by Karen Stroud

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were scandalized by the company he kept. They couldn’t imagine any God-fearing Jew associating with adulterers, prostitutes, swindlers, and the like – much less a rabbi who claimed to be the Son of God! It just didn’t fit their religious box. A “friend of sinners” they called him! Little did they know their insult was exactly why Jesus came.

Do we ever find ourselves harboring the same pious judgmentalism? Are we overlooking opportunities to share the gospel and make disciples because of the “yucky” nature of certain behaviors and lifestyles? I admit God had a lesson to teach me about this.

When Mike and I were involved in campus outreach at Middle Tennessee State several years ago, we met a student who called herself an “exotic dancer.” She had been performing in clubs in downtown Nashville to make money for college. This young woman showed up at the campus ministry one day asking questions. She was re-evaluating her life. To make a long story short, God gave me the opportunity to disciple this sweet young co-ed. Although somewhat hardened by painful experiences, she was just precious. I must have looked a like a deer in the headlights when Mike first asked me to meet with her.

Let me tell you what God began showing me. I needed a relationship with this dear young woman as much as she needed a Christian to meet her where she was and show her the love of Christ. I probably needed it even more and what a blessing it was to me. We interacted for quite a while. She eventually came to the Lord and became an active member of the campus ministry. She later went on to marry a good man.

Deep down don’t we know God wants us building relationships with people in all kinds of circumstances, i.e. addicts, people in or coming out of jail, the sexually promiscuous, people having a gender identity crisis, people with same-sex attraction, etc. Isn’t seeking the lost the mission? Even so, I never imagined I would eventually have further opportunity to disciple other exotic dancers. I guess God had more training in mind because that’s exactly what happened.

Two of three years after The Timothy Network was established a woman with similar circumstances came into our lives. Ironically, the meeting happened about the same way. Mike was renting a downtown office at the time. One day a young lady nervously knocked on his door asking for information about The Timothy Network. Not five minutes into that first conversation came the admission, “I’m a ‘pole dancer’ and I have addictions, but I’d like to be part of what you are doing.”

A week or so later a friend and I began a discipling relationship with dancer number two. We also included two other women, one of them having two broken marriages and another with a troubled marriage. We met for two years and were able to support one another through difficult experiences (for all of us!). We studied scripture, prayed, and confessed our stuff. We became friends. Although the situation with the second person I mentioned is now unknown (we lost contact about four years ago), seeds were planted in her life and we believe God is watching over her.

Those reading these reports know that Mike often says disciple making can be “messy.” The fact is all of us have “mess” in our lives and need God’s cleansing grace. I hope nothing I’ve said here sounds “holier than thou” or judgmental! We had all better realize that regardless of the nature of our sin, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Mike and I hesitate sharing stories like these. We don’t want to be insensitive or to in any way exploit the broken stories people can weave. Our “secret sins” of pride, jealousy, gossip, and selfishness are every bit as detrimental to our souls as fornication, adultery, substance abuse, and the like. We just want to bring the encouragement that discipling people in even (what we consider) the darkest of places is a big part of God’s mission. Being a disciple of Jesus makes us members of “the rescue team.” Pray and keep your eyes open. LOVE BIG and make disciples.

P.S. We are having more and more opportunity to work with men and women in addiction recovery and those coming out of incarceration. Please call Mike at 615-653-6999 or me (Karen) at 615-653-2030 if you have interest in possible discipling relationships.