Christian party animals

Evangelizing to the young and wasted in party centers around the globe, members of the 24-7 Prayer team hope to bring Jesus to the raving, godless masses.

Published December 10, 2004 2:36PM (EST)

By their eighth night in the West End, Ibiza's low-rent nightlife district, the members of the 24-7 Prayer team don't flinch at anything they see: not at the woman lifting her skirt to ask a group of men what color panties she's wearing; not at the guy with papier-mâché breasts strapped around his waist, standing beside a sign that says "Dexter has the clap"; not at the guy mooning the girl who just spurned his advances, or the one across the street, pulling his dick out of his pants and flopping it on the table for the viewing pleasure of two horrified, delighted young blonds.

They press through the crowds, four sober people among the drunken masses, looking for openings: a friendly face who wouldn't mind a little unsolicited conversation; a swerving body that could use a steady arm to help it home. The bar promoters are the easiest ones to approach. They'll talk to anyone -- most of them work on commission, and every conversation is a potential sale.

A guy with spiky blond hair in a "FCUK" T-shirt calls out to two of the missionaries, Lorraine Joslin and Charli Franklin. "Hey ladies, what you doing later? Stop by for a drink?"

"Sorry, we're not drinking tonight," says Franklin, a throaty-voiced 21-year-old with a tiny rhinestone stud in her nose. This elicits protests and confusion from the tout.

"We're praying," she says.

He looks even more confused.

Franklin and Joslin introduce themselves, and so does he. His name is Mark. "Is there anything we can pray about for you, Mark?" Joslin asks. She's 23, a witty brunet with Cleopatra eyes who gets a kick out of belching in people's faces.

He thinks for a minute, then grins. "Yeah," he says. "Pray that I live until September."

"All right," Joslin says. She sounds a little uncertain. "What makes you think you won't make it until September?"

"I'll probably die from all the drugs I'm doing." He turns toward another group of women, stuttering past on high heels. "Ladies, can I interest you in a drink tonight?"

The missionaries are headed for the Bull Bar, a sour-smelling grotto with a reflex tester on the bar that rewards low scorers with a free drink. The Bull Bar serves as the base of operations for the 24-7 Prayer team on Tuesday and Friday nights. While 24-7's very own DJ, 21-year-old Matt Riley, mixes acid-house music for a crowd that would rather be gyrating to Beyonce, the rest of the team passes out free fruit to patrons. As they see it, handing out fruit is a way of doing something generous in a place where most people are bent on maximizing their own pleasure. It's also a way of warming people up to talk about Jesus.

Riley has been DJing since age 15, when he took a workshop with a Christian youth group. He was hooked from Day 1. He felt as if God had ordained him to DJ, to lead worship through the decks. There was only one problem: Becoming a good DJ required hours of practice, and hours of practice required buying his own decks. But decks cost about 800 pounds each, and 15-year-old Riley didn't have that kind of money in his piggy bank. He wrote to church members and family friends saying, "I'm really feeling this is from God, and to get good at this, I have to get my own decks." Within a couple of months, he had 1,000 pounds in donations. "It was good," says Riley, "because they weren't really my decks, were they? They were God's. So I had to come through for him."

The Bull Bar isn't exactly a dream gig for a DJ looking to build a career. But Riley, who runs a popular club night called Rubik's Kube back home in the U.K., says he's not playing at the Bull Bar to advance his reputation. "There's a need for 24-7 in the West End," he says. "If Jesus were in Ibiza, he'd be at the Bull Bar."

Ibiza, an island off the eastern coast of Spain, is known as the clubbing capital of the world, a place that's fueled by the kind of unabashed hedonism that characterized New York's Studio 54 in its heyday. Its excesses are legendary: the orgies on the yachts that cruise the harbor, the club owners who conceived their first child during a live sex show before 12,000 people. Club kids, models and playboys come to Ibiza to breathe the same air as Paris Hilton and dance at the altars of DJs like Pete Tong and Roger Sanchez, jacked up on half a gram of coke or a hit of Ecstasy or both. Around 6 a.m., everyone cabs over to a day rave, where, jacked up on another half-gram of coke or hit of Ecstasy, they continue to dance until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, then pass out on the beach for a few hours before doing the whole thing again.

Across town, in the West End, soccer hooligans and construction workers spend their evenings downing pitchers of Sex on the Beach, gawking at the abundance of cleavage on display, making clumsy attempts to appropriate it for the night, then staggering home alone, only to wake up face down in a gutter.

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.

It's not that the 24-7 missionaries don't see the devil lurking in Ibiza. They know he's there. And they plan to do something about it -- by bringing God into the clubs with them so other ravers can feel his presence, too. As born-again Christians, they view the whole world as a battleground between God and Satan; but in Ibiza, the struggle is concentrated. Their role, as they see it, is to wrest the island from Satan's clutches and help deposit it safely back in God's hands. "Ibiza offers a drug option, a sex option, a clubbing option -- everything but a God option," says Vicky Ward, 30, who came to Ibiza with 24-7's first mission team five years ago. "I'd like to think if we gave people that option, some of them would choose it."

24-7 Prayer's mission to Ibiza grew out of a prayer movement that was itself inspired by rave culture. The movement was launched in 1999 as an around-the-clock worship session in a warehouse in southern England, with Moby playing on a boombox and 22-year-olds showing up at 3 a.m. to dance and pray and shout out to God. The intention was to pray in shifts all day, every day, for a month; it went on for almost four. Today there are prayer rooms in 55 countries, including 130 in the United States.

"We had a sense that people would be more excited about praying at 3 a.m. on a Thursday than they would at 11 a.m. on a Sunday," says Pete Greig, the 35-year-old pastor who helped found the 24-7 Prayer movement. "Young people are drawn to extremes." Greig himself isn't a raver -- he's a family man, vaguely bookish in his wire-rimmed glasses and oxford shirts. But he's savvy enough to know that he's not going to get the next generation excited about Jesus by throwing mixers in the church basement. He and his 24-7 colleagues are doing their best to make Jesus relevant, whether through trendy gear (dog tags and hoodies inscribed with fragments of Scripture) or seminars offering tips for praying online and missions to what Greig calls the "high places of youth culture." For the past five years, 24-7 missionaries have been taking the gospel to skate parks and music festivals in the U.K., as well to party destinations around the world such as Puerto Escondido, Mexico, a surfing and 'shrooming mecca, and Ayia Napa, Cyprus, the hip-hop fan's version of Ibiza.

In August, Greig embarked on his own mission: He moved his family of four from England to Kansas City, Kan., to set up a 24-7 Prayer base in the United States, where he will doubtless find fertile ground. 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 evangelicals.

For the moment, though, 24-7 is primarily a European movement -- which may be why its form of evangelism seems looser than the Ashcroftian brand that winces at topless statues. Of the two dozen 24-7 missionaries who traveled to Ibiza this summer, only two were American: Heather and Jonah Bailey, a young married couple who provide moral support and guidance to the prayer teams. Even they don't fall cleanly under the umbrella of U.S. evangelicalism. They hail from Bakersfield, Calif., but they live in Seville, Spain; and they're vehemently anti-George W. Bush.

Dismayed by Christianity's diminishing influence in the postmodern world, 24-7 dreams of sparking a worldwide revival among the generation that is coming of age. Its goal: to turn the tide in youth culture from what Greig calls a "godless, materialistic, self-destructive force" to a generation that loves and worships Jesus. "For centuries, Christians were among the major architects of culture," Greig reminded 100 members of his flock at 24-7's annual conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in September 2003. "Today," he challenges, "are we even on the map?"

This year, 24-7 Prayer has sent two types of prayer teams to Ibiza. Short-term teams come for two weeks, and they take the blitzkrieg approach to evangelism -- strolling up to drunken strangers in the West End and offering to pray for them. Long-term team members settle in Ibiza for the whole summer, and they're less direct about their intentions. Their approach seems inspired by a bit of Scripture from Matthew, found on the last page of the 24-7 Prayer Manual that all missionaries are encouraged to read. "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves," it says. "Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." The teams infiltrate the community, working as club promoters and waitresses, initiating friendships and doing good deeds. Eventually, they hope, they'll find an opportunity to slip in a few words about Jesus.

"Telling people right away that you're here on mission can impede friendships," says Ward, "because as soon as you say that, people begin to worry that you're going to start preaching to them, or to wonder what your ulterior motive is. But the people we're friends with know that's not what we're about." She smiles slyly. "Not always."

When the prayer team reaches the Bull Bar, the rest of the 24-7 missionaries are milling around outside, looking dejected. They've just gotten some bad news: DJ Riley has been sacked, and the fruit handout is off. Business has been flagging, so the 25-year-old Czech woman who manages the bar has come up with a new marketing strategy: She'll be replacing Riley's house music with the kind of cheesy '80s hits that inspire inebriated people to dance. From now on, touts will offer a free drink to any woman who comes in and dances.

Ejected from their base of operations, the prayer team trudges down the West End's sticky cobblestone street to a fountain where a trio of musicians is playing jaunty Balearic folk music. They form a prayer huddle and ask God for some advice. Gardiner-Crehan wonders if they should just give up. "It's OK if that's what you want, Lord, it's really cool." Twenty-two-year-old Katie Crossley asks God to bind up the demons in the Bull Bar, to foil their plans to boost business by selling sex. Joslin tries to think positive: "I'm sure you're up to something cool behind the scenes, God, something that we just can't see." She seems less dismayed than the rest of the group. Dismayed isn't her style. She has a mercurial, "wildest girl at the party" energy about her, anchored in a rigorous morality. Her mother was a "Ban the Bomb" hippie. She was also a devout Christian who forbade Joslin to wear a bikini.

After about 20 minutes of pleading and questioning and praising, the prayer team is rejuvenated. They set out again, striding purposefully up the West End's main drag. At the top of the hill, where the herds of partyers begin to thin out, they run into Gary.

Before setting out that night, the team made lists of people they'd met previously in the West End whom they hoped to encounter: These are their salvation prospects, their unwitting partners in a sort of spiritual buddy system. At the top of Gardiner-Crehan's list was Gary. He's a tout for one of the trendy clubs in Ibiza Town, and he's handsome the way a Ken doll is: well-groomed hair, clean Aryan features. Gardiner-Crehan asks if there's anything he can pray about for him. Gary shakes his head, polite but reticent. "Don't think so. It's all good, thanks." But Gardiner-Crehan isn't giving up. "Anything I can get you to help your night go better? You need an ice cream, something, to keep up your energy?"

Gary looks surprised. "Sure, man, that'd be cool."

Heading back down the hill in search of ice cream, they spot another salvation prospect. Jonney Silvester, 22, is standing in front of Ground Zero, the rock club where he works as a promoter. His dark hair is scraped back in a ponytail, his nails are painted black, and he has a serious eyebrow piercing. Silvester's name cropped up on a couple of people's prayer rosters. Franklin had him on her list. So did a guy named Tom Godec, a soft-spoken 21-year-old with the icy good looks of a Calvin Klein model: shaved head, searing blue eyes, silver stud in his chin. "The first time I talked to Jonney, it was a bit intimidating," says Godec, "because he looks like quite a hard guy. But he's very open. We've had some good talks about religion."

Godec is relatively new to Christianity, and he still seems slightly self-conscious talking about it. He tends to use a lot of qualifiers. Godec found Jesus at age 17, after a girlfriend broke his heart. "This is kind of embarrassing," he says, "but I was so lonely I asked my mom to sleep in my room for three nights." Picking up on Godec's despair, a friend invited him to go to church with him. He said it might lift Godec's spirits. He was right. "People at the church nurtured me for who I am," he says. "It sounds cheesy, but it's the truth."

Franklin and Godec aren't sure Silvester is ready to be prayed for, so when they see him, they keep the conversation light and nonthreatening: They ask him how his night is going and what he's doing when he gets off work. "We don't want to do cold-calling evangelism," says Godec. "We try to meet people where they're at."

The missionaries know that proselytizing about damnation is no way to make friends and influence people -- particularly since their audience has come to Ibiza to indulge in carnal pleasures. Better, then, to ease people in by emphasizing the altruistic side of their work. When asked what they do, the 24-7 missionaries generally tell people that they're with a Christian charity that cleans beaches, that sort of thing. If the listener asks more questions, he or she will get more answers. Most don't. A lot of bar promoters in the West End think of 24-7 as a bunch of nice Christian kids who hand out fruit, nothing more.

Giving away prayer and refreshments may not be the fast track to winning converts, but it seems to move things along. By the end of the prayer walk, Gary has invited Gardiner-Crehan to go with him to a club promoters party later that week, and a tout named Simba has offered to help him clean the beach.

The other missionaries aren't quite as fortunate. They weave through the crowds in groups of two, asking to pray for one bar promoter after another, most of whom are already trashed by midnight. They talk to Simon, who says it's too late for prayers because he's already broken every one of the Ten Commandments; to Rupert, who forms a crucifix with his index fingers to ward them off; and to Claire, a diminutive blond in taxicab yellow pumps. One of the missionaries asks if she can pray for her, and Claire says, "What a nice question." For a moment, it seems as if Claire might cry. Then she says, "Can you pray that I find 1,000 pounds?"

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.

Among his peers, Gardiner-Crehan is known as a crack evangelist. His tremulous excitement about his faith seems to transcend any self-consciousness he might have about spreading the Word. Where some of the other missionaries are fettered by inhibition from time to time ("Hey, we like to look cool, too," says Franklin), Gardiner-Crehan is irrepressible: He doesn't seem to think twice about approaching the fiercest-looking person in the West End and offering up a prayer. Of course, he's hardly an amateur when it comes to evangelizing. Born into the charismatic church, and educated at Bible college, Gardiner-Crehan went on his first mission at age 16. Ibiza is his fifteenth.

Still, he feels a bit frustrated at having only two weeks in Ibiza. He'd like to move beyond a few powerful prayers. He'd like to have his own Andres Isea story.

Isea is 24-7's trophy boy, the mission's one bona fide convert. After four years of cleaning beaches and massaging strangers' feet and escorting drunken people to their hotels, the 24-7 missionaries finally reaped a little harvest this year.

Restless and itching to see the world, Isea left his native Venezuela at 18 and has been living in Spain ever since, scraping together a living, bouncing from one wretched apartment to the next, with intermittent periods living on the street. Isea is the kind of guy that backpacker chicks go crazy for. There is something raw and untamed about him: His hair is wild and full, his nose is pierced, and he wears a string of puka shells around his neck and the laces of his trainers untied. The church he attends is constantly harassing him to cut his hair and take out his piercings, but he refuses. "I'll do it when God tells me to," he says. "Not before."

When the 24-7 prayer team met Isea last summer, he was living in a squat, shilling for the Bull Bar and dealing drugs. He was doing a lot of drugs, too -- popping pills, smoking pot, and snorting coke. "I was really disappointed with myself," says Isea. "I'd left Venezuela because I wanted to avoid all that."

Isea was disarmed by the 24-7 missionaries. They weren't like the other Christians he'd met, who were quick to judge him. "The more bad stuff they saw me do, the closer they got to me," he says. "If I was drugged up, they would grab me, put their hands on my head and pray for me."

Before leaving Ibiza, three members of the prayer team invited Isea to a cafe to talk about God. One of them felt he was getting a prophetic word from God for Isea, and he passed it along: God wanted Isea to know that he was his son, and that he was pleased with him and loved him. "To be honest," Isea says, "I wasn't sure if it was God or that guy who was speaking, but it was stuff I needed to hear." Isea broke down crying and, to the surprise of the tourists sipping cappuccinos around him, yelled out, "I need you, God!"

For a couple of months after the 24-7 team left, Isea tried to hang out with churchgoing folks and stay straight, but life kept getting in the way. He lost his job at the Bull Bar. His roommate was shot to death while on holiday in Switzerland. He thought about giving up the whole Christian thing, about going to the Canary Islands and giving himself over to partying again. But he decided to give God one last chance. "I made a deal with God; I said: God, I'll stay in Ibiza, and do the best I can to seek you, but you've got to take care of me."

God came through. Within a couple of weeks, Isea got a job as a stripper one night a week. He earned about $50 a week, barely enough to live on, but it left him plenty of time to pray and read the Bible. He began going to church again, and a 24-7 missionary named Tim Hirst continued to e-mail him, encouraging him to stay the course.

When Hirst returned to Ibiza this summer and called Isea, the first thing Isea wanted to do was pray together. Hirst was thrilled. Now instead of hanging out at the Bull Bar, they hang out at the prayer room that 24-7 has established, sitting on the floor with their arms around each other and a Bible between them.

There are Christians who look at the 24-7 missionaries and say what they are doing is ungodly, even dangerous. "Dressing up sexy and going out dancing -- what kind of example are you setting?" they say. "You look just like the rest of the sinners." In the 24-7 prayer room, Ward met an older man one afternoon who thought she should be wearing a hair shirt. "Can you imagine?" she says. She considers it for a minute. "Actually, it might be a scream."

Yet image consciousness is a question that 24-7 missionaries themselves have wrestled with. Twenty-five-year-old Lora Thomson, a long-term team member from Edinburgh, Scotland, who looks like she could be fronting an indie rock band, with her stubby pigtails and silver nose ring, used to believe that being a good Christian meant renouncing her trendy look and her passion for clubbing. "I thought I would have to be single forever and live in Africa and wear unflattering tops. I was totally not up for it." To prove her devotion, however, she decided to succumb. First she stopped buying music. Then she vowed to stop clubbing. But the biggest challenge was taking out her piercings. In the middle of a Christian students meeting, she heard God command her to take out first her nose ring, then her navel ring. When he told her to take out her five earrings, though, she put up a fight. "I said, 'This is getting ridiculous, God. Everybody has pierced ears.'" But God wasn't letting her off the hook. "Take them out," she heard him say. "Your identity is in me, not in what you wear." When it was over, she looked at the jewelry in her hand and burst into tears. "I couldn't believe I had been deriving all of my self-confidence from this little pile of metal."

Four years later, her nose ring safely back in place, Thomson no longer feels as if she's compromising her faith by looking trendy. "If you're willing to sacrifice something, God will always give it back to you," she says. Thanks to 24-7, she now sees that clubbing and Christianity are compatible, even complementary. "When I go clubbing, I know God is there, and I try to work with him, to keep him company," she says. "I can sense the pain of the people dancing around me, and I pray for them." Occasionally, however, she'll be in a club, and she won't feel God in the atmosphere at all. That worries her. "If God isn't there," she says, "it means his opposite is. The devil."

That's what the prayer team sensed one night when they went dancing at El Divino, a sprawling club on the Ibiza harbor, where VIP clients cruise up to the door in their yachts.

The music felt dark, oppressive. Women were gyrating and thrusting and running their hands over their bodies, and men were lapping it up. To combat that, Ward split up the prayer team into two groups, and they all prayed for God to make his presence felt. Joslin waved her hand over the crowd. Ward closed her eyes and opened her palms to the sky. Most of the prayer team members just seemed to be dancing, though. To the naked eye, they looked like any other clubber in the room, lost in the music and the darkness and the confusion of flickering lights.

Twenty minutes into their prayer session, the tenor of the music began to shift. The missionaries thought it sounded lighter, more joyous. OK, they conceded, it might have had something to do with the change of DJ. But what about that line she sampled from the Hallelujah Chorus, "King of kings, and Lord of lords," looping it over and over? If that wasn't a sign that God was in the house, they didn't know what was.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

The evening of the short-term team's final prayer walk, the prayer room is on fire. Exultant worship music plays on the boombox. Joslin lies on the floor, pounding it with her fists. In the corner, Gardiner-Crehan is having a fervent one-on-one with God. The walls are covered in prophetic paintings that the team has made over the week, depicting what they believe God wants for Ibiza. One is an oceanic swirl of blue and green. Another portrays revelers in the West End leaping joyously from cages.

The missionaries have a goal tonight: They want to tell everyone they've been praying for that they're not just a bunch of nice people who give out fruit. They want to tell them that they came to Ibiza because of Jesus. It's their last night. They have nothing to lose.

That said, giving out fruit is a great way to start a conversation, and they still have loads of it left over from the other night, when they were banned from the Bull Bar. They stroll through the West End like Earth-bound flight attendants, plastic trays poised on their hands, asking, again and again, "Free fruit? You like some fruit?" Some people look at them suspiciously. But most grab at it, taking three, four pieces, shoving them ravenously into their mouths. "There isn't any vodka in it," they mumble to one another, disappointed.

Gardiner-Crehan is standing near the corner where he last saw Gary, scanning the street anxiously. "I really hope to see Gary tonight," he says. "I want to tell him that I'm here because Jesus died for our sins. That's why I gave him the ice cream." He flashes a smile at one of the touts from the Bull Bar, offering her a candy heart that says, "You're Fab," but his trademark enthusiasm seems to be flagging. Gary is nowhere in sight. Neither is Simba, the guy who offered to clean the beaches two nights ago.

Silvester is out, though, loping around in front of Ground Zero in a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, occasionally shouting out, "Rock and full, mother fuckers!" to passersby. Godec strolls down the hill to say goodbye and tell him that the prayer team is leaving the next day. "That's too bad," Silvester says. "Yeah," Godec says. They're both quiet for a minute. Then, before he can think about it too much, Godec takes the plunge. He tells Silvester that God loves him.

"I know it sounds kind of cheesy," Godec says, when he recalls the conversation later, at a place called the Beaver Bar, where two fellow missionaries are sharing a farewell shot of Sprite with their favorite bartender. "But it was really important to me that he hear that before I left." I ask him how Silvester reacted. "Well, he didn't scowl. But he didn't give his life to Jesus or anything."

For the rest of the missionaries, however, the final prayer walk is a bit of a letdown. There are no prophetic words from God that night, no moving prayer requests. There is nothing to do but change out of their 24-7 T-shirts and into their rave gear and go clubbing.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

A couple of days after the short-term team leaves, I visit Silvester in the sock-strewn apartment he shares with two roommates over Ground Zero. It's 7 p.m. He has just woken up and pulled on a pair of jeans, but his shirt is off and he has a bar code tattooed on his back, with the word "Rejected" underneath. On either side of it, riding the swell of his deltoids, are two black angel wings.

As it turns out, Silvester knows a thing or two about Christianity. He was raised a Jehovah's Witness. It was a miserable experience. Forbidden from hanging out with outsiders, he found himself virtually friendless. At 17, he finally wrote his parents a letter telling them he was leaving the faith, and their house. Needless to say, he's not very big on religion.

"But I really liked the prayer guys," he says. "They were always sober, and they seemed to care about other people. They were like an oasis of sanity on the craziest street in the world."

I ask him how he felt when Godec told him that God loved him, and he laughs, a low-pitched ha-ha-ha, each syllable distinct. "I don't know," he says. "It's a nice thought, but I don't really believe in God." Over his head is a poster of flames shooting up from the earth, the word "Lucifer" floating above them; across from that, a drawing of a winking skull reads, "Freedom From Slavery." So it doesn't bother him that they want to convert him? He laughs again, and takes a drag of his hand-rolled cigarette. "Not at all," he says. "I don't think it will work. But I won't hold it against them."

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

By Kimberley Sevcik

Kimberley Sevcik is a contributing writer for Rolling Stone. She has also written for the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Elle and Travel & Leisure.

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