Praying with the party people in Ibiza
The clubbing capital of the world can dance to a different beat
At 2am on the crowded streets of San Antonio in Ibiza, the clubbing capital of the world, you might think you could predict the answer to the question: ‘Can I pray for you?’
Brian Heasley thought he knew. But after eight years of asking the question, he’s still surprised by what he hears.
“People would say ‘yes.’ And then they would try to shock us. They’d ask us to pray for certain parts of their body to grow longer,” he tells Eternity with a sheepish laugh over Skype. Perhaps that seemed an appropriate prayer for party-goers in Ibiza, the Spanish island renowned for hedonism, sex on the streets and freely flowing booze and drugs.
Yet, despite the jokes and plenty of flat-out rejections, Brian says in the first year he was in Ibiza, more than a thousand people said ‘yes’ to prayer.
Brian and his wife Tracey spent eight years in Ibiza, from 2005 to 2013. They felt drawn to the party island after reading in the British press articles likening Ibiza to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“We work best when we’re placed in dark environments.” – Brian Heasley
“A lot of Brits go to Ibiza on holiday. It’s kind of like the Americans’ Spring Break culture. It’s a beautiful island. But a whole bunch of people just go there to party hard and push hedonism to its limits,” says Brian.
“We were struck by that. We firmly believe that Christians need to be light in darkness. If we’re not careful, we just end up being light in light. But we work best when we’re placed in dark environments, because that’s where we get the opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”
With their two sons, Brian and Tracey moved to San Antonio with 24/7 Prayer International. For the first seven months, Brian says they just walked around the city praying. They invited groups from British churches to join them for a few weeks at a time, and in teams they would go out from midnight to 5am asking people on the streets if they would like someone to pray for them.
“We breathe God in in prayer, and then we’d breathe him out … into a world that needs him.” – Brian Heasley
Half of the group would be on the streets. And half of the group would be back in the prayer room Brian set up in the middle of the city, praying for those who were out. After an hour, the groups would swap.
“That was our rhythm. It was like breathing in, and breathing out. We breathe God in in prayer, and then we’d breathe him out in the sense of carrying his message into a world that needs him.”
One night, Brian knelt in the street and prayed with three guys on a stag night, dressed as superheroes.
“I didn’t have that image in my mind when I started in ministry, that one day I’d be kneeling for prayer with Spiderman, Batman and Superman,” he said.
“We felt like the minute someone allowed us to pray for them, they gave God a foothold in their lives.” – Tracey Heasley
Another night, Tracey found herself praying with a group of girls dressed as devils and demons.
“You know how in the Bible it warns [in Ephesians] to not give the devil a foothold in your life? We felt like the minute someone allowed us to pray for them, they gave God a foothold in their lives. Most of the time you didn’t see the results. But we believe that every time we pray, something happens. We’d go back to our prayer room in the middle of the city and pin names to the wall. We’d pray prayers like, ‘God, haunt them. Follow them around.’”
It was in Ibiza that Brian says he was convicted again of the power of prayer. But not just sitting locked away in a room. He says prayer is always about mission. “They’re intrinsically connected.”
Praying on the streets of Ibiza, they pretty much are always praying with drunken people. And Brian and Tracey realised why they were there.
“Sometimes, God says you’re the answer to your own prayer,” says Brian. “A lot of people we met were in a real mess,” says Brian. “So, we started taking people back to their hotels.”
“Would the wider community in which you are placed miss you if you disappeared tomorrow?” – Brian Heasley
Initially, that would mean putting them in Brian’s car. But a girl urinating in the back seat put an end to that. They fundraised for a van, which they nicknamed “The Vomit Van”.
“We built this reputation of being not only the people you could pray with, but the people who would help if you were in trouble. There was a growing sense of making sure that if we suddenly disappeared, the community would miss us. I think that’s a good conversation for churches generally to be having. Would the wider community in which you are placed miss you if you disappeared tomorrow?”
After eight years, Brian and Tracey had built a ministry that could be sustained without them living in Ibiza full time. They still oversee the work, but are now back in the UK, and Brian is using what he learned in Ibiza to help churches in Britain and all over the world develop a deeper prayer life.
“We invest in a lot of things: worship, music, buildings, programmes. But we don’t invest a lot in prayer. I guess we think people will catch it by some form of osmosis, that they will hear people praying and somehow get good at it. But we actually need to teach them.”
“We invest in a lot of things: worship, music, buildings … But we don’t invest a lot in prayer.” – Brian Heasley
As part of his work with 24/7 Prayer, Brian has been developing prayer courses for young people and also for prisoners. He has also been working with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace on an initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, encouraging Anglican churches in England to pray that God will send his spirit and empower churches to greater acts of evangelism.
“I can find myself now in a prison or a palace and anywhere in between, motivating and instigating prayer.”
With a title like ‘International Prayer Director’, one would hope that Brian is one of those rare people who can say with confidence, ‘I have a healthy prayer life’. And he is, though it’s taken a lot of work to get there.
“There is so much guilt around prayer. We make people feel guilty that they don’t pray enough. Look, none of us ever pray enough. But we can all pray more this week than we did last week.”
Brian says it’s very much about finding a rhythm of prayer in your own life. “You need to find a regular space. It’s a bit like in Genesis, where it talks about Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day. We need to find that space.”
He says the greatest tools for a good prayer life are control over your remote control, control over your phone and an alarm clock.
“You can paint your prayer. You can sing your prayer. You could draw your prayer.” – Brian Heasley
But to really throw people in to learn how to pray, Brian says setting up 24-hour prayer rooms in churches can be a great way of kickstarting a better prayer life. Since 24/7 Prayer International began in 1998, more than 13,000 24/7 prayer rooms have been started, on battleships in Kuwait to breweries in Missouri. People sign up to man the prayer room for an hour at a time. And churches set up the room with various zones – maps that show the locations of persecuted Christians, boards with specific prayer points for the church, songs that trigger prayers of worship and adoration.
“One of the biggest misconceptions of prayer is that it’s boring. But it doesn’t have to be. You can paint your prayer. You can sing your prayer. You could draw your prayer. Prayer can be done in many ways.”
Brian Heasley is in Australia with Alpha this month, conducting Prayer Masterclasses across the country. Find out more here.