Leaving the Fragrance of Jesus
Sometimes you come across a book that stops you in your tracks and changes the way you think.
I had the experience of reading such a book in December. It was called ‘Gatecrashing.’ It was written by Brian Heasley and tells the story of 24-7 Prayer in Ibiza.
If you are not familiar with 24/7 Prayer, it’s a global prayer movement that began in 1999 with a vision to revive the church and rewire culture through non-stop prayer day and night. Thousands of communities have taken part in 24-7 prayer at various times in churches, communities and cities in over half the countries on earth.
Brian Heasley was a pastor working in a growing church in England when he and his wife, Tracey, became burdened with a call to serve the island of Ibiza. It’s renowned for its dance culture, and as a party capital of the world. There is a lot of drug misuse, prostitution and decadent behaviour and it seems a pretty unlikely place for a pastor to go to reach people for God.
There are more bars and clubs per square mile in the capital, San Antonio, than in any other place in Europe and, so, in the book, I read of the sorts of places Brian and Tracey and their team went and how they went about their work.
A key element undergirding the work was prayer, so they rented a room in San Antonio which they turned into a prayer room. It was a welcoming space where people could come to pray and encounter God through art, through music, through reading. Much of the team’s work took place at night and it centred around building relationships with people, whether they were tourists, seasonal workers in the hotels and clubs, with prostitutes and local health and hospital services.
Half the team would pray in the prayer room while the other half went out to have conversations with people, to help people who were drunk, under the influence of drugs, perhaps injured on the streets after brawls and fights or raped. They would help people find their way home to their apartment or hotel, collect them in their vehicle, affectionately known as the ‘vomit van’, as taxi drivers wouldn’t take some people under the influence, and pray with them.
They found themselves in unlikely situations, like gay bars and clubs, or offering prostitutes hand massages in their prayer room, or giving out Bibles or water to people who were looking for refreshment in all the wrong places.
They spoke about prayer walking the streets of the island longing for God to meet people there. There were incredible conversations and encounters. There were incredible experiences of people who knew nothing of God or prayer meeting Him in the most wonderful way in the prayer room and on the streets as people prayed with them or helped them through difficult situations.
Three very powerful things struck me in this short book of less than 150 pages. The first was the authenticity of Brian and Tracey and their team. They didn’t always get it right, they often found themselves in messy and bizarre situations. They needed to rely so much on God and prayer as they went about their work. There isn’t anything glamorous or romantic about people vomiting all over you, or having to clean and scrub the van so you can take your children to school in it the next morning. When people shout at you and fail to appreciate or understand what you are trying to do to assist them and keep them safe, you need a lot of love in your heart to keep at it and persevere. This was something they prayed for continually, that they would be able to see people with the eyes of God and love them with his love. Very often, when asked to speak about their work in churches, they simply broke down. They wept for the brokenness and emptiness and pain of so many people’s lives that they were trying to help.
Very often, they were conscious of sowing seeds. As they prayed with people or cleaned them up and helped them home after a mad night’s partying, this might be the only encounter they had with them. It was a great joy to occasionally hear that they had gone home and met other Christians and got baptised or came to faith. It didn’t happen much, but they were prepared to keep loving and serving even if one person found the love of God.
One of the many powerful takeaways from this little book was the sense that these people and this ministry left the fragrance of Jesus wherever they went. People noticed when they weren’t on the streets. Bar owners often called them to help people home, prostitutes felt safe at their worship services, or parents sometimes got in touch to thank them for getting their children back to an apartment or hotel. As they mopped up the sick, or put plasters on the cuts, or gave out water, or prayed God’s blessing on so many over the years, they left the fragrance of Jesus wherever they went.
Are there ways as a church we might do the same? Can we reach out to the lonely and bewildered in our community, those carrying heavy burdens of caring responsibilities, those who for all sorts of reasons feel fearful and anxious? Can we go beyond our walls to pray and befriend and ask God to show us where we might be any use?
Could I ask you to hold in prayer Nicholas McDowell and his family after the death of his Dad, Brian, on New Year’s Day? Details of the funeral service will become available soon.
Can we pray, too, for our Radio Ulster broadcast on Sunday 14th January at 10.03am. It’s a great opportunity to share our worship with a large congregation in homes around the country and further afield.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2024 and look forward to speaking again soon.
Much love to everyone,
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