By Cindy Willison
At age 16, Jani ran away to get married because she was bored and looking for adventure. She had started attending church at age 13, but it was just a social thing for her. Two years and one day after her marriage, Jani was a single mother.
She started hanging out with friends and learned from them an adult entertainment club was hiring. She had no moral objection to the business, so she worked there for three years. It was a terrible experience; but she, and everyone else who worked there, talked about it being so positive, and the money was great.
Jani finally escaped that world by getting a grant to beauty school and then working for an advertising agency. By then she was attending church again and getting a glimpse of what a personal relationship with the Lord would look like for her. After a while she applied for, and was hired, as administrative support staff at the church she attended. No one asked about her background, and she didn’t volunteer that information.
That was 16 years ago. While on staff at Southland Christian Church, Jani was instrumental in starting a ministry called Bruised Reed, where volunteer teams would visit the local strip clubs in Lexington one night each week and take a hot meal to the entertainers and bouncers. They talked with them about their families, their dreams, and just built relationships with the women. The ministry was founded on the idea of loving these women like Jesus would love them.
Jani continued with Bruised Reed until God finally called her to expand this ministry in another related area. A young woman named Natalie was murdered by her boyfriend pimp in Lexington. Natalie had worked in one of the clubs, and Bruised Reed had served her over the years. Natalie had moved to working on the streets as an escort.
An undercover cop who volunteered with Bruised Reed as a security officer wanted to do more to help women who were trapped in a life of prostitution—a life that often leads to a revolving door of arrests. So, Jani started meeting with a team of officers, and Natalie’s Sisters was born.
Natalie’s Sisters started out visiting women in jails and developing a kind of mentoring relationship. The ministry helped those who were working the streets by providing dinner, coats, and toiletries, always with a security officer present. The numbers grew as those who were helped referred others to this ministry. Natalie’s Sisters touched more than 130 women on the streets in its first three years, while Bruised Reed continued serving women in the clubs.
Natalie’s Sisters are women who are at the bottom—typically ages 18-50, drug addicts, and most are homeless. Drug dealers serve as their pimps. Most of these women have been abused; some have been trafficked as children by parents or grandparents. Natalie’s Sisters became a not-for-profit last year and folded Bruised Reed into its organization. In addition to serving meals and building relationships in the clubs, it has opened a drop-in center where girls from the street can come for lunch, coats, hats, gloves, socks, etc. Eventually it will offer life skill classes and job training and will be able to make rehab referrals.
Jani knows these women’s stories because she started down that path. But now, thanks to her love relationship with Jesus, she has a better story, a story that she wants as many of Natalie’s Sisters as possible to come to know for their own.
Cindy Willison serves as executive assistant to the executive team at Southland Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky.