By Rebecca Flannery
Good Friday will mark the 11th year Emily Mills has been ministering to an unsuspecting industry. She figured out exotic dancing isn’t just for men; it’s for showing the love of Jesus too.
Co-founders and co-CEOs of Jesus Said Love, Mills and her husband Brett, started the organization in April 2003 because they saw a need to minister to women in Waco’s strip clubs.
The ministry has expanded to the commercial sex culture in strip clubs along I-35 cities. With teams in four Texas cities, the organization serves upwards of 300 women per month. The fifth city is being launched this year after their selected leader finishes the training program.
“We have Waco, Bryan/College Station, Dallas, San Antonio, and this year we are launching the Killeen and Temple area,” Mills said. “For Killeen, we’re really needing community partnerships and developments to get it going.”
The organization has started a transitional housing program in Waco for women they minister to. The goal is to have the women serve by making gift baskets while working with the ministry to save up enough money in a year to place a deposit on next residences.
“It’s very much an empowering program,” Mills said. “Property owners in Waco donate an apartment to our ministry and then if we have a dancer who desires to go through that program, then she is provided with a place to live at a very affordable rent. She meets with her case worker each week, she volunteers with our bag assemblies and ends up helping serve the ministry she’s a part of.”
Dr. Gaynor Yancey, professor in the School of Social Work, said community integration is a big part of how the organization is able to serve the women. From private donations to contributions to gift baskets, the community around Jesus Said Love is just as integral as those who volunteer their time.
“I know the organization would love to have people pray for them as well as volunteer their time and money,” Yancey said. “It’s also important that the community is aware about how it advocates for clubs. Workers in the clubs should not be invisible. They’re community members just like us.”
According to the Jesus Said Love website, volunteer work is done within three main sections of the organization’s values: go, love and connect. This is accomplished by volunteers taking time to live life with women in the clubs as well as provide support in any way possible.
“When we go to the clubs each month, a lot people assume that’s the bulk of what we do,” Mills said. “But really, that’s just a small part. When we go it looks like bringing gift bags, security guys in the organization building relationships with bouncers and club owners, and us women hanging out at the bar like you would with your friends.”
Baylor students ranging from social work to business majors intern with the organization, carrying out duties such as marketing the organization’s merchandise and serving alongside the volunteers.
“We give women our number and they call for help with financial assistance, employment opportunities or crisis management issues such as suicidal thoughts or an addiction they want help for,” Mills said. “Then we get our social work intern involved and they begin a process of case management into a transition program.”
The transition program is geared to help the women out of the crisis they are in and help them get back to a stable situation. This program along with a retreat day has shown results in helping the women in clubs realize their dreams and aspirations, and eventually leave the commercial sex industry.
“We really try to inspire hope,” Mills said. “One of our goals to awaken hope in the women. Sometimes when you get stuck in a job or in a rut, like any of us, it’s really easy to lose perspective of what you were created to do.”
The effect this ministry has on its beneficiaries is designed to be long lasting.
“What I’ve observed from two of our interns working with Jesus Said Love is that it’s their lives that are changed as a result of the women they’re working with,” Yancey said. “It’s as if they are the beneficiaries.”
Mills said any backlash they’ve received for this ministry has been because of a misunderstanding. She and her husband are confident that the work they are doing is needed.
“We know we’re doing something that many people don’t understand, and that’s OK,” Mills said.
“We have the opportunity to explain our women and change and shift the thinking of our society toward the marginalized. If it takes criticism, glory to God. If it takes persecution and backlash, glory to God.”