A rookie at the porn show
Months turned to weeks, weeks turned to days, days turned to hours – all the time I’d spent thinking about my first mission trip, praying about it, asking questions of people who’d been on the trip before, reading a few books that pertained to this heavy topic of pornography. I was very excited to participate in my first mission trip, and join the awesome team at XXX Church.
Months earlier, my wife and I had discussed the possibility of me going on this trip, the possibility of both of us going on the trip – how would we feel, what should we do. After a handful of helpful conversations with close friends, and, pointed questions for our friends who’d previously been on the trip, we decided that Sarah would not make the trip this year. Next we worked together to create the accountability questions that would help me be strong and faithful to my sexual integrity, while at one of the largest porn shows in the country. These same questions would also be what I answered and sent to my accountability partners, in Seattle, every night.
The day arrived, Tuesday, January 15th – our flight from Seattle to Las Vegas. Nerves and anxiety turned to excitement as we traveled to the airport, boarded the plane and began the flight. I knew this would be a powerful trip when, upon arriving at the baggage claim area in the Las Vegas airport, I spotted a police officer I recognized – the Lieutenant, Eric Sano, from the documentary, ‘Rape for Profit’. This was a cool confirmation, from God, for me because that documentary is one of THE biggest reasons I decided to make the trip to Vegas and partner with XXX Church. You see, in that documentary, one of the therapists, interviewed, made a statement that “…decent man should stand up…” against the sex-trafficking problem in Seattle. Part of the documentary detailed how the consumption of pornography can, many times, be a rehearsal for men to then go and act out, in the real world, by purchasing women for sex. In my mind, there was a huge correlation between viewing porn, and hurting women. Hence, my decision to stand up and make a difference, even it was a small difference, by joining the EastLake Church mission group heading to Vegas.
Fast forward in the story and we’re all in a van, heading to the Hard Rock Hotel to setup the booth. Nerves turned to “what-if’s”. How would I react if I saw this? What would I do if this happened? Where would I go if this thing was at the show? Questions spun around in my head….and then, I just stopped and said, quietly, to myself, “give me the strength, Lord.” That simple, that direct. Now I’m not going to lie and say I felt the earth rumble and the Lord strike me with the strength of 1000 men. But, I will tell you I felt covered. Covered with protection, and assurance, and guidance. And from then on, through the rest of the show, I felt a strength that only God could’ve given me. Obviously there were boundaries and “safe areas” that I stuck to when I felt temptation get heavier, but I was struck with how God had changed my mind and my eyes to see the nudity, porn, sex and glamour in a new way. Not in a way that I felt weak and couldn’t resist indulging, but in such a way that I could see a person, in a situation by choice or not, participating in a business that objectified them. My friend Eric told it to me best, prior to the trip, “…when you see the stars and the other woman at the show, remember those are the woman we’ve been praying for. To be released from pain and fear in their lives.”
Each day we all had a shift at the show, usually 3 or 4 hours long. And each day there was a wide range of responses from the people at the show. Ranging from high-fives and ‘Jesus loves porn’ shouts, to completely being ignored and told to ‘get that away from me’. We’d do our best to correct the ‘Jesus loves porn’ shouts to say, ‘Jesus loves porn STARS’….’STARS!!’ But, as a group, we did our best to capitalize on the excitement from the consumers at the show, good or bad. Most of the time we would hand someone a bible and slap a ‘Jesus Loves Porn Stars’ sticker on their shirt. The sticke was bright pink a big hit at the show – it was pretty cool to see so many people wearing the sticker. Other times we’d get a question something like “…so, Jesus Loves Porn Stars, hmmm, what are you guys all about?” From there we could give a few different responses, but the main message we hoped to convey was that Jesus loves you. Right now, wherever you’re at in your life. He loves you. And, He’ll love you tomorrow, and next week, and next year. And, if you get to the point where you want to make a change in your life, XXX Church can be one way to help you. Some of the conversations simply ended in a head nod and quick exit to the next booth. Other conversations went deeper into questions about why, and what, and are you serious? Is this a real booth? Yes, we are serious, and this is a real booth. A few times we got the chance to dig deeper and engage in more questions with someone. And I had that moment on Saturday, the last day of the show.
Jim is his name. Married for 20 years, lives in San Francisco, no kids, in Vegas for a business trip and dropped by the porn show with a couple of his buddies. The conversation started with his simple question, “What are you guys all about?”, as he thumbed through the small bible. This conversation would last for the next 90 minutes at the booth, me and Jim, asking questions, listening intently to answers. Presenting a thought and asking for his view, listening to his answer and proposing a follow-up thought. All the time, maintaining respect and civility towards one another. What started as a conversation about a porn show and XXX Church, grew into a larger conversation about personal faith, Jesus and conviction. It was the single-most pointed moment in my life where I was able to share what I believe about Jesus, and why I believe Him. The questions forced me to think about why I was there, a porn show, telling other men and women that Jesus loved them. Forced me to evaluate what events in my life, good or bad, brought me to a place where I needed to tell others what I believed. And it was awesome. I know my words were not my own. They were straight from the Holy Spirit. Answers to Jims’ questions, follow up points, disagreements on beliefs, agreements on beliefs and shared experiences. All of it was from God. All of it. As the conversation neared to an end, we both acknowledged how much we appreciated meeting one another and the conversation. I firmly shook Jims’ hand and told him I’d like to hear from him again in the future. So I gave him my email address, something I’d not done at all that week. And as we wrapped up I told him, “Jim, can I tell you something kind of weird?” “Sure” he said. “Jim, you are an answer to my prayers this week.” He kind of smirked and furrowed his eyebrows, in response. “Well, you are, and I won’t ever forget it,” I said.
And I won’t ever forget that conversation, or this mission trip. It was powerful.
Hear more from the 2013 team:
Joining the XXXchurch team at AVN blew me away. I am so incredibly grateful for the entire experience. Leslie and Jerome from Eastlake Church were amazing group leaders and I was blessed by the people they brought together from our church to go to the show. Once in Vegas it felt like all of us were where God was asking us to be. The #1 question I have been asked since I returned is, if people were rude to us. I was overwhelmed by how receptive the people at the show were – from vendors, consumers, and industry folks. It was wonderful to truly feel like a light in a dark place. And it was definitely dark! I saw enough naked bits and pieces for a lifetime. Yet I am already planning to go back again. It was so wonderful to share with people that Jesus loves them today, right now, where they are at. -Annette
This was an amazing experience for me. I shared my faith more in 4 days than I have in 12 years as a Christian. I learned a ton about the industry and the people in it. I had some great conversations with porn stars, producers, and people attending the show. I really felt like we planted the seeds for God to water and that just loving on people gave God the opening to change some of them. I got some amazing reactions from people that just wanted to be noticed for them and not what they do, how they look, or how much money they have. -Sean
This was my second year going to the Vegas AVN show. Besides making relational connections, my favorite part of the show was seeing the faces of the girls who hadn’t heard of us before and telling them that they are loved by Jesus no matter what. The amazement on most of their faces along with the smiles I still see in my head brings tears to my eyes. I’m willing to bet that nothing changed in their lives overnight, but that was a seed that was planted; I’m so hopeful for what God is going to do with that. As we walked around talking to girls, many of the conversations started by us passing out red bulls, water, snacks, etc. In a weird way, I felt so honored to be doing that. God could use anyone, and yet here I was serving those He loves. -Natalie