Adriana was getting ready in the back of an Alabama strip club when she got the purple Bible. She was going through a lot and by that time had stopped reading or caring about the word of God.
Still, the Bible stopped her. It intrigued her.
A group of church ladies had come to visit the dancers and give them gift bags full of girly things — body wash, perfume, candles and things like that. Adriana thought they were there to judge. They weren’t. They were just there to give them hugs and presents.
And a purple Bible.
Over the next few months, Adriana got to know the group of church ladies who came to the strip clubs each week. Even when she got a new job at a different club, she still saw the women there, sitting around, drinking Pepsi at one of the tables. Adriana continued to read that purple Bible until she realized things needed to change.
She needed to change.
A year later, Adriana quit dancing and gave her life to Jesus. She started nursing school that fall.
Not all stories coming out of Mary Magdalene Ministry turn out that way, but a good number do have happy endings.
Mary Magdalene Ministry
Angie Keller started the Mary Magdalene Ministry out of First Bible Church of Madison when she moved to Huntsville, Alabama. She had been involved with a similar ministry in Atlanta, but Huntsville had never seen something like that.
“There’s no place I’d rather be on a Thursday night,” Keller said. “Some churches don’t agree, and that’s okay.”
Some churches don’t agree. In fact, a recent blog post that went viral said dancers often get hate mail from churches, making them wary of anyone who comes in from a religious group.
Keller is not exactly the type of woman you’d think of when you hear about stripper ministry. If there was a stereotype for that, it would probably be someone who grew up around the culture and had been through it all — not this grandmother who has been married for almost four decades.
No, to hear Keller talk about her ministry is like hearing the pastor’s wife or your Sunday school teacher drop words like “cocaine” and “tipping the bouncer.”
The group of eight women come together from different churches across their city. To the dancers and people who work at the clubs, they’re known as the church ladies.
After six years, they’re now trusted enough to be invited into the dressing rooms to talk to the girls. Some of the girls have given them their real names and phone numbers. They text each other, get lunch and call when they need prayers. Just like girlfriends do.
Adriana, the former stripper, is now on the ministry team.
This is how the women of Mary Magdalene Ministry work to be the literal hands and feet of Jesus, Keller said.
They go about things differently. Some nights they bring food while other nights they bring gifts. But every night they bring prayers.
“I can’t explain it, but the Lord gives us supernatural love for these girls,” Keller said. “That’s the main thing. They call and say ‘Angie, I need you to pray,’ and we consider it a holy privilege to pray for them.”
Another thing they offer is safety.
The parking lot of the strip club is often the most dangerous place. Keller’s husband sits in the car, “praying and packing,” while the women are inside. He makes sure everyone gets out each night.
To talk to Keller for any amount of time means understanding that she views these women as worthy in an atmosphere that views them as property. She said the blonde, Barbie doll stereotype is inaccurate. These dancers are ages 15 to 55. They might be skinny or heavy. You could pass them in the fanciest shopping places or shop alongside them in the grocery store and never know, Keller said.
Love for Free
One of the big mysteries in all of this is figuring out why women resort to stripping and prostitution in the first place.
The bottom line is, it’s fast money. Some turn to prostitution from stripping and end up with a pimp who causes problems. Others start doing cocaine and heroin, the two most popular drugs in town.
Some have been sexually abused in the past. Others are struggling with addiction. Some have been sex trafficked into the industry. Others, like a pastor’s daughter Keller once met, have just lost their way.
Even though the church ladies are going into the devil’s den, as Keller calls it, she has plenty of stories to show just how God is working through them.
There are quite a few stories of strippers who meet the church ladies and leave that night with them, never to return to their old life. There are the success stories where Keller gets the women to leave the club and go to a safe house or rehab program.
Mary Magdalene Ministry is influencing more than just the dancers. A man who owns three of the 10 strip clubs in town is now meeting with a pastor for a weekly Bible study.
Up until this year, they were only going to the clubs two or three times each month. After going to a conference for similar ministries, the church ladies were challenged to go three times each week.
So now, when the 40 or so exotic dancers in the Huntsville, Alabama, area look out from the stage, they’ll see the church ladies talking and drinking their non-alcoholic drinks. They’re just normal women who want to love them for free. They want to show them that the gift bags are free, just like salvation is free, Keller said.
“We speak the truth in love,” Keller said. “God is holy. He wants to answer your prayers.”