A strip club in Las Vegas -- home office for all the sin under the sun. It's where 32-year-old Heather Veitch goes to do her job. For years, Veitch worked as a stripper at the Olympic Garden, giving lap dances for the gratification of paying customers. Now she's buying the dances, to send the strippers a message: God loves you.
"I go into a strip club," she says. "I buy a lap dance and instead of receiving the dance, I spend the time to talking to the girls about God."
Dubbed a "holy hottie" by Pat Robertson's 700 Club, Veitch has become one of America's most unlikely missionaries as she switches from soft-core to soft-sell in her efforts to help sex-industry workers find salvation. With two friends she met through the Sandals Church of Riverside, Calif., which funds her evangelism, she's in a group called "JC's Girls Girls Girls" … the "JC" standing for "Jesus Christ."
Clearly, Veitch is one believer unafraid to be a babe. "I know, realistically, people listen to me more because of the way I look," she says. "It almost lets them know oh, well, she really has been there."
Recovering From the Past
Indeed she has. For Veitch, life after sin lets her reflect on her grim past -- a downward spiral that began one day when she was walking to junior high and a male stranger offered her a ride.
"At 14, I was raped … and after that, I think it just changed me," she says. "I became very promiscuous after I was raped. I started thinking this is what makes me good: sex. This is what I can do well. I could say by 16, I was probably a sex addict."
She began as a go-go dancer, and eventually became a top-of-the-line stripper who'd give lap dances. "I would be completely nude [and] sit on a man's lap for a $20 bill as he tried to pleasure himself. … It was not fun," she says. "I had to go man to man to man to man all night long, pretty much hustling. I used to think to myself … that I … was being paid to once again be victimized."
So this single mom hatched a plan to get out. She graduated from beauty school, married her boyfriend … and started going to church: "In two weeks, we completely had turned our back on that world."
'A Judgmental Jerk for Jesus'
But with the initial fervor of her conversion, Veitch says, came an intolerant attitude. "I became a judgmental jerk for Jesus," she says with a rueful smile. "I was like, 'That's a sin, and that's a sin, and that's a sin … and I was no fun."
No fun -- and, she says now, no good for those who needed her help. It took tragedy, she says, to change her judgmental attitude … the death of a stripper she knew as "Jeanine."
Her death from alcoholism left Heather blaming herself: "I just feel so guilty for the fact that I ran away from a burning building: I escaped it, and all my friends are inside, and I didn't care," she says. "When I found out that she had passed away, I recognized that I needed to go back. Because nobody cared."
Veitch says she vowed to bring hope of a life beyond the sex industry to the people she knew so well, people like Kendra Andrews. "For a long time I thought there's no room for somebody like me in heaven," Andrews says with a laugh. "I've had a pretty creepy life. But she's helping me understand that there is."
As a child, Andrews says, she was physically and sexually abused. By the age of 18, she was in California doing hard-core porn. "After a shooting, I would go home and I would cry," she says. "I was like, 'Oh, this was too much.'"
She stopped doing porn but kept dancing and stripping in clubs. Then she met Veitch, whose understanding attitude got her to pay attention. "I've been scared off by [guffaw] some really preachy Christians." she says. After hours of conversation, she says, "Heather knew looking at me: She was like, 'You're ready, I know you're ready.'"
Veitch promises women like Andrews that if they come to church, they'll be welcomed, not judged. So…is Kendra ready to stop dancing?
"I'm ready, but I'm terrified," she says with a laugh. "For me, that's what I've known since I'm 18. It's what pays the bills. That's what provides for me. Honestly, this is maybe the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. But I'm committed to it. And I feel like it's where I'm meant to be."
Veitch agrees. "If the glutton and the cheater and the liar can all walk into church and feel comfy and have a seat," she says, "well, so can the stripper."