This interview between Matt Fradd and Joey Pontarelli was originally featured by The Porn Effect here.
Joey, Thanks for being willing to do this interview. What is Red Light Ministry?
On Friday nights, the men of Franciscan University pray outside a nearby strip club. “Red Light Ministry” is what we call it. I’m sure you’ve heard of people praying outside abortion clinics – same concept.
As we arrive, the men line the sidewalk opposite of the strip club. Usually, we pray two Rosaries and a Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We pray two Rosaries for a specific reason: first, we ask God to rescue all the people involved by meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries. Secondly, we pray the Glorious Mysteries to thank him in advance for the good we are confident he will do in the future, as well as the good he’s already done.
Awesome. Whose idea was it?
Red Light's inception happened in 2008 or 2009. John Kennedy, a student then and member of Prodigal Sons household, had the idea. How did it happen? John and a few friends were bored on a random Friday night. Having heard of the idea of men praying outside strip clubs, the three of them decided to give it a try. They reasoned that since it was important to pray outside abortion clinics, this was needed too.
How many people come to it a week?
Every week the turnout fluctuates. This semester, the range has been 40 – 120 men each week. Most recently, we had 70 men.
Is it mostly men?
Yes. In fact, only men pray outside the strip club. But we’re not alone. Back on campus, the ladies do a holy hour for us. It’s powerful and beautiful!
Are people surprised to see young men there praying?
Last Friday, two ladies and a guy around my age pulled into the parking lot, got out of their car and came to talk with us. Intrigued by our presence, they asked why we were there. So I explained. They were surprised and amazed. One of the girls said, “It’s amazing that you’re a bunch of men; usually you all would be inside the strip club.”
What are some comments you’ve received?
Both positive and negative. We’ve received everything: thumbs up, honks, and words of encouragement to curses, crude remarks, and cars deliberately splashing water at us. I even heard that once a dude came over with a baseball bat to taunt us. You get praised; you get insulted.
What is your opinion of Christians who hold up signs like “You’re Going To Hell” outside these places, how is your method more effective?
With all respect, that is a horrible approach. Nobody will listen. It is a turn off. It’s all about fear and guilt. While sin is horrific and we shouldn’t minimize it, I believe that the human person doesn’t respond well to that method. A better approach is through love and desire. Instead of scaring them into action, show them you love and care about them personally. Additionally, rather than place an external requirement or law on them, point to the desires of their hearts.
They want happiness and love. Those desires are much stronger motivators than any fears. Pointing to their desire and loving them, they are more likely to trust you. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “Naturalness, sincerity, and cheerfulness are indispensable conditions for the apostle to attract people” (Furrow, 188). If nothing else, they’ve felt respected and walked away with a positive image of you as polite and sincere.
Tell us about your encounter with Emily
On a Friday night not long ago, we arrived as usual across from the strip club with 60 – 70 men. As the rosary began to be prayed, a few of the dancers who worked at the club were passing. One approached me. Emily asked me to pray with her. And so, for a minute or so we prayed the rosary. Then, turning to her, I asked if she would be willing to talk. She replied yes.
What did you talk about with her?
I asked about her family and background. At 27, she is the mother of five. Last year, her husband died from colon cancer. Eventually, I asked why she worked there. She told me how she recently lost another job. With bills to pay and kids to feed, she felt no choice.
Acknowledging her difficult situation, I asked another question: “What would it take for you to quit?” She needed another job. More specifically, she needed a car. Currently, her “friends” who also worked at the strip club drove her there.
Again, I asked another question: “If we could help with your bills and finding a car, would you quit?” She said absolutely. She hated it. The boss was a scum and pervert, mistreating the girls. As I spoke with her, the DJ came out to find her. I met him. He was nice to her but said that the boss was flipping out. Her response, “I’m coming…he can wait.”
Then what happened?
After he left, I knew the situation was urgent. And so I asked: “What would it take for you to quit right now?” She needed to pay two bills equal to $160. “If we gave you the money, would you quit?” I proposed. She was hesitant, stating that it felt like a gamble. Before long, she admitted that she would quit.
Stepping in front of the men, I stopped the prayer. Addressing them, I told Emily’s story. I knew I asked them to trust my judgment, that she was honest and wouldn’t misuse the money. Since I gave her money already, all she needed was $120.
Within minutes, we raised $300 for her; double our aim. With that, we spoke with her more, gave her contact information for support, and then drove her home. Oh, and I gave her a copy of Crystalina Evert’s Pure Womanhood (which she loved).
What did her demeanor and body language tell you?
That she felt defeated and she was hurting. Her eyes were heavy. I could tell that she wasn’t used to a man looking her in the eyes. Interestingly, her clothes covered almost every inch of her body. Also, I could tell she was hungry for God. She wanted out of there.
What did she think about all the men there?
In the past, she had seen us praying. However, she wasn’t sure of our intentions. She would wave to us and apparently we didn’t wave back. I reassured her that we weren’t out there to condemn anyone. In fact, the reason we were there was to tell every man and every women in the strip club that they are worth so much more than that. She was very receptive to that and agreed wholeheartedly.
Besides driving her home, what other help did you give to her?
A friend of mine, Tommy Lannen, with the help of Hannah Terbrack, gave Emily contact information to ministries nearby. We knew she needed support – especially from women.
Katie Gesto and Camille Mica are missionaries in the area. They build relationships and offer practical support and healing to women who have suffered sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, such as prostitution and stripping. Most importantly, they give Christ to these women. Prayer is core to their apostolates. The ministries are called “Mama Nita’s” and “All Things New,” respectively. Since we met Emily, she has been spending time with those ladies.
What are your thoughts on Emily?
At first, talking with her was intimidating. That changed quickly. Instead of viewing her as a “stripper,” I looked at her as a daughter of God; as a human person like you and me. Regardless of our sins, we never lose our great value as God’s beloved creatures and children.
Were you afraid?
Yes. I felt nervous and afraid as I began speak with her. But I knew she was more important than my fear. So I had to be courageous.
What’s happening now?
Sadly, she went back. Devastating, I know. After giving her help, it is hard to watch her return. Again, she felt stuck there in order to provide for her family. However, she did quit again. My missionary friend, Camille Mica, told me that women in the sex industry usually quit 5 – 7 times before they get out of it. And so, one more quit is a step in the right direction.
Emily has been looking for jobs. Still, there has been no luck. But we’re trying. She is certainly in a difficult position having to provide for her children and pay the bills. Honestly, she needs a job – and a car. So those are the two goals we are working toward. She has been attending Mass, which is fantastic! God is doing good work. In due time, he will pull her out of that lifestyle. We knew it would be a long journey. Any prayers for Emily are much appreciated!
What did you learn from this?
The power of prayer. I’m convinced that prayer did the heavy lifting. Also, I learned the influence you can have on another person by merely looking them in the eyes, loving them and asking good questions. Really, that’s all I did. I asked questions and she put two and two together.