No stone to throw
Ministry helps those working in sex industry
Bobby Ross Jr.
Published: January 26, 2002
MICAELA Wilson hated her weekend job. She hated the way it made her feel. Still, the pay was hard to beat: She’d just made $1,100 for two nights’ work.
Such thoughts ran through the Oklahoma City woman’s mind as she joined other 20-something singles at a Sunday night Bible study.
Suddenly, the time came for prayer requests, and a young man raised his hand.
What he said shocked Wilson.
“I’m really struggling with lust right now,” the man said. “I have a real problem, and I can’t manage to get it under control. I need you all to pray for me.”
She’d never heard anyone mention s-e-x in a church setting. In her experience, she had found such matters “concealed… hidden… left under the bed.”
“So, it just absolutely amazed me that he said that,” she said.
As Wilson’s heart thumped faster, the moderator asked whether anybody else had prayer requests.
She raised her hand.
“I can one-up you,” she said to the man with the lust problem.
She broke into tears and confessed.
“I’m a stripper.”
At age 8, the girl moved to Oklahoma from California. Nobody would have ever dreamed that she’d grow up and bare her half-naked soul for a living.
After all, she and her family filled church pews every Sunday.
“A lot of people think that dancers come from the other side of the tracks, that they’re those people,” Wilson said. “They’re not.
“I come from an average, middle-class Christian family.”
By the third grade, however, Wilson was exposed to sexually explicit pictures, she said. To be sure, her family read the Bible, not Penthouse. But that wasn’t necessarily the case at friends’ homes.
“It was a minute amount,” Wilson said of the pictures, “but it was when the Playboy bunnies were popular.
“Where it’s destructive to little girls is that they learn that’s what’s beautiful, that’s what’s accepted, that’s what people want…. By the fifth grade, I had made myself a Playboy bunny outfit that I hid from my parents.”
Up and down
As a high school sophomore, Wilson changed schools and found the adjustment difficult.
She drifted away from her church youth group. She drank and tried drugs.
She found her self-worth in whatever man was interested in dating her – a common trait of topless dancers, she said.
But after a “crazy year and a half,” she seemed to turn her life around, graduating from Edmond Memorial High School in 1992.
At a Colorado church camp about a month later, the 18-year- old with the miniskirt, tattoo and bleached-blond hair said she felt God calling her to become a minister.
Before acting on that calling, however, her life took another twist. In 1993, she became pregnant and gave birth to an out-of-wedlock child.
With her baby in diapers, Wilson enrolled at Oklahoma Christian University in 1994 and joined a social service club, Theta Theta Theta. To save on tuition, she later transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma.
That was before a series of bad decisions, as she described it, resulted in the first of her short-lived marriages.
She exchanged wedding vows just nine days after her mother died in 1995.
“I have a long history of broken relationships with men, and I would say that 99 percent of the dancers do,” she said.
Move to Vegas
In summer 1999, Wilson decided to start a new life – in Las Vegas, where her aunt lived.
After just a few weeks, however, Wilson’s elderly aunt evicted her for staying out past 10 p.m. without permission.
Wilson moved in with a man who became her second husband. Once again, she had someone to love her and give her life value. But again, the marriage didn’t last long. He hit her, and she left him.
Low on money, Wilson rented the only room she could afford at a weekly-rent hotel.
“The first apartment that they showed me still had bloodstains from the last people who lived there,” she said. “I know of one murder and one shooting while I was there, so it was a bit of a rough place.”
By this time, Wilson had started a dating service – not an escort service, she stressed – but she wasn’t making enough to pay her bills.
She had reached a dead end, and she had a daughter to support.
Broke. Scared. Too proud to return home to Oklahoma and ask her dad and stepmom for help.
This was Wilson’s situation in spring 2000.
Then she met a woman who made $500 a day.
“She made it sound so easy,” Wilson said.
Wilson hesitated – and hesitated some more. But her bank account was empty, and she had a little girl to feed.
Finally, she accompanied her friend to work and got a job herself.
The job description was simple enough: Show your stuff. Make the men whistle and scream. Bring home easy money every night.
“I cried all the way home from work the first few weeks I danced,” she said in her written testimony at http://www.maggie ministries.org.
“I cried in the backstage a lot. You can always tell the new girls because their eyes are about to pop out of their head or they cry a lot.
“But you make a few friends. You learn to get tough. You have to harden your heart to handle it. Some days I would have to drink at work. Others relied on drugs. I was only going to work a few weeks, till I got on top of things.”
Months later, Wilson was still working her “temporary” job. She looked around her and saw women who’d danced topless for 15 and 20 years. They, too, told themselves that they’d get out.
A father’s love
Geary Wilson, a member of Life Church in Edmond, knew his daughter was in trouble.
She worked all week and was never home on weekends.
“What do you do with your weekends?” he asked her in one telephone conversation.
“Dad, don’t ask me questions you don’t want answers to,” she replied.
Geary Wilson figured out what his daughter was doing. He wasn’t pleased, he said, but decided to love and support her rather than alienate her.
“You just take a deep breath and say, ‘What in the world is going on here? Why is this?'” he said. “Of course, there aren’t any answers.”
In retrospect, Micaela Wilson said her dad handled the situation properly.
God’s love is patient, she said.
“Your loved one has to come out of the business in her own time with her own convictions and resolve, not yours,” she said.
“You cannot force her to leave the business. Show her your patience, and you will create a safe place for her to spiritually retreat… when she is ready.”
Not all of Wilson’s family members were as understanding.
In some cases, she said, her relationships became strained in the name of religion.
“I felt judged because everyone just wanted me to quit, but no one was willing to help me,” she wrote. “In some instances, it was insinuated that I was an embarrassment and may be disowned. I felt more alone than ever. I had given up on God.”
At the same time, when she’d attend church, she’d sometimes run into men she had seen at the club.
That pained her more than anything.
“Inside, it kills your spirit and belief in men,” she said, sobbing. “When you meet people, you always wonder what they are hiding or who they really are.”
Nine months into her dancing career, Wilson quit and moved back to Oklahoma. She just couldn’t take it anymore.
But within a few months, the lure of quick cash drew her back.
She started dancing in Oklahoma City.
“Dancers have learned to rely on immediate gratification: 20 bucks, 20 bucks, 20 bucks,” she said. “It’s like, ‘My electric bill is due; I have to make $400 today.'”
In Oklahoma City, Wilson was put on the daytime “B” shift. Unhappy with her tips, she started driving to Dallas and dancing at the Cabaret Royale on Friday and Saturday nights.
About the same time, her dad introduced her to Life Church. The church impressed her as nonjudg mental. She kept her weekend job a secret and justified it in her own mind.
She’d drive back to Oklahoma each Sunday in time to make her small-group Bible study.
Step of faith
“I’m a stripper.”
There. She’d said it. And nobody had ordered her to leave or find a new Bible study group, so she kept talking.
“I’ve been trying to get out since I got in,” she said. “And it’s been 11 months, and I can’t get out. I don’t know how.”
Immediately, Wilson felt the warmth in the room. A man in the group told her that if she wanted out, she was out. Right here. Right now. But it wasn’t that easy. At least not in her mind.
“Who will pay my bills?” she asked. “Who will make sure my daughter doesn’t starve?”
The man, who does not want to be identified, told her not to worry. He said he’d help pay her bills until she could find another job.
“There were probably a hundred people who told me, ‘Just quit, and God will provide for you,'” Wilson said. “That was the first time anyone had ever presented the concept of stepping out on faith with me.
“I stood on his faith until I could stand on my own faith. I never had to ask him for help. Not once. Not one thin dime.”
She never danced again.
‘Searchin’ for somethin’
Back in college, Wilson, 28, is nearing completion of a bachelor’s degree from UCO and is pursuing a women’s ministry certificate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
At the same time, she’s launched a ministry called Maggie Ministries to help people that she considers victims of the sex industry.
Such ministries have thrived in other cities. New Friends New Life, formerly known as Amy’s Friends, helps roughly 30 Dallas area women a year leave the sex industry, said Carolyn Pool, executive director.
“The women that come to us generally have turned to the sex industry out of economic necessity,” Pool said.
New Friends New Life offers temporary financial assistance, counseling for drug and alcohol abuse, and educational and job training.
The Dallas ministry, which began at the Preston Road Church of Christ, is faith-based but doesn’t try to cram religion down anyone’s throat, Pool said.
“We just sort of believe that if we behave in a Christian way, people will catch it,” Pool said.
The vision for Maggie Ministries came when Wilson took a preaching class at Life Church taught by pastor Craig Groeschel. With her dad and stepmom at her side, Wilson reached into her life to deliver a heart-wrenching sermon.
“The whole class was just crying,” Groeschel said of the reaction Wilson received. “The change in her life was so big and so fast. It’s complete evidence of God’s hand working in her life.”
Wilson wants to help other women make that change – but only when they’re ready, she said.
Churches must be willing – and ready – to embrace dancers when they hit bottom, she said.
“The best I can do, if somebody is not ready to leave yet, is to… say, ‘You are going to have an amazing life, and God wants to give it to you.’ They’ll be like, ‘Yeah, crazy Christian.’
“But when that day comes that they’re broken, they’ll remember.”
The name Maggie Ministries comes from the song “No Stone to Throw” by Sierra.
The chorus goes like this:
I’ve got no stone to throw
No axe to grind
I look at Maggie’s life
And I see mine
I see somebody
Searchin’ for somethin’
A little love and understanding
And the longer I know the Lord
The more I know
I’ve got no stone to throw