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Her mission field is littered with bars, strip clubs & motels

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Sitting on a street corner on the outskirts of downtown Orlando, Peggy Ament bowed her head and prayed for guidance. She wasn’t sure what she was doing there; she just knew the Lord had drawn her to this particular spot on Orange Blossom Trail.
As soon as she had stepped into her car after services at First Baptist Church, Orlando, she had felt God leading her to vary her normal route home to visit “the Trail.”
Situated on a section of the Florida city’s Orange Blossom Trail that is littered with strip clubs, bars and motels, Ament looked and felt out of place. Around the nicely dressed grandmotherly figure, neon lights flashed enticements of drink specials and adult entertainment. Alone on the street corner, she seemed to be the only real “light” amid such spiritual darkness.
Puzzled and a little afraid, she asked, “Lord, why have you brought me here to sit on a corner and pray?”
Her answer came a few moments later when a woman walked toward her, crying and whispering, “If there’s a God out there, send me an angel to help me.”
As she looked up and saw the silver-haired Ament, she gasped, “You look like an angel.”
Ament responded, “I’m not an angel but God did put you and me here together for a reason.”
Ament believes this divine appointment three years ago confirmed a calling for her to start a ministry to “ladies of the night” on Orange Blossom Trail. The Trail also is known as State Highways 17 and 92, which run north-south through the eastern edge of Orlando.
Ament refers to the Trail as “the trail of tears” because of the tragic turn many women’s lives have taken on the streets.
As a longtime jury clerk for Orange County, Ament had seen the lack of hope in women’s eyes as their life on the streets led to time in jail. Many of them ran away from home to escape child abuse, then as adults became entangled in an endless cycle of prostitution and drugs.
Recalling a prostitute’s story, Ament said, “At first, prostitution made her feel loved, then made her feel dirty, then turned her to a life of drug use to block it all out.”
Ament said it isn’t unusual to see teenage girls on the streets. “It’s scary to see girls so young out there. You think you’re making headway if you get 12 off the street, but then 30 more, even younger, come in.”
Ament wanted to do more to reach out to them but had misgivings about taking on such a difficult ministry. Those thoughts were echoed by her family and friends. “They knew I had no street smarts, but they also knew I was determined to do it,” she said.
Deputies from the county courthouse coached her in what to expect, and an off-duty plainclothes police officer began accompanying her to the Trail when she went alone after dark.
After retiring as a jury clerk to devote more time to her ministry, Ament is training small groups from First Baptist and from the courthouse to befriend the women who have gotten caught up in a life on the streets as prostitutes, strippers or runaways. First Baptist Church, Kissimmee, has asked for Ament’s help in starting a similar ministry on the streets of the suburb, located south of Orlando and also in the path of the Trail.
Lynn Latham, church and communities director for the Greater Orlando Baptist Association, participates in prayerwalking on the Trail. She is interested in starting a Christian Women’s Job Corps in Orlando to give women the business skills they need to qualify for better jobs. She also plans to incorporate prayerwalking on the Trail into Crossover evangelism efforts when the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is held in Orlando in June 2000.
“We are in a race against time,” Latham said about the ministry. “These women are not really hardened until they end up in prison. Then, it’s harder for them to see how they can start over and make a new life for themselves.”
Though the ministry is desperately needed, Ament stressed, it’s not for everyone. It is for women only — women who have hearts of gold and nerves of steel.
“Christians all may agree that these women need redemption, but how many would be comfortable sitting next to them in church?” Ament asked. “This ministry is a calling — a calling to bring the gospel to the streets to those who are hurting.”
To talk to women working in the strip clubs, Ament enters the establishments to request permission to talk to the performers backstage before the clubs are open for business. Ament is straightforward about her purpose there, saying she is a Christian who wants to be a friend and a help to women who may not have either. Some owners turn her down flat, but others grant her request.
Taking the precaution to talk to the women during their off hours doesn’t always spare Ament from seeing what goes on in the stage area of the clubs. She acknowledges that most Christian women would head for the door in disgust, a reaction she also feels. But someone must look past the sin and the shame to see the possibilities of what these women could be through the cleansing power of Christ, she contends.
It takes about six visits with the women backstage before they trust her enough for her to share the gospel with them, Ament said. Most of the women are very distrustful, especially if they can’t understand her motives.
Ament baby-sits the children the women bring to work. It turns out Ament’s grandmotherly demeanor isn’t quite as out of place as she first thought.
“A lot of times, I’m the grandmother or mother these people have never had,” she said.
“I wouldn’t get anywhere with them if I came in waving a Bible,” Ament observed. “Most of these women know what they’re doing is wrong. They need to hear what’s right — that Jesus loves them and wants a better life for them.”

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  • Kristi Hodge