By AlaskaWatchman.com

Patrons of the old Fantasies on Fifth strip joint in Anchorage probably never imagined that their den of iniquity would one day be transformed into a house of God.

The story of how that happened involves an inspired Vietnamese woman, a real estate agent willing the think outside the box and a young family ready to answer a new call to ministry in Alaska.

Linda Dunegan

Linda Dunegan is the woman behind this tale of sin and redemption. An immigrant from Vietnam, the longtime Anchorage resident endured stark poverty and emigrated to the United States at age eight.

Few are more acutely aware of the degradation endured by women in Anchorage than Dunegan. Her mother danced at many of the establishments that made up Anchorage’s underworld of the 1970s – including in the old Fantasies building.

Initially built in the 1950s as the Irish Setter Lounge, the hangout was an anchor of vice, well known well in the emerging frontier town. For 20 years it was run under the Fantasies banner and ultimately closed down after being denied a liquor license renewal in 2019.

Speaking with a soft-hearted clarity, Dunegan sees God’s providential hand in the transformation of the strip club.

The sign outside Fantasies on Fifth as it appeared for many years on Anchorage’s 5th Avenue.

The building had been vacant since Fantasies closed, and local real estate agent Mike Gailey had a notion that the building could be resurrected as a spiritual home for a Christian community.

“This ought to be a church,” Gailey recalls thinking when he first toured the nearly 12,000 square foot building, flanked by industrial lots and remnants of hard-knock Anchorage.

His intuition proved somewhat prophetic.

Answering what she feels was a calling from God, Dunegan had spent five years searching and praying for a location to plant a church. One challenge, however, was finding a suitable building. Each property she viewed fell short by some critical detail – inadequate parking, cumbersome location, etc. Plus, there was no pastor to shepherd the church.

Early in 2020, Gailey was faced with an expiring real estate listing on the Fantasies building and few remaining prospects, despite his dogged attempts at marketing the site specifically to churches. It was then that he discovered Dunegan, an inspired woman and retired Lt. Col. in the Alaska Air National Guard, who had already toured the building previously.

She seemed disinterested in the site initially, and was ready to dismiss Gailey’s proposal. But then the two struck up a conversation in which they discovered a mutual doctor acquaintance. They both recalled attending an intimate dinner, 10 years earlier, hosted by the doctor and his wife in Vietnam.

Open Door Baptist Church is located in the former home of the Fantasies on Fifth strip club.

At that moment, Dunegan said she felt God’s hand. The discovery struck her as providential, and the decade-old connection served to infuse new life into the discussion about turning the old Fantasies site into a church.

“To the secular world, these are flukes,” Dunegan surmised, but she sees a thread of divine providence woven throughout their unlikely project.

Real estate listing agent Gailey agrees. He has shared the story of how he and Dunegan met with numerous people.

“Unanimously, it strikes a nerve,” he said. “I don’t cherry-pick the audience or prep them beforehand. Inevitably, for Christians, non-Christians, those who might be indifferent, each of them seems to recognize the incalculable odds of our convergence.”

Still, it the whole idea seemed a bit outlandish, but Dunegan’s long time real estate broker, Nate Baer, knows the tenacity of the little Vietnamese woman with a heart for God.

“I’ve become accustomed to the response when I inform her, ‘That can’t be done.’ “Why can’t I do that?” he recounted.

A savvy investor, Dunegan’s actuary credentials are matched by a humility and cooperative spirit with her counterparts. She deftly offers her ambition and attention to detail but doesn’t seek the limelight for herself. She never believed she was meant to be the pastor, and she defers to her husband, Gerry, to whom she credits the final decision to move forward on buying the old strip joint.

“I typically present all known financial pieces and we analyze these factors,” she explained. “We simply don’t operate on whims.”

The massive overhaul of the building was not only cosmetic and logistical, but it also included many prayers and anointings.

With the building in hand, Dunegan needed to find a pastor willing to shepherd a new flock in Anchorage. She had already called countless clergy across America to share her vision with them.

Open Door Baptist Church Pastor Kenneth Menendez pictured with his wife Lydia and their three children.

Unbeknownst to her, Kenneth and Lydia Menendez were sensing a call to uproot their comfortable life in Washington State and take a bold step to share the Gospel message at the very fringes of society.

With the comforts of corporate career, three young children, and job security even amidst the escalating madness of COVID lockdowns, they had every temporal reason to remain put. Poised to ascend the corporate ladder, Kenneth’s direct superior finally questioned him privately as they were about to leave everything behind and head north. Is this for good?

Menendez definitively left his career on little more than an emerging conviction and his wife’s blessing. They arrived in Anchorage in 2020 and the church opened late last year.

Earlier this month, the church hosted a spaghetti feed fundraiser to promote its message of forgiveness and redemption to the wider community.

Dunegan was on hand. Her crisp, youthful and energetic presence belaying her awareness of suffering. Walking through the transformed building she saw symbolic significance on each floor of the three-story property – beginning with the main lounge, which is now a sanctuary.

“As I made my way around this floor of the building, I remembered I had never been inside a bar until this – I first held a can of beer at age 42 – I paused at each and every pole,” she said of the former dancing areas.

“I contemplated the price paid by these women,” she added, “and silently apologized to my own mother for the condemnation and judgment cast upon her, from my own perspective, in my youth.”

Dunegan’s assessment is more analytical when it comes to the reasons women are trafficked or why men seek to fulfill their passions outside the bonds of matrimony.

“Only God can complete us spiritually,” she observed. “We might feed ourselves intellectually, physically or emotionally, yet come up empty where it matters. Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived; he fell to a woman. David was the strongest man – he fell to a woman. Man’s methods do not work.”

The mission of Open Door Baptist Church is now to address the deep spiritual desire among Anchorage residents. The church website states Pastor Menendez’s goal simply: “It is his hope that this new church will be a place of help and healing for many people.” The stewards of this message stand ready to preach the Gospel with inexhaustible love.

As the recent spaghetti feed wrapped up and the room emptied into a foyer with chattering social clusters, a backlit wooden cross shown over the main altar as four men sang and a fifth mopped the floor. “How Great Thou Art” rang deeply from within the transformed building of Open Door Baptist Church.

Click here for more information about Open Door Baptist Church.

Click here to support the Alaska Watchman.

Former Anchorage strip club transformed into a house of God

Tiffany Borges
Tiffany is a proud Catholic, mother and wife and a long time contributor in various media on issues of faith.


12 Comments

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    Amen

  • pj77777 says:

    Beautiful. God is great! Amen.

  • Bictoria says:

    Lovely story 🙂

  • John J. Otness says:

    501C3 PREACHERS WILL RESIDE ANYWHERE….. And on another note did you know that As Alaskan Voter roles were allowed to be hacked by the Dominion evil that at the same time Dominion was at work in Maricopa County Hacking Arizona Voter Rolls. Its all being tied into Money received from Zuckerberg that demanded compliance from those in the Govt that took the payoff. All in this State Govt knows that A foreign Govt interfered in our election . Their Oath demands of them as they swore to protect and defend our Constitution that they stand and fight….. The tucked their tails and ran….. THAT IS TREASON. Happy Mothers Day…

    • John J. Otness says:

      As a believer I pray for GODS wisdom and Understanding and with that comes a steady flow of internal revelations that at many times are very uncomfortable. The Church worldwide is being exposed as one of the most prolific abusers of Humanity hiding behind the pulpit, Do you seriously think that this real estate was all revamped due to a spaghetti feed? I would look at the investors and if Soros or one of his anti American tentacles is on it beware!!! The setting is perfect for what is known as a dispersment site for seeding illegals into a community and as the most lucrative trade the Church is full out in the open known for taking part of. Catholic services and charities receive Billions from the corrupt in Govt that are a part of the human invasion pipeline that will destroy our Nation in what is known as the Kalergi plan. Lutheran and yes Baptist and many others accept huge bucks in this destruction of our Nation. Now none of this has been documented yet on this Church but I highly recommend that citizens concerned just as when you drive by notice the clientele its the life of your City and you need to be aware. In this evil corrupt time eyes need to be open wide. Our Nation is under siege from within. Pray for wisdom and Understanding and the Devil will be revealed. We fight not against flesh and blood but against Powers and Principalities. Suit up in the Armor of GOD .

    • rules for talking says:

      I like the say, “Speak after others, always well of others, and never against others.”

  • Bill says:

    Doesn’t Anchorage, Eagle River, and the Mat Su valley have enough churches?
    I mean they are like Starbucks in the lower 48, one on every corner.
    Start Taxing the Churches, to pay for services in Anchorage.

  • more churches says:

    Bill, churches provide free pastoral counseling, foodbank, nursery, teen activities, and much more.

  • Valeria Renee Duncan says:

    I am thrilled! This is a great open door for those who are in need and hungry to know truth.

  • DB2 says:

    Dear Alaskans of Goodwill,
    Especially those who realize how blessed we are to live in such a naturally beautiful and abundant land…..please grab 2-3, 40-55 gallon trash bags and go clean up the landscape! Takers are going to take and destroy, it is up to the rest of us to care for what we have here.
    Thanks a bunch!

  • DB2 says:

    And also! God is so good! I love it when He through His bride redeem things that were once used for evil and use them for good, good, and more good!

  • more churches says:

    DB2 I agree. Let’s use what the Lord gave us for good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *