ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Pam Tate almost didn’t participate in Crossover 2000. Now she realizes that missing the experience would have been one of the biggest mistakes of her life.
Sharing her faith with “ladies of the night” along Orlando’s Orange Blossom Trail as part of the evangelistic emphasis has energized Tate with a spiritual burden to reach out with the love of Christ on a regular basis to exploited and neglected women.
Tate, a member of Great Commission Baptist Church in Lakeland, Fla., was one of more than 25 women who, in the days prior to the June 13-14 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, witnessed to young women on the streets and in the strip clubs that litter Orlando’s north-south highway.
Tate, who is training to be a Christian counselor, had never been in a strip club before. It was not something she had been looking forward to, even for the sake of ministry. In fact, she had contemplated returning home shortly after arriving in Orlando for the outreach event.
But while she didn’t relate to the women’s circumstances, she knew they needed to hear someone say, “Jesus loves you.”
“I told the Lord, ‘You definitely want me here for something.’ And he did,” Tate said. “He wanted me to show these girls that they are someone that Jesus loves as much as he loves me.”
Tate and a group of fellow Southern Baptists filled their pockets with gold one dollar coins and walked into one of Orlando’s more exclusive strip clubs. Across the street, another club sign flashed the provocative slogan, “Convention Hotspot.”
Inside, the group sat down and waited for opportunities to engage waitresses and off-duty dancers in conversation and give them a gospel presentation using the dollar coins.
Pointing on the coins to the profile of Sacagawea, who was a guide to explorers Lewis and Clark, and to a rendering of an eagle on the other side, they said, “To God, you are more precious than gold. This coin is a gift to you so you’ll remember the strength you have as a woman and your ability to soar like an eagle.”
After an initial hesitation, many of the dancers thanked the Southern Baptist group for the coins. After showing the coin to her fellow dancers, one woman returned to say, “I’ll put it in my locker.”
The dancers also hugged the women and talked about their desires for the future.
One was working her way through college to become a veterinarian. Another was a nurse who couldn’t afford to take care of her five children without a second job. A 21-year-old high school dropout dreamed of getting a GED equivalency diploma and being “a housewife with a home where someone loves me.”
Tate said she couldn’t help but be moved to tears by the women’s stories. “They are so young. There are so many things they want to do and that they could do. I just wanted to say, ‘Come out of here. Come out of here with us.’
“There is no turning back once your eyes have been opened to the plight of these girls,” Tate said. “I have a whole different perspective of them and of me. Sometimes I have categorized sin. But God does not. There is no big sin and no little sin with God. It taught me that I’ve never done what they do, but I’ve done something else” that has displeased God.
Lynn Latham, director of church/community ministries for Greater Orlando Baptist Association, also participated in the outreach. She has teamed with other Christian women in the area to form a “Ladies of the Night” ministry in Orlando.
“It’s the best feeling possible to tell these girls about the love of Christ,” said Latham, who also serves as a missionary for the North American Mission Board. “But it breaks your heart, too.
“Up until this point, they may only have heard and known what church people are like. Now they get to see for themselves,” Latham said.
Florida Woman’s Missionary Union groups made and filled more than 200 makeup bags with toiletry items, such as tissue, lipstick and lotion to distribute to the women.
Donna Beinert, a member of Samsula Baptist Church in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., said giving one of the bags to a tough-looking young woman walking on Orange Blossom Trail made Beinert realize how powerful the words “Jesus loves you” are to people in need.
As the Baptist women approached her, the street-wise woman was visibly wary.
“We told her we wanted to give her a gift because ‘Jesus loves you and we love you,'” Beinert recalled.
The young woman responded, “At least somebody does.” Then she gave the women big hugs and stood looking at the items in her bag for a long time.
“The women felt special that we took the time to talk with them and didn’t judge them,” said Brenda Forlines, church and community ministries director for the Florida Baptist Convention.
“We looked at the individual and their worth to God — that Jesus died for them,” Forlines said. “How many opportunities do we miss because we’re not available?”