Bourbon Street sex industry is ministry's focus
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- New Orleans' Bourbon Street is awash nightly in neon light and lewd images. Some in the crowd disappear into the strip clubs that line the street. Others come only to gawk. One Crossover team prior to this year's Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting -- all women -- came to pray.
Three couples from First Baptist Church in Florence, Ala., joined with Mosaic, a church plant in New Orleans' Mid-City area, during Crossover to serve alongside Inward, a ministry of women from New Orleans churches that is reaching women in the sex industry.
The Florence team served in New Orleans days after a strip club dancer was found brutally murdered and one day after Inward successfully helped another woman escape her pimp.
"These women [of Inward] are on the frontlines of ministry," said Rickey "Ric" Camp, pastor of First Baptist Florence and vice chairman of the North American Mission Board's board of trustees.
Inward, in its third year of operation, goes into the clubs to show God's love. As a result, several have left the sex industry. One dancer came to faith in Christ.
The Florence team women, two of them retired, prayerwalked along Bourbon Street while Inward members delivered gift baskets with gift cards and snack items to club dancers and workers.
While the women prayerwalked, husbands gathered at Mosaic to pray. Camp said he texted Scripture verses such as Joshua 1:7, "Be strong and courageous," to his wife, Lisa Camp.
"I was really frightened at first," Lisa Camp said. "These women showed us how to look at people and see them as God sees them."
Ric Camp said that while the men prayed, the women sent text message updates. One message read, "Pray that we get into the club," and later, "We're in."
The murder victim worked at the club where Inward has hosted six breakfasts after closing time in order to share the Gospel with club workers.
"We felt an urgency to pray," Ric Camp said. "There is a sense of lostness and darkness there."
Inward goes into the clubs every third Wednesday and gathers to pray the two weeks in between. Dozens of women from several Southern Baptist churches are actively involved.
Because of the Mosaic-Crossover team partnership, a Friday night outing was added.
Christi Gibson, Inward director and a staff member at First Baptist Church in New Orleans, said they decided to target smaller clubs just off the beaten path of Bourbon Street that Friday evening.
"These clubs are looked down upon, even by the other clubs," Gibson said. The gift baskets provided by Mosaic and assembled by the Crossover team "allowed us to show them lavish love," Gibson said.
Lisa Camp said Inward prays when they go out that business in the clubs will be slow so opportunities to talk will be available. God answered. At one club, the women talked to dancers for 45 minutes.
Ashley Burgamy, an Inward member, led the Florence team in prayerwalking down a side street she described as "creepier than Bourbon Street."
"Sometimes I forget how weird this [ministry] is," Burgamy said. "Hearing their prayers and how God impacted them was sweet."
Burgamy said she prays that others will not only partner with Inward but will catch the vision for beginning a similar work where they live.
"Don't just be excited about what we're doing here," Burgamy said. "Take it home."
Ric Camp said the experience was a lesson that God can use churches of all sizes to reach others. At home, his church is beginning a ministry to homeless children.
"I learned there is a whole world outside the box that I live in," Lisa Camp said. "I asked myself, 'What is there back home that I need to be radical about?'"
Marilyn Stewart is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message in Louisiana and a freelance writer. To learn how to be involved with Inward, email Christi Gibson at www.Christi.Gibson@fbno.org
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