Loved. Valued. Purposed.
Loved. Valued. Purposed.
The Sunshine Girls Ministry
Story by Cindy Reid | Photography by Lexi Rockwell
There is a group of women who gather with no other agenda than to save the seat next to them in church for those who may not feel welcome otherwise.
Our beautiful coastal life has many facets, and one is that sex trafficking and exploitation are terrible realities for some. That being true, it is also true that in the adult entertainment business—i.e., strip clubs—not all the women employed are necessarily being exploited. In fact, many are economically struggling single mothers and students just trying to maximize their earning power as best they can in a short amount of time. However, the stigma of working in that business is profound.
Enter The Sunshine Girls—an outreach ministry dedicated to “serving the non-traditional woman. She’s the woman who does not follow established norms but has broken the barriers of tradition to create her own path in life. Wherever she is on her path, Sunshine Girls are here to walk by her side.”
The all-volunteer Sunshine Girls have a simple message of love and acceptance that they carry directly to the women of their ministry. They are sponsored by several local churches which support their goal of providing a warm meal, a simple gift and a gentle hug to those that are often unfairly judged unworthy. The Sunshine Girls listen, and laugh and cry, and when asked, pray together with “their girls.”
“The ladies in this industry are familiar with judgment, especially from Christians, rather than acceptance. We believe there is a way to show these ladies love in a tangible way, without condemnation and in such a unique way that they will know us by our love and by our God.”
Sunshine Girls Director and Savannah Team Lead Amy Waddell says the group was founded in 2011 and started out praying in the parking lots of the local strip clubs. Over time it has evolved into an outreach ministry with different teams performing varied functions. When you talk to Amy about the Sunshine Girls the one word you will hear over and over is “love.”
Amy says, “There is a small army of us, and each volunteer is here to center love on these girls. God loves you no matter what, and we are here to carry the message of God’s love.”
Whether it is cooking meals, praying, assembling gifts, or entering the clubs, the volunteers team up for weekly outreach nights. Every Thursday and Friday nights, different teams visit the strip clubs in Savannah, Hinesville, and nearby Hardeeville, South Carolina.
“Our goal is simply to serve the girls, get to know them, and let them know they are loved and valued, “says Amy, “No strings attached.”
The Sunshine Girls have multiple teams, each with a distinct function. A team can have anywhere from five to thirty members. Not all teams actually enter the clubs, many serve by preparing meals or simple gifts.
Those who do minister directly in the clubs often become good friends with the women employed within. Amy says for many dancers this is a temporary stage in their life, trying to make money for school and pay the rent, and many are single moms.
“In the beginning, the women were hesitant as to our motive. But our volunteers consistently carry the message that God shines a light into darkness, that God sees and loves no matter what and over time many of the dancers have become our best friends,” says Amy, “We are there for baby showers, for funerals, we ‘do life’ with them. We don’t want any woman to feel less than. We walk alongside the girls but it’s not our job to change anyone. It is our job to carry the word that God loves them.”
After getting to know the Sunshine Girls, women served by the ministry often choose to come to church events, “We go to a lot of different churches, not just one, but a lot of the women have ‘church hurt,’ so it can be difficult to walk through that door.”
Amy is adamant that no woman feels stigmatized at church. “If they decide to come to church, they sit with us.”
Every Sunshine Girl has her own special reason for being there and they are as varied as the individuals volunteering. It’s not an easy ministry and volunteers receive specific training, especially if they are planning on entering the clubs, something that may be completely alien to them. Shining a light into darkness can be very hard. The overall message the volunteers are bringing however is very simple.
Amy says, “When I was young, I saw a different side of the church, and I never want any of the women we work with to see that side, to feel excluded or not wanted in church. I see women the way God sees them. When we sit together at church it is no different than sitting down next to an attorney, a doctor or a real estate agent, because we are all the same in God’s eyes.”
The Sunshine Girls are always looking for new volunteers and donations to support their ministry. They have a website and Facebook page with links to their volunteer application where applicants can learn about the specific teams.
An integral component to the outreach is the Meal Train. Every week Sunshine Girls bring a home cooked meal into the clubs as a way to build relationships with the women who work there. They say that food is their vehicle into the club to get to know the women who work there and remind them that they are loved, valued, and purposed.
• Care Team - As needs are identified in the clubs, this team will help do the research to connect girls to places to people to help meet needs. This could be anything from housing resources and job searches to childcare and groceries.
• Gifts/Events Team - Whether it is a gift on a holiday or random night, or a baby shower or spa day, we love any reason to shower our girls with love and celebration.
• Prayer Team - This team is committed to praying for those on the outreach team as well as the girls and other staff members in all the clubs. This team plays such a vital role in what we do. Prayer times are offered in Savannah (Thursdays) and Hinesville (Fridays) prior to the teams departing to the clubs.
• Club Outreach Team - This team will go into strip clubs and bring food and love on the girls and other staff members. The team consists of a team leader and then one, two, or three other ladies, depending on the club that they are serving.
• Cooking Team - This team is responsible for preparing meals each week so they can take them into the clubs. Food is the groups way into the clubs, and this is a huge part of the ministry.
Amy says each volunteer wants “to do right by these girls. I believe our volunteers are here to love hard when the going is hard. They are here to have coffee with a dancer, to sit with her at church, to watch her kids with her while they hunt Easter eggs, and to just be a friend.” ■