My name is Joyce Kelly and over eight years ago God awakened my heart to the reality of human trafficking. I saw a documentary about human trafficking in India and stared in disbelief of the reality that little girls in India were being put into cages like animals during the day and brought out at night to be used and abused up to 30 times a night. At that moment God broke my heart for what was breaking His. I was “all in” to do whatever God called me to do. I began to search God’s heart to find my part in this horrible tragedy that I would later learn was in my own backyard. Over 27 million people are in slavery, more than any other time in history. It is a 32 billion dollar industry. So what does one women do? Can I really make a difference? Yes, one person can. God doesn’t call us to solve the whole problem but to find our part and then step out in obedience. So over 3 years ago, through a series of events, God positioned me to step into my first strip club in Tampa, Florida to minister the love of Jesus to women right where they are. That one night God would allow my heart to be broken for the women in my city that were looking for the freedom I has found in Christ. No longer could I live in my “comfortable” Christian world but was compelled to step out and do what God called her to do.
IAMFreedomGirl was birthed. God spoke to me very clearly in a church service. “I am calling you to an area of your city where strip clubs are not being reached. The name of your ministry will be IAMFreedomGirl. Your mission is to teach the truths of my word and meet the practical needs of women.” A short time later, I and my faithful friend Kirsten set out to discover 10 strip clubs in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area. We prayed over each one. God called us to 5 clubs. A team was trained, raised up, and sent out. Since then, IAMFreedomGirl has been able to minister to the women we met in the clubs in various ways including, bible studies, attending church, and meeting the practical needs of some of the precious girls God has entrusted to them. Over the last 2 1/2 years, the IAMFreedomGirl team have trained teams from other churches in the area and as of now all 10 clubs are covered and being ministered to. God is on the move in the Tampa Bay Area.
God has also placed a calling and passion to teach God’s word to girls and women. This passion came out of my own experience of going to a Community Bible Study where I realized that I could study God’s word, understand it and hear God’s voice clearly. I devoured the truths of God’s word. God began to set me free and peel back the layers on my heart. I found that God had created and called me to teach. I stepped out in faith and taught God’s word through Community Bible Study for over 9 years. I has been transformed by the power of the word and have an unstoppable passion to bring others to the knowledge that they too can study the bible and it can transform their life! God has me using my gift of teaching through retreats, conferences and through a blog on the IAMFreedomGirl website. I am available to speak at retreats and events.
I call Tampa, Fl my home with my husband, our two children and adorable little dog Chase.
I love Jesus, I also love people. My husband says that I can talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything and I pretty much agree with that. I enjoy a cup of coffee and a deep conversation. My heart is to see people grow in their faith in God and knowledge of Him.
My educational background is in Social Work and Mental Health Counseling. I was on a church staff and worked for a non-profit agency before I stepped away from a paycheck to raise my 3 children in 1997. Along with being a full time mom I always seem to find a place in ministry. I’ve been a leader in a wonderful organization called Community Bible Study since 2002 and I currently serve in my church nursery holding babies on Sunday mornings. My family and I attend church at “theChapel” in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
So, how does all that get me to a place where I helped to start a ministry like IAMFreedomGirl? God has his ways. I met Joyce Kelly in 2001 at Community Bible Study and served with her in leadership in that ministry for several years. Over the years she has become a good friend and someone I pray for as she ministers. When she talked about starting IAMFreedomGirl, naturally, I told her I would be praying for her. After more than a few conversations and lots of prayer I decided to join her on an outreach to some Tampa clubs to see what this ministry would be about. My heart was moved deeply by that experience and while I continued to pray for Joyce and IAMFreedomGirl I also felt like I was to go. I went, and I got to know some precious women, many of whom grew up in church, just like me. Many are moms, just like me. Many love coffee, just like me! Many need to know there is HOPE in Jesus, just like me. “Here I am…. Send me”. I felt a call to be a part of a growing network of women that are running in to places that were previously avoided or ignored. It’s as complicated and as simple as that.
I prayed a prayer which was taken from a sermon by Chip Ingram as we began IAMFreedomGirl, a version of it hangs on my bathroom mirror where I see it daily.
“God, give me a dislocated heart! Give me a God given concern for other people that propels me out of my comfort zone. Give me passionate concern for God’s agenda that supersedes my own desire for personal peace and prosperity.” God has answered that prayer, in many ways my heart has been “Dislocated.” I have had the opportunity to see the transforming power of God’s love at work.I have met some amazing people and seen God do amazing things…I am sure there is more to come. What a blessing it is to be a part of the IAMFreedomGirl team.
My involvement with this amazing outreach began in 2013 through the incredible vision of my dear friend and founder of FG, Joyce Kelly. She asked me to prayerfully consider becoming involved with this ministry. I would have responded with a “yes” on the spot except that I realize this ministry covers some very dark places spiritually and I wanted the confirmation that indeed God was ordaining my involvement. It didn’t take much prayer to know that God was answering me with a resounding “yes!” It has been such a rewarding experience ever since.
The outreach team visits strip clubs once a month and they never go empty handed. We believe showing the love of Christ to the dancers not only through hugs and prayer, but through tangible gifts as well. After all, who doesn’t enjoy opening a cute little present? That’s where I come in. A volunteer team gets together the week before outreach to put together 100 gifts to distribute to the dancers in the clubs. We always include a snack, a WHO I AM IN CHRIST flyer, and a small gift (nail polish, lotion, jewelry, etc.). We also create large gift baskets to leave in each of the dressing rooms so that dancers who are not there when the team goes in can enjoy some gifts as well. My job as Creative Director is to come up with ideas for these gifts and packaging every month and solicit donations from the faithful small groups and supporters of FG for the materials needed. It is amazing how God always provides in abundance everything we need.
Even though I don’t actually go into the clubs for outreach, I love those girls with all my heart. I know God has a wonderful plan for their lives outside the clubs. And I know my involvement through the simplest thing like orchestrating a frilly gift bag is extending the love of Christ to someone who needs His true love so desperately.
As the Outreach Coordinator, I help new volunteers get connected with our outreach team and find their place in the IAMFreedomGirl ministry. We have many areas where a volunteer can serve and we want to make sure you are comfortable in your role within this ministry. Not everyone is meant to go into the strip clubs so we understand if you don’t feel lead to go on outreach with us. Each role within the IAMFreedomGirl is vital and this ministry couldn’t work the way it does without all of our volunteers doing exactly what they have been called to do.
When Joyce Kelly, our founder, started sharing the vision God gave her for this ministry, I knew in my heart I was to join the ministry and help serve the women of the Tampa Bay Area. I have been going into strip clubs for three years now and you never know quite what to expect when you go out. I have come to the understanding that I am just simply to obey and go, then let God do the rest. It has become a great privilege that God allows me to be apart of IAMFreedomgirl. He has given IAMFreedomgirl the responsibility to go out to the lost and broken just to love them right where they are in their lives. God has changed me over the years and given me more understanding and compassion into the lives of the broken and lost. My heart is full of thankfulness that He has chosen us to represent His Kingdom in the strip clubs.
If you asked me to describe this ministry the one word that comes to mind is joy. This ministry is surprisingly joyful, it is hard to explain, but I feel joy every time we go out and see the girls. I am joyful for being able to witness the hope God brings through little things; hugs, prayers, gifts, baked goods, smiles, warm conversations, listening and consistency. The hope in knowing that no one is too far gone for the Lord to chase down and pursuit into the darkest places of this earth; even though He decides to use crazy church ladies going in strip clubs to do it.