Salon offers religion coverage only occasionally, but sometimes its quality compensates for the lack of quantity. Kimberley Sevcik’s 5,500-word report on Christian party animals is a fine example of what Salon does best: Treating evangelical believers as an exotic species, much like a shrieking peacock.
Sevcik hits a few clunkers, such as not knowing the difference between evangelical and evangelist (“For the past decade, the evangelical movement has been attracting American students in record numbers, and a 2003 Gallup poll estimated that a hefty 46 percent of Americans consider themselves evangelists”), not recognizing “proselytizing about damnation” as a nonsensical phrase and not knowing the theological differences between a Protestant or a Jehovah’s Witness.
Taken as a whole, though, Sevcik’s article is a remarkably detailed and mildly sardonic portrait of the 24-7 prayer team, which tries to spread the gospel among the hard-partying crowd on the island of Ibiza, Spain. These earnest Christians can be easy targets: Feeling God’s call to evangelize on Ibiza sounds like feeling God’s call to evangelize among the world’s most beautiful models:
You would expect the typical evangelical Christian to be horrified by Ibiza. But the 24-7 Prayer missionaries aren’t your typical evangelicals. They tend to be pierced and tattooed, antiwar and pro-fair trade, and the minute they get off prayer duty, they put on halter tops and body glitter and wristbands and go clubbing until noon the next day. They might even have a drink or two. They don’t do drugs — which alone sets them apart from most ravers. Most eschew premarital sex, although they try not be judgmental about others’ sexual behavior. Like all missionaries, they want to be down with the people whom they’re preaching to, but in the case of 24-7, they’re not faking it. The primary difference between the average Ibiza clubber and a 24-7 missionary is what gets them off. “To know that the God who made the heavens and the earth loves me and wants to know me — that’s an amazing high that lasts much more than a few hours,” says Bruce Gardiner-Crehan, 25, a 24-7 missionary with the beatific countenance of a Caravaggio apostle. As members of a generation that came of age with house music, the 24-7 Prayer team finds it a lot easier to commune with God while dancing at a rave than while kneeling in a church, listening to an organist drone on.
But as anyone who has ever watched a street preacher during Mardi Gras could tell you, 24-hour party people are not usually known for their eagerness to hear about God. Sevcik’s narrative hits its greatest stride with these graphs:
Evangelizing among the wasted can have its benefits, though. People who might otherwise tell you to piss off are a little more open, a little friendlier. Last week, Gardiner-Crehan had one of the biggest breakthroughs of the mission at the Bull Bar. At around 1 a.m., he tried to start a conversation with a trio of brooding guys hovering over their pints. Nothing.
Within an hour, one member of the trio, Matt, sought out Gardiner-Crehan on the dance floor and greeted him like they were old buddies. “They’d taken some Ecstasy and it must have kicked in, because he became incredibly friendly,” says Gardiner-Crehan. Suddenly, no topic was off-limits: They talked about music, about school and finally, finally, about religion.
Matt must have gone back to his table raving about the second coming of Christ because the next thing Gardiner-Crehan knew, Matt’s friend Brian approached him. He wanted to let Gardiner-Crehan know that he had a bum leg and couldn’t walk properly. “I told him that I believe that Jesus can heal people,” says Gardiner-Crehan, “and I asked if I could pray for him.”
Ten minutes later, the third guy, John, took Gardiner-Crehan aside for a full-on spiritual counseling session. He told the missionary he was terrified of dying and that he couldn’t sleep. He’d been seeing a counselor for two years, but nothing helped. “By then, I was going for it,” says Gardiner-Crehan. “I said, ‘Listen: I believe Jesus can touch your life if you let him. Can I pray for you?” John was happy to submit. Afterward, Gardiner-Crehan advised John to get himself to a church as soon as he got back home. “I said, ‘You need to find some people you can talk to about Jesus.’” They all bear-hugged Gardiner-Crehan goodbye, and the next day, the three guys got on a plane back to England.
To the extent that Sevcik treats the 24-7 prayer team as something more than (in the words of Elton John) “Jesus freaks / out in the streets / handing tickets out for God,” she has done a journalistic service.