By Jane Rodgers/Southern Baptist TEXAN
LONGVIEW, TX (BP) — Teresa’s Club was a staple along Highway 80 for 25 years until the owner, Teresa Fears, met Jesus Christ through friendships with members of Mobberly Baptist Church.
Afterward, it was Fears’ idea to close down her adult club in Longview, Texas.
The Mobberly “church ladies,” as Teresa calls them, have changed her life. And she has changed their lives in sharing the Gospel.
Mobberly’s involvement with Fears began more than three years ago when worship team member Laney Wootten began praying about the club.
“The Lord made it clear that I was not just to pray but to do something,” Wootten said. She searched the club’s Facebook page and was surprised that the owner was a woman with a passion for helping special needs children.
Fears accepted Wootten’s friend request and the two began messaging on Facebook. Wooten, the parent of an autistic son, found common ground with Fears, who regularly volunteered at the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center for medically fragile children and youth in nearby Gladewater.
“We talked online for two weeks,” Wootten recounted. “I knew we needed to come into the club to really reach her.”
Fears was initially reluctant after visits from groups from other churches. Since she also regularly fed homeless people from the club, she asked for help with that instead.
“We said yes,” Wootten said. “We wanted Teresa to know we were validating what she was doing to help others and wanted to support her.” Wootten talked to Mobberly pastors and invited children’s minister Sharon Brooks to accompany her to Teresa’s.
“They got to be my friends,” said Fears, who has been “on her own” since age 14. “They did not automatically try to shove anything in my face.”
Wootten and Brooks began visiting Teresa’s and continued sending her messages. On Mother’s Day weekend, Fears proved unreachable on Facebook.
“We knew she was depressed and in chronic pain,” Brooks said. Armed with beans, cornbread, flowers, and a book, Wootten and Brooks went to Fears’ home for what Brooks called “our first truly meaningful spiritual conversation.”
“Teresa said later the tangible things we brought to meet her physical needs spoke to her and the fact that we went to the trouble to track her down because we were concerned,” Wootten said.
That day Fears asked why God allowed bad things to happen to children, giving Wootten an “open door” to share both the Gospel and her son’s struggles with autism.
A common place in pain
Mobberly associate pastor Gregg Zackary and his wife Tina also were instrumental in reaching Teresa. Zachary had formerly struggled with depression, so Brooks and Wootten thought he could minister to Fears alongside their outreach, which had extended to providing meals for her and the ladies who worked there before the club opened Saturday evenings.
“Before I went, I thought and prayed about it seriously.” He consulted accountability partners and other Mobberly pastors asking for prayer.
“We didn’t want anything to happen that would not glorify the Lord,” Zackary said. “My wife and I went to the club. I shared my testimony. We listened to Teresa and were heartbroken over the pain she had endured. We prayed for her.”
Wootten called Zackary’s visit “a huge turning point,” the first time a pastor had come through Teresa’s doors to offer help. The Zackarys also began messaging Fears with Scripture and biblically based questions.
The Zackarys went twice to the club before Fears started attending church at Mobberly’s satellite in Marshall and later at the Longview campus. She brought friends to church including homeless people and club workers, and was welcomed by members who had ministered to her at the club.
When kindness leads to repentance
Fears trusted Christ after meeting with Mobberly staff in August including Zackary, pastor Glynn Stone and two women’s ministry leaders.
“We listened to Teresa and invited her to share the things on her heart,” Zackary said. “Pastor Glynn and I had a chance to explain the Gospel to her.”
When Fears said her religion was “kindness,” Zackary noted that it is a character trait of God, exhibited through people controlled by His Spirit. And they discussed repentance with Zackary sharing Romans 2:4 that God’s “kindness leads us to repentance.”
“Pastor Glynn asked if Teresa was willing to be ‘all in,'” Zackary said. “That was the day she surrendered to Jesus.”
When Fears left the meeting, she posted on Facebook that she was closing the club.
“Her perspective changed totally, and she saw it as evil, not honoring to the Lord,” Zachary said. “She was not pressured. It was the Holy Spirit who convicted her.”
Love with ‘zero strings attached’
Fears has since donated the club’s furniture to a nonprofit. The “church ladies” remain her friends. Wootten’s mother teaches a Bible study in Teresa’s home, attended by many veterans of the sex industry.
Fears was baptized Dec. 4, and three women who accompanied her to the service placed their trust in Christ that day, Zackary said.
Wootten, Brooks, and Zackary agree that Fears has taught them much about reaching the lost and has yielded a network of supporters of more than 30 women.
Zackary said the church’s mission for the next 10 years is Engage 10K – “to engage 10,000 households with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, mobilizing the entire body of Christ to have relationships with people outside the walls of the church and to get to know their households.
“For Teresa, her household was really her club, the people she did life with,” Zackary said.
“We realized we had to go into the club expecting absolutely nothing,” Wootten said. “Not keeping any sort of tab on the good we were doing. We learned to come in with literally zero strings attached, out of our love for Christ. We never pressured them to make changes. We allowed the Holy Spirit to do that. We came in with truth. We looked for opportunities to speak the truth as God opened doors for us. We had to allow the Lord to work. He did more than we could have asked.”
“God led Laney to Teresa at the start of our church’s Gospel challenge,” Brooks added. “It has changed the way our church perceives evangelism.”