Some people are called into ministry. Lisa Lundstrom was drafted. Born into the family of traveling evangelist Lowell Lundstrom, Lisa went on the road before she was a week old. By age four she was toddling out on stage to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and recite John 3:16. But as a teen who had grown tired of it all, Lisa turned her back on her parents, their ministry, and the church.
“The problem with being drafted is that you don’t have the feeling you’re called for the war that you’re in,” she explains. “There’s a tendency to go AWOL if you don’t want to be in the middle of it.”
Lisa Lundstrom became the prodigal daughter. Before her season of sin was done, she would spend nearly a decade in prostitution, at one time owning “escort” services in seven cities.
“It didn’t start out that way,” recalls Lisa. “In the beginning I had a real innocent love for God. I can’t remember just when I gave my life to God because I did it all the time. Dad would preach a really good sermon and I’d say, ‘I’m going up to make sure.’ I was born again — and again, and again.”
As a child, life on the road left Lisa very isolated. While other children were playing with friends their own age, Lisa found herself struggling to meet the expectations of church people across the nation. A feeling that she didn’t measure up to her older sister, who was thinner and more musical, left Lisa feeling empty and worthless. “By audience applause I would gauge my worth and they were saying ‘You don’t equal your sister.’ Why would I want to put my life into something I was being told I was second-best at?”
Lisa’s academic gifts were little consolation in a world that emphasized stage performance. “The problem with invisible talents is that without a forum where you can use them you tend to feel invisible yourself — invisible to God, invisible to people,” Lisa explains. “I never doubted that God existed — I doubted that He even cared who I was.”
Those thoughts of personal failure took root in Lisa, building resentment and pain in her soul. “I was gone long before I left,” she says. “I was just going through the motions. My relationship with God was just a ritual by that point.”
Lisa wound up going to Bible college at age 15. There, Lisa found other “ministry kids” who were also looking for escape. “I was never a drinker, but I liked to go out and see the bright lights,” she notes. “Suddenly I was out in a world that didn’t care who my father was or who my sister was, didn’t care if I was tone deaf or never sang a musical note again in my life. I found freedom and acceptance — what I had been longing for.”
Lisa describes herself as “an accident waiting to happen. Sometimes when you’re trying to find freedom and escape, you find denial and numbness instead. After my first year in college, I met a guy who introduced me to the lifestyle I led for nine-and-a-half years. This man fed me all of the lines I was starving to hear, all of the compliments, and I ate them up. I had been starving for affirmation. It was like oxygen to me when I was suffocating.”
She continues, “I started to develop a relationship with this guy. I was emotionally needy and latched on to somebody who wound up being very abusive and destructive. He led me into the lifestyle of prostitution. Now all of a sudden I was being told that here was a stage where I got applause for my performance, not criticism. To me that didn’t seem all bad.”
By this time, Lisa had decided that God, her family, and the Christian community had all turned their backs on her, so she embarked on a lifestyle she would have found unthinkable years earlier. “Sin will take you farther than you thought you would go, keep you longer than you thought you would stay, and before you know it, you’re doing things you never dreamed you would do,” she says.
Sin has its season, and at the beginning Lisa was happy with her new life. “But there’s a summer, a fall and a winter — spring doesn’t last forever. My spring didn’t last long. I realized that my Prince Charming was an abusive monster. I ended up in and out of emergency rooms. People wonder why a woman would allow herself to be abused, but the truth is that before the fist ever hits the face, that person is so beat up on the inside that they’re just feeling on the outside what they’ve felt on the inside for so long. You don’t know you deserve better.”
By now, her father had begun enlisting the prayers of others for his prodigal daughter. “I never imagined in a thousand nightmares that my daughter would forsake God and our family and go into that very dangerous illegal lifestyle,” he says. “It hurt so badly that I thought I would die. It was like walking around with a stomach full of Drano, eating away at me 24 hours a day. I knew she was beyond my reach, and the only way she would come back was through the mercy of God, so I asked people everywhere I would go to pray for Lisa. That’s the way I closed my services almost every night. In the end, there must have been 300,000 people praying for her.”
While many people may believe Lisa needed to be convicted of how worthless her life was, she already knew that, and knew she was headed for Hell. “God wasn’t saying ‘Look at the horrible thing you’re doing.’ That wasn’t the voice I was hearing,” she recalls. “I was hearing this still, quiet voice reaching out to me and saying, ‘Lisa, how far will you go?’ Not judgmental and harsh, but kind and sensitive. In the middle of all of the painful things that happened to me, the life-threatening situations, I heard that voice saying, ‘Lisa, how far will you go?'”
The answer was, “Pretty far.” In New Orleans, she once found herself laid out on a plastic garbage bag while a serial killer ran a knife over her body saying, “You’re going to die like all of the others.” That man wound up killing himself, and the experience helped Lisa decide to run her own agency where she could take more precautions for herself and other employees. At one time Lisa ran escort services in seven cities, mostly in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. She was arrested several times for misdemeanor prostitution, and was called before a grand jury investigating interstate prostitution rings. She never got into the drug use that drives many in the prostitution industry; her drug of choice was affirmation and success, with money merely a means of keeping score. “It was very empty,” she admits. “Dad used to say there’s an invisible line and who knows when God’s grace ends and His wrath begins. I don’t think it’s like you cross a line and God’s going to take you out, but there’s a point where He can release us to self-destruct. We don’t need God to destroy us — we can do that on our own.”
By the mid-1980s, the specter of AIDS made prostitution seem like an even riskier profession than before. Increasing tensions in the Middle East made Lisa — who grew up on pre-tribulation rapture theology — nervous. “I would sit and watch CNN and TBN, and think ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul.’ I kept hearing that voice say, ‘Lisa, how far will you go?'”
Lisa had made a habit of talking with her sister each day by phone, but now she began calling seven or eight times a day. “I said I was calling just to say hi, but I was really checking to be sure that rapture hadn’t hit,” she admits. “I decided to take a month off and visit my sister. She was never judgmental, never preached at me — just loved me.”
While staying with her sister, Lisa met a guy. “I started to develop a relationship with him, and spend a lot of time with him. I was faced with a real problem — what was I going to tell him about what I did for a living? I knew if I lied to him our relationship would be based on a lie, and the truth would eventually come out. I began to ask myself, ‘How do I want to look to him? How do I want him to see me? What value do I want to have in his life?’ I started to see myself through his eyes, and it was really enlightening. I was faced with a whole lot of reality I’d been running from for a long time.”
Though it sounds like Lisa is talking about a boyfriend, the “guy” she met was really her sister’s newborn son. “For nine months she had laid her hands on her stomach and said, ‘God, if you can use this baby to reach Lisa, please do.’ I held my little nephew in my arms and looked at myself through his eyes and thought, ‘What kind of aunt do I want to be to him?'” She knew she didn’t want her nephew to see her in prison, or dying of AIDS, or laid out in a morgue after knocking on the wrong door. “I was faced with a reality I had known all along — what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Suddenly, Lisa knew the answer to that question. “I was faced with another type of reality, another baby I had been raised singing about. That verse I used to say when I came toddling out on stage came to my mind. God so loved me that he gave his only begotten Son — a little baby — that if I would only see myself through His eyes and give my life to Him, I wouldn’t perish, but would have everlasting life. Suddenly, instead of seeing myself through the eyes of all the wrong people, I started seeing myself directly through the eyes of that baby, a baby who had said to me all of these years, ‘Lisa, how far will you go?’ A baby who loved me enough to die for me out of love. I thought about all of the pain and rejection that baby had gone through, and how aware He was of the bad circumstances of life — how He could feel my pain. This baby had paid a higher price than anyone has ever paid, and seen me with more value than could ever be rubbed out with all of the wrong things I had done. I decided to give my life back to Him. I didn’t think I was giving God much. I said, ‘God, if You can take this and do something with it, it’s Yours.”
That was five years ago. Lisa, then working in Texas, called her father and asked for help. “He dropped everything,” she recalls. “He dropped his whole schedule. I never thought he would do that. He was up by the Canadian border, and in two days he was down with me in Texas.”
Lowell Lundstrom brought his daughter home, and began rebuilding his relationship with her. Now there was no pressure to go into ministry — but ironically, Lisa began to feel an urge to help others find the peace she had found. She has begun doing speaking engagements, working with prisoners, and helping battered women. She helps out on a hotline for a ministry — and laughed when the ministry leader asked her if she minded answering phone calls late at night. She also co-hosts “Lowell Live!” a daily radio program with her father, and is writing a book about her experiences.
“God says He’ll return the years the locust has eaten,” concludes Lisa. “To me it’s a gift. It gives me back that lost time anytime I can see somebody helped or be ministered to, or some good come out of what was destructive and bad — it gives it all back to me.”
-— E.P. News