Stripping Away Stereotypes, Knitting a Friendship

SACRAMENTO, CA (January 5, 2011) – The bouncers at the strip club looked with suspicion at the five women who wanted to come inside to deliver gift bags to the dancers.

“We won the bouncers over immediately,” says Ruthann Dittrich, a member of River Life Covenant Church. It helped that the women had gift bags for the bouncers too. “They opened their own bag and started to inhale the fresh cookies inside,” Dittrich says. Still undecided, the bouncers sent for the manager.

The women, who had decided they wanted to minister to the “unreached people group,” waited nervously with their gift bags of cookies, scarves, and other presents.

Their journey had actually begun in the fall when some younger women at the church asked Corky King, a woman in her 70s who had been struggling with the loss of her husband, to teach them to knit scarves. She gathered a group and they began knitting.

About the same time, Dittrich and some friends from other churches were sensing a call to minister to the employees at the strip club. They asked if King’s group would donate scarves for the dancers.

So just before Christmas, the women stood inside the front door of the club waiting for the manager. “While we waited, the bouncers told us stories of other groups that had visited before and told them to go to hell, or that they were going to kill or hurt them or the ladies they are hired to protect,” says Dittrich. “It was sad to hear their words.”

When the manager arrived at the door, he was hesitant to let the women enter. “He glanced at us—then the bags—and back to us, and then he motioned for us to come inside,” Dittrich says.

Inside, the main room was filled with dancers on stage, women roaming around, and others offering private dances to men in the audience.

“We all scattered in separate directions to hand out a bag to each woman,” Dittrich says. “If a woman was busy with a customer, we would simply place a bag next to her or on the table nearby so that she could collect it after she was finished.”

One of the dancers approached Dittrich to ask what she was doing. “I handed her a bag and told her we just wanted to wish them all a Merry Christmas and let them know that they are cared for and loved,” Dittrich says. “She wrapped her arms around me, thanking me for this gift—a true gift I wasn’t asking anything in return for.”

Shortly afterward, the dancers invited the women into the dressing rooms, where the rest of the gifts could be presented. The dancers broke into “a full-blown school yard style trading session for the scarves they wanted,” Dittrich says. “The girls were bursting with joy in this frenzy of activity as they traded bags and tried on different scarves to select the one just right for them.”

Moments later, Dittrich and the others left knowing they had received a “special welcome”—and that the dancers had to return to entertaining customers. They did not try to discourage the dancers from returning to work. The purpose of the night was to begin forming relationships, Dittrich says. “But tucked inside each bag was a simple note—‘You are loved, you are valuable, and if you need someone to talk to, we are here.’”

As the women left, they asked each of the bouncers his name so they could address them personally when the group returned to the club.

Dittrich says the women are considering ideas for future ministry to the employees. “The scarves were a great hit this last time, and we plan on doing a number of outreaches together this year with different things gifted as we go through the seasons.”

The women also are pursuing nonprofit status for their group and plan to launch a website in the coming months. They hope to inspire others to extend God’s love to people who too often experience condemnation—or indifference—from Christians.

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