I Visited Scarlet Hope
In this series, we're visiting Southeast's Mission Partners to understand their vision and how God is using them in the community.
By Carla Williams
I circled the block twice before deciding the unassuming building with the fenced-in parking lot was my destination. I was visiting Scarlet Hope, a ministry I’ve been familiar with on the surface for years. I knew the gist—that they serve women involved in the adult entertainment industry. I knew they take homemade food into strip clubs one night a week. And I knew they had a bakery downtown with lots of delicious treats.
There was a lot I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much they pray. I didn’t know how much they anguish over every woman they meet. And I didn’t know how much they talk about Jesus. Every person I encountered shared the Gospel with me. It’s so ingrained into their identity as a ministry that they naturally tell everyone they meet that though we are sinful and broken, God loves us completely and offers us salvation through His Son.
Scarlet Hope focuses on three areas of ministry. They have weekly outreach to clubs and massage parlors, as well as street outreach in parts of town known for prostitution and trafficking. They emphasize discipleship through Bible study, mentorship, recovery programs, and Christian community. And they have a Career Development Program to equip, educate, and support women who desire a new way of life.
Every Woman Known
My first meeting of the day was with Ronelle, Scarlet Hope’s COO. She started following Christ when she was in her 40s, and soon after began volunteering at Scarlet Hope with the outreach teams who go into the clubs. She served in that capacity for years, while God kept refining her heart for His purposes. Each day, He was helping her to see the women in the industry the way He sees them, as precious and beloved. Eventually, Scarlet Hope’s founder and CEO, Rachelle, invited Ronelle to apply for the COO position. Overseeing the operations of Scarlet Hope has not been easy, but Ronelle insisted that she loves it. There’s nothing else she wants to do.
The truth of her devotion came out when Ronelle talked about the women in the program. She mentioned their names frequently, with sincere friendship, protectiveness, and admiration. These are women who are bravely stepping away from the broken life they’ve always known into the glorious purpose Christ has in store for them, and Ronelle celebrates every step they take toward the Light.
When I asked her what the ministry needs, she immediately begged for prayer. And volunteers. Lots and lots of volunteers, from work groups who tackle physical projects to mentors and teachers who will invest regularly in the lives of women who need a village if they’re going to thrive. There are donations they need, but Ronelle’s pressing hope was for prayer and people, because an abundance of those two things tends to resolve the physical needs.
As we finished our time together, before I could offer to pray for her, Ronelle had both of my hands gripped tightly in hers and she was fervently interceding on my behalf. As she prayed for my spiritual health and reliance on the Word, I got a glimpse of the impact Scarlet Hope is having on women who have been told that they are not valuable or worthy. If I—who have known since childhood of God’s faithfulness and love—could be brought to tears of hope because of a simple prayer, imagine the difference such knowledge could make for a woman who has never been taught the truth about her value.
Prayer and Provision
Next, I met with Scarlet Hope’s Development Director, Aaron. He’s one of only two men on staff, and he has the big task of raising the funds Scarlet Hope needs to move forward with more programs, outreach, development, strategies, and care for the women trapped in a life of bondage and shame. He was upfront about the obstacles, but he recognized where the help comes from. As they pray, God provides everything they need.
Aaron explained the newest piece of their outreach, which uses texting to directly reach out to women in the adult entertainment industry. As more and more of the industry moves out of clubs and deeper into the darkness, this method is a key way to continue serving and inviting the women back into the light. Aaron and the Scarlet Hope team prayed in faith for the $10,000 they would need for a one-year subscription to the software, and then Southeast’s Wild Game Feed event unknowingly raised the exact amount.
As with any ministry impacting the lives of the most marginalized and hopeless, Aaron acknowledged that the truest testament for Scarlet Hope is the impact it’s having on individual lives. You can talk about numbers and data, but it’s hard to resist the truth of a transformed life. Aaron told me about Mary, who spent 35 years in the adult entertainment industry and now serves as the receptionist for Scarlet Hope. (You can read more about Mary in her book, A Harlot’s Cry.)
Each woman going through the Career Development Program has her own story, and Aaron loves to talk about their encounters with grace. In so many ways, their stories are each of our stories. We were lost, but now we’re found. We were alone, but now we’re adopted by the King. We were enslaved in darkness, but now we’re dancing in the light.
A New Chapter of Hope
For lunch, I made my way to the downtown location of Scarlet’s Bakery. Here, the women participating in the Career Development Program can build valuable professional skills, receive guidance and responsibility, and find the confidence to thrive in an industry outside of the one they’ve known. With another location recently finished and a third launching soon, Scarlet’s Bakery is a growing outlet for the women ready to step into a new chapter of their lives.
While I ate my delicious lunch (and a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, of course), I chatted amiably with Emily, one of the staff members at Scarlet Hope. We talked about what’s been unexpected and hard during her time there, and what’s been unexpected and beautiful. Like everyone else I talked to, Emily loves the women she serves. She knows their names, their stories, and the obstacles they face.
Emily told me how brave, strong, and resilient those women are. They’ve learned how to survive and take care of one another in the most soul-crushing environments. I couldn’t help but imagine how valuable those characteristics are when they find their home in the Church. Not only do these women need the restoration and dignity that Christ provides, but we need these women in our churches. We need people who can pair an unswerving grasp of grace with the grit, compassion, and courage to get things done for the Kingdom.
On the Front Lines
Soon, I was on my way to the Hope House, where the outreach groups launch and land when they go into the clubs and massage parlors. I was shadowing on a Thursday, which is the day when the teams go out, so I knew I was going to have the privilege to serve on the prayer team who intercedes while the daytime outreach happens. Even before I arrived for the day, I was overjoyed that I had a tangible role in serving the ministry, but after spending the morning with the staff, it was already more personal to me.
Before the outreach team arrived, I met with Kari, the Outreach Director for Scarlet Hope. While she prepped for the evening, we talked about the journey that had led her there, the dynamics of the different clubs and parlors, the food that is brought in and distributed at the clubs, her diverse team of outreach volunteers, and her overwhelming need for more people to get involved.
More than anything, Kari hopes for people who will come and pray while the outreach teams go into the clubs, parlors, and streets. She has no misconceptions; the work they are doing is directly threatening powerful evil forces. The spiritual warfare in their work is tangible and intense, and their complete reliance on God’s power is absolutely necessary. They dare not go into those dark places without the urgent petition and intercession of a team of prayer warriors. There’s just too much at stake.
While we were still talking, the outreach team for the daytime shift arrived. There are a couple of clubs that have requested that the “church ladies” bring meals in for their early evening workers, so Kari met with the team and prepped them for what they’d encounter. The women volunteering that day were seasoned volunteers—well accustomed with the clubs, women, DJs, bouncers, and owners they would encounter that day.
After training and prayer, the teams set out. I settled in with my new friend Emily and we spent the next two hours in prayer, fighting evil with the best weapons available to us.
We begged God to guide the conversations of the outreach teams, bring healing and redemption to the women and men entangled in the adult entertainment industry, and break through the chains of addiction, hopelessness, corruption, pride, injustice, and bigotry that keep people from experiencing the freedom of Christ.
We lifted up the staff and their families, that they would be strong against the attacks against them. We prayed that the men in those clubs would experience grace, healing, and redemption. And we prayed for every woman who finds herself trapped in an industry that tells her she is not valuable—that she would find hope in God’s amazing love for her.
As I drove home, I prayed another prayer for my own heart. May God never stop reminding me that His love is high and deep and wide and long, and though my sins are many, His sacrifice has redefined me. May my heart continually break for those who have never been told that they are valuable because of the price Christ paid for them. May the grace I have received always propel me toward the people who are still waiting for hope.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV®)
Learn more and get involved at scarlethope.org.