them a plate of cookies would make you think you'd given them the keys to a new car. And their distrust and shock at having someone eagerly sit down for a conversation reveals the years of being treated as less than human. Once, a woman even broke down at Brenda's feet, holding her legs and crying, "Why weren't you my mom? I needed you." Depression is like a plague there.

It's not an easy ministry. It's a painful and dark place to be in and as much as she loves the women, Brenda doesn't enjoy going to the clubs. But from simply walking in relationships with these women, she's been able to share her personal struggles and actually suffer with them, and through that show them Christ. She says her goal isn't to "convert" or "save" anyone. Her goal is to live life with them, serve them, and love them the way that Christ loves us. Because in the end, we're all broken. And everyone, strippers and preachers, needs the same love and the same grace in order to be redeemed.