A Valiant Heart

By Julie Rhodes

Carrie Gurley was at home with her kids one day when the doorbell rang. Three women were waiting on her porch. “We were told to come see you,” they said. They were strippers in a club in Fort Worth, and had been to a local church to take a financial class. They were worried about going back. What if they saw customers there? What if everyone could tell what they were? “We need to know about God,” they said, “but we feel like we can’t go back to church. So we were told to come see you.”

Thus began Carrie’s fight against the exploitation of women, children, and men in DFW’s thriving sex industry.

Five years later, Carrie was introduced to Polly, the founder of We Are Cherished, a monthly outreach that began in 2010 to bring gifts, love, and hope to the women in the strip clubs of Dallas and Fort Worth. It then grew into a support group for women in the industry and those who’ve moved out of it.  “When God brings three strippers to your door, you don’t have to wonder if there’s a calling on your life to help these women,” Carrie laughs. She began with We Are Cherished as a volunteer while she completed her counseling degree, then became a case manager. In 2014, Carrie was asked to be its executive director.

Since that time, Carrie and her team have expanded the vision to reach out not only to the women caught in the midst of sexual exploitation, but also to offer freedom and restoration to those perpetuating the cycle. The mission was clear: a holistic approach for everyone affected by this problem.

With this new vision came a new name — Valiant Hearts.

The need in DFW is pressing. According to Valiant Heart’s web site, Texas is ranked #2 in human trafficking cases with an average of 400 underage teens working the streets every night. The average age a girl a girl enters the sex trade is 13. “That’s why God is calling his people,” Carrie says. “The world cannot help with that level of evil. It has to be the Lord.”

The name Valiant Hearts describes those brave enough to start the journey toward healing and freedom, as well as those working to combat this evil. This includes men battling sexual addiction, students being targeted for trafficking, mothers of children who have been exploited, and a growing international population from ministry partners in Iraq and Scotland. Valiant Hearts has also developed a training manual for churches to begin their own support groups. 

Carrie says Valiant Heart’s main focus is still the strip clubs as it was in the early days, reaching 1,500 women in all 40 of DFW’s strip clubs. A lot of the women are prostituted through the clubs, so that’s the best place to reach most of them.

According to Carrie, 85% of the women who participate in Valiant Heart’s support group leave the industry. “It’s not because we have some magic formula,” Carrie says. “It’s because they’ve encountered the love of Jesus.” She can always tell if it’s a woman’s first time at a support group because she will cry through the meeting. “She’ll say, ‘I’ve never felt this kind of love before.’ Then the counterfeit is exposed. This is where the appetite for the true love of Jesus begins.”

Carrie’s heart is also to eradicate the porn industry, which feeds and populates trafficking and club culture. Carrie understands the devastation on a very personal level; her father is currently imprisoned for child molestation, which began as a porn addiction. “This sin will take you places you never thought you’d go,” he’s told her.

Carrie says we can’t expect men and women addicted to porn to find freedom from it alone. “The shame isolates you. Freedom won’t happen until we create a safe place and have ongoing support that won’t leave, judge or condemn you but speak truth and believe in you.” Valiant Hearts provides support groups for those looking to break the cycle of porn bondage.

In an effort to go deeper into our parish and bring transformation to individuals and our city, IBC has chosen to shift our partnering focus from New Friends New Life to Valiant Hearts, which has plans to expand its ministry into Irving. (There are more strip clubs in a 10-mile radius in Irving than anywhere else in the metroplex.) On October 22, IBC will be welcoming Carrie to a special lunch where she will give a more comprehensive overview of the ministry and share how IBCers can get involved, especially with the new Cherished support group which starts at IBC in January. 

Back to Carrie’s front porch in 2006. She opened her door and invited the women inside. For the next several months, they came to Carrie’s house every Tuesday night, legal pads in hand, to ask questions about God. Two of the women eventually left the industry, but one didn’t. She had a disabled daughter and couldn’t find a way out for financial reasons. She eventually lost touch with Carrie.

In the years since, whenever Carrie visits the clubs, that woman is always on her mind. “She broke my heart,” Carrie says. “She’s the one I still look for.” 

For more information, visit valianthearts.org.

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