One November day in 2014, Annie E. Bullard scrolled through her social media feed when an article stopped her cold.
“I’m a Christian and I visit strip clubs,” the headline declared. Curiosity getting the better of her, she clicked on the story and began to read the surprising account of a woman involved in ministry to sex workers. She knew immediately God wanted her to be part of such an outreach.
Bullard isn’t exactly the type of person most likely to set foot in a strip club. Married with three adult children, and living in the Syracuse, New York, suburb of Baldwinsville, Bullard is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister and serves as a receptionist at Word of Life Assembly of God. But she felt certain God led her to read that article to open her eyes to a group of often-overlooked people who need to hear about the Lord’s love for them.
“They’re just living a life that needs to be redeemed,” says Bullard, 50. “The answer is Jesus.”
With the blessing of her husband, Rob, and Word of Life care pastor Randy S. Czyz, Bullard gathered a group of prayer warriors and like-minded people and created 99ONE. The ministry’s name is derived from Jesus’ parable about a shepherd leaving his flock of 99 to find and bring home the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14).
Bullard initiated the ministry almost immediately by simply packing up plates of homemade cookies and taking them to the women dancers at the strip clubs, introducing herself, and offering to pray with them.
The response stunned her. The women expressed appreciation for her loving gesture and kindness. And the owners welcomed her to return.
“We had favor from the minute we stepped onto the property,” she says.
Bullard and her team began returning monthly to the Syracuse-area strip clubs. They always go bearing gifts, simple but useful presents that remind the dancers, as well as the club owners and bouncers, that God sees them and loves them.
“It may be a change purse or flip flops,” Bullard says. “And for the bouncers and owners, it’s gift cards. But gifts come with a specific loving, biblical message for each person.”
When the “church ladies” arrive, they head back to the dressing room, where they hang out and pray with the workers. They don’t force Jesus on anyone, she explains, believing it isn’t their job to change the strippers, but rather to share God’s love with them. They spend their time chatting: about their children, or fashion and makeup, or dreams and goals. And sometimes about Jesus.
Now, nearly seven years after starting, the ministry is well-established and well-known in the five area clubs. In addition to the dressing room visits, Bullard and the 99ONE volunteers also hold semimonthly Bible studies, summer pool parties, and biannual retreats.
Former exotic dancer Misty is grateful for Bullard’s visits and prayers.
“I was in a dark place,” Misty recalls. “She looked beyond the surface, never judging anybody. I could tell she was sincere and really wanted to help me.” When Misty married in June, Bullard officiated the ceremony.
“I have a whole new life now, and she was part of making that happen,” Misty says.
Bullard, who is also a New York Ministry Network-endorsed missionary, celebrates seeing what the Holy Spirit is doing through 99ONE, but acknowledges such a ministry takes commitment and patience.
“It’s a slow process seeing the girls really begin to embrace that they are God’s kids — even if they don’t know it yet,” Bullard says.
Yet she believes it’s essential to be God’s ambassadors in such situations.
“It’s so important for us to remember how Jesus loved others,” she says. “Sometimes we can get so cleaned up, we forget the power of love. Every time I walk into a strip club and connect and pray with these girls, He reminds me of the depths He will go to reach His children.”