A few months ago, the strip club next to Joe’s Addiction caught on fire. It was an interior fire. They think someone dropped a cigarette in a trash can. No one was hurt, and the building sat empty, locked up for the last few months, while we wondered what would happen next. Did they have insurance? Would they rebuild, making it bigger and “better” than before?
This last week, the bulldozers came. Razed to the ground. No insurance. No rebuilding. An empty concrete slab, where Valley of the Dolls—the oldest, longest-standing strip club in Valley Brook—once shared a parking lot with us.
I had met many of the girls, as they came in for coffee. They had become my friends. We had even seen God rescue some from dancing there. I had worked hard to develop friendship with the bouncer, whose job was to check ID’s at the door. I had even cleaned up urine from drunks they sent over to sober up on our couch before they drove home. But it took me two years of serving behind the counter of our coffee shop, before I finally gathered the courage to enter the door of Valley of the Dolls.
I was afraid. I’d grown up so sheltered from sin. I knew it would be dark. I knew the music would be loud. I knew the men would be drunk. I wasn’t sure what I would see and how I should respond. I knew I would be embarrassed. Where should I look? Would people in there know I was nervous?
The day finally came when I had to push past my fear. A girl (who had come out of that scene) went with me. We opened the door, showed our ID’s, walked across the smoky, dark, loud room and sat down at the bar. The bartender, a middle aged, large-breasted woman asked what we’d have, and I ordered a coke. She recognized me and smiled, shouting over the music, “You own that coffee shop next door, right?”
I now knew the people of Valley of the Dolls—and for me that changed everything. That changed me.
. . .
I have a confession to make. It really is something terribly embarrassing, something for which I am deeply ashamed.
Twenty years ago, John and I led short-term mission trips to Taiwan—trips that we called “exposure trips.” Our goal was to take average, American Christians to places in the world where people have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our desire was to expose them to the realities of life in a people group where there is no influence of the Gospel—no knowledge of the forgiveness of God and the affects of the Love of God upon their everyday life. (I am NOT ashamed of this.)
On these trips, we also did what we called “prayer walking.” As we traveled and observed temples to pagan gods, idolatry and ancestor worship, we prayed that God’s Kingdom would come and that the people would give Jesus the worship that He is due. (I am also NOT ashamed of this.)
But on these trips, we also did something else. (Here it comes.) We prayed that God would drop giant balls of fire from heaven upon the idolatrous temples. We had read of fire falling from the sky when Elijah prayed. We had also heard stories of fire balls landing on temples in Cambodia. Surely God could do this for us as well. Surely this was praying in agreement with his will. Surely he wanted to see these temples destroyed.
We “prayer walked’ the physical territory of major temples, sometimes marching around them like the people of Israel around the walls of Jericho. But the island of Taiwan is literally covered with temples, too many to visit, too many to walk. Riding the buses and trains, we saw thousands of red-roofed shrines passing by, in the heart of villages, in the center of rice paddies—temples we saw as abominations, raising their fists against the One True God—ones that we could not reach.
So . . . we devised an abbreviated prayer. (Oh, I am ashamed to the point of tears.) For each temple we saw, we quietly proclaimed in hushed tones, “Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!”
. . .
In Choctaw, where we live, a little church sat at an intersection we passed often. It was a cute, old, traditional white country church with steeple and all. One day we saw a “for sale” sign on the corner. The congregation had grown, so they were moving somewhere else. A building project. We wondered who would buy that cute little place. Perhaps a small church plant.
One day when we pulled up to the four-way stop, we saw the new sign. Buddha Mind Monastery. Monks from Taiwan had come to America—to Oklahoma! They were evangelizing our territory! I saw it as war. The devil encroaching upon our Christian land. And those church people! How dare they have sold their building to idolaters?! They had sided with the devil for the sake of money. My judgments were made. My pronouncements sure.
Since then, I have seen the bald-headed nuns coming and going from their cars, working in the flower beds, greeting visitors with a smile. The monastery has outgrown that little church building, and so they are building—expanding their territory. It’s becoming a large Buddhist temple, multiple structures and parking lots to accommodate.
I think it’s time that I go through that door. Time to visit some nuns. Time to make some new friends. Time for me to change—yet again.