Anny Donewald was raised in an upper-middle class home near Grand Rapids. She’s beautiful, with blue eyes and long blond hair. When she was 19, a couple girls approached her at college and told her she’d be a natural dancing in nightclubs.
She entered an amateur night contest at a club in Kalamazoo and won.
At the time, she reasoned that $200 for 3 minutes on stage might be a good way to make money.
But when she got a job at a Lansing strip club, things started getting bad:
"About 2 weeks in I’m sitting in the back and just distraught. Like I just don’t know how I entered in this. I dropped out of college. I’m doing coke, and I’m drunk all the time."
She says her life continued to spiral out of control. She became a prostitute. She got numerous abortions. She was robed. She was raped. She got divorced and became pregnant again. At that point, she began to pray:
"I said, "God, I don’t know if you’re real, but if you’re real and you can hear me you need to stop this because I’m not going to."
She said she made 5 different appointments to get another abortion and they all ended up being cancelled.
Months after her son was born, Denowald says she had an epiphany, "All of the sudden, I get it. And instantaneously knew that Jesus was real... I knew he was the only way to get to God. I knew heaven was real. I knew hell was real, and I knew that I was forgiven."
She not only left the industry, she also felt called to help other women leave and created Eve’s Angels. She jokingly calls it her 'stripper ministry,' but says some churches didn't exactly welcome her idea:
"I got the left foot of fellowship at the church as they told me, ‘we don’t really have any room for you and your little so-called ministry."
The dancers at the clubs weren’t open to her ministry either.
Donewald says trying to tell strippers what to do didn’t work, so she changed her tactics.
Now, when she goes to strip clubs she brings a gift bag with a bible and other items:
"I remember being in the industry and everybody wanting something from me... Jesus doesn’t want anything from them. He didn’t want anything from me. He just wanted me to know that he loved me."
And she has found some churches that are receptive to her message.
On a recent night, Donewald talks with a group of women in the industry at a small Free Methodist church in Lansing about her experiences. When the meeting ends, two of the women need to get to work at the same Lansing club where it all began for Donewald.
I met some of the women outside the club in a mostly empty parking lot at 9 p.m. on a weeknight.
Donewald is here too along with a volunteer who works with her. Every week after her bible studies, Donewald visits women working in gentlemen’s clubs, sometimes in Grand Rapids, and sometimes in Kalamazoo. Tonight, she's in Lansing for the first time since she quit the clubs in this area.
Here's a video Donewald made of her trip to Lansing:
Rachelle Funk is a volunteer with Eve’s Angels. This is her third night out:
"I grew up a pastor’s daughter, went to Christian college, like I’ve never been in a strip club or even a regular club like dancing or anything."
She laughs at the absurdity of us heading into the strip club together (I should say no public radio dollars were spent at the strip club).
It’s surreal watching some of the same women from the church now dancing on stage.
Women like Shawne Honderd.
Hondered is not surprised the first church Donewald approached rejected Eve’s Angels. She says a church rejected her too when they discovered she was a stripper
"The church, in my opinion, they’ll love you as long as you fall in their plan. But if you don’t, there’s no love for you."
Honderd says the love Donwald offers is huge.
But she admits building trust between strippers, prostitutes or actors in pornography and any ministry is a challenge even for someone who has walked in their shoes:
“You’re trying to take these girls that are taught by all these religions that they’re no good. They’re worthless, they’re good for nothing because of what they do. And you’re trying to take them and say – these people are wrong.”
Hondered says Eve’s Angels gives her hope that one day she too be able to walk away from stripping for good. But she says a lot of dancers don’t have the tools to get out:
"Anny and Eve’s Angels are putting those tools out there because a lot of people will get lost. They’ll have their moment but they’re going to get lost if they don’t have somebody to guide them."
Eventually, she hopes to raise enough money to have a home where women trying to get out of the industry can stay, and get all the financial and emotional support they need to create a new, positive identity.
Here's video Anny Donewald made of her talk to