By Taylor Wolf | Social Media Editor and Alexandra Donnel | Reporter
On Tuesday night, Baylor Missions partnered with local nonprofit Jesus Said Love to host “A Lovely Evening” to educate Baylor students on the issue of the commercial sex industry and the nonprofit’s mission to fight against it.
Attendees were invited into the Jesus Said Love headquarters, which has an adjoining storefront of the Jesus Said Love social enterprise storefront, Lovely.
The local nonprofit is dedicated to loving, serving and helping women in the commercial sex industry through outreach missions. Their work also empowers and equips women coming out of the sex industry to get the help they need to enter the workforce through training programs and classes.
The Valentine’s themed and community-oriented event was an opportunity for students to get involved and serve the women that Jesus Said Love works with. Students and Baylor Missions faculty met and talked with the Jesus Said Love team members, wrote encouragement notes for women in the new round of Access classes, made Valentine’s Day themed goody bags with cards for outreach missions and attempted making salt scrubs – one of the products that the women in training make to help them gain business experience.
“It’s cool because some students don’t get off campus that often, and so this might not have been a place they would’ve found on their own,” Holly Tate, assistant director for global missions — student engagement at Baylor, said. “To feel invited into a space makes a difference.”
Katy Valenzuela, director of donor and community engagement at Jesus Said Love, spoke to Baylor students at the event about what Jesus Said Love does specifically.
“We have outreaches where we go into strip clubs once a month — love the people that are working there, exactly where they’re at, and connect them to community and spiritual resources,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela shared that 89 percent of women they have met in clubs say that they want out but have no other means of survival, and there are many barriers for them as far as entering the workforce. So, Jesus Said Love started building community partners and created the training program Access about two years ago.
“Access is a paid eight-week holistic training program for women who are exiting the industry,” Valenzuela said. “By the time they graduate, they are ready to enter the workforce.”
The paid program includes classes on parenting, financial literacy, job-readiness, nutrition, exercise classes, self-defense and computer skills. Last semester, there were seven women to graduate, upon which they all had full-time jobs.
“It’s been really neat to see how this program literally gives access and empowers women in the work that they’re doing every day,” Valenzuela said.
Baylor students also learned about another aspect of the organization – the storefront of Lovely Enterprises, a social enterprise of Jesus Said Love that gives experience to business and entrepreneurially-minded women they train.
Event attendees consisted of mostly freshman Baylor students who learned about the organization and the event through hearing Brett and Emily Mills, Jesus Said Love founders and Baylor alumni, share the Jesus Said Love story at Baylor chapel on Feb. 6.
In 2003, Brett and Emily Mills were leading worship in Austin at a conference for women coming out of the commercial sex industry when they heard stories and testimonies from women at the conference. After hearing the women’s stories and realizing the connection to shared pasts of sexual abuse, Emily was impacted greatly by the women she met.
“I looked in their eyes and held their story,” said Emily. “I realized she is me, and I am her.”
On the couple’s way back from Austin, Emily suggested they visit the strip clubs in Waco, and this is how the Jesus Said Love ministry was founded – with an Easter outreach consisting of a small group of women going into strip clubs bearing gift bags for the workers.
Brett focuses on the supply and demand aspect of the commercial sex industry, and how the attitudes of men affect it. He said that men need to stand up against the commercial sex industry because they are the top consumers of it.
“Let’s quit calling it prostitution, and just call it what it is — it’s buying people,” Brett said. “That, my friends, is slavery.”
The Chapel at which the Mills spoke can be watched here.
San Diego freshman Mercedes Moehl wanted to get involved and went to the their website to volunteer soon after learning about Jesus Said Love for the first time at chapel.
“It just spoke to me,” Moehl said. “When they were talking about it in chapel, I was like d**n, this is true, this is happening. I just think it’s really powerful and influencing. It’s cool to be a part of it now, especially if you’re a woman supporting other women – that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Scottsdale, Ariz. freshman Sophia Kezirian decided to attend the event with a friend also after being impacted at chapel.
“People don’t know that these things exist to help people,” Kezirian said. “It’s good that they do events to get Baylor kids involved. I feel like there are a lot of people who are willing to help and want to help, but just don’t know that they’re here.”
There are many ways to support the cause and get involved with Jesus Said Love including internships, joining the college chapter, monthly outreaches, a prayer team, babysitters’ team (80 percent of the women they work with are mothers), helping at the front desk or shopping at their storefront Lovely.
Scrubs, earrings and body mists the women make as part of their Access training are sold in the there, as well as an ethically sourced and socially responsible clothing line. A recent change, Lovely is now only open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. due to being in a low foot-traffic area of Waco. However the Jesus Said Love team is hoping to increase awareness and knowledge of where and who they are.
“It’s just getting people to come and inviting them into the space to hear about what we do,” Jersey Schmidt, director of social enterprise at Jesus Said Love, said. “We’re just trying to do more and more events – even community events like this.”
Schmidt said that increased priority of events has started in the last month, and they’ve developed a brand ambassador program that they’re hoping to launch in March.