6:30 a.m. You’re packed in with two hundred people who love the music as much as you do, dancing to the same beat. DJ Marcos Cruz is blasting through the speakers that surround the dance floor. Bass thunders through the whole place. You love not only the songs the DJ is playing but also the way he mixes them together. Ingenious, subtle, and smooth. It’s only natural that you want to dance. You become a little annoyed as the dance floor fills and the concept of personal space ceases to exist. It’s dark, and you’re pushed up against the strangers behind you. A girl trying to get to the bathroom crushes your foot with her high heel and doesn’t notice. You get nervous that someone is going to accidentally singe your arm with their cigarette like last week, or burn a hole in your sweater like last month. After all, it is early morning, the most crowded time, when the most intense music is played.
People are partying like there’s no tomorrow—but, actually, it is already tomorrow. The sun is starting to come up outside. You yell a comment about the music to one of your friends, but you can’t hear his response. You look around you. One of your friends pours her smuggled bottle of whiskey into her drink to save money. A couple of your friends split an ecstasy pill in half to share. Another two go outside to snort coke again. Others take amphetamines to keep going.
By this time of the night, the drugs have taken their full effect, and you are the only sober one there. People who were previously standing still are now dancing. They begin to stutter, stumble, sweat. Some have become friendlier, more open and honest. Others withdraw into their own worlds, eyes glazed over or half-closed. You debate whether or not to talk to your friend Ignacio who is next to you, since you know from experience that he probably won’t remember half of the conversation.
Although you worry about your friends’ health at times, it’s not hard to look past all the substance abuse to the people. They are, after all, your friends. They’re wonderful people, and you love and accept them the way they are. You continue to enjoy the night without and in spite of the drugs, soaking up the music and ambience, enjoying friends, and dancing. The music feels like a sweet taste of heaven. There’s no place you would rather be, not only because you love it, but also because you know that this is the world God has called you to be a part of: the nightclubs in Southern Spain.
I want to see the nightclubs in my city transformed for the glory of God. When people ask, “Why nightclubs?” I say, “Why not nightclubs?” Clubbers, people who go to nightclubs regularly, make up their own subculture, defined by their musical tastes and lifestyles. Just as Jesus hung out in gathering places, talking with all sorts of people, even tax-collectors and prostitutes, I believe he would hang out in a nightclub today.
I’m a deliberate clubber on a long-term mission. Music and dancing are great, but in the end, it’s all about the people. I want to show the people around me the kind of love that Jesus lived and taught. But people don’t go clubbing to make friends; they just go to have a good time. So it has been a long, slow, and often disappointing, process. It’s easy to strike up random conversations with different people every weekend but difficult to find a consistent group of Spaniards that I can get to know well. I had to reach out to many people before finding the friends that I have now.
God has been gracious in hastening the process. It has taken me only one year to find these friends, and the landlord of my apartment turned out to be an ex-DJ. Once, I got a phone call from one of my favorite DJs two days after a party, telling me that he couldn’t stop thinking about a few comments I had made about the Christian community I am a part of and that he wanted to partner with us to reach the poor. God is consistently answering prayers.
Still, there are no quick results. Relationships take time, and I want to make life-long friendships. Time is an investment that we give to other people. In Spain, the way to gain people’s trust is through spending a lot of time with them. I’m not shy in a nightclub, but I spent at least 25 hours with some of my current friends before they spoke their first sentence to me. In the world of clubbing, you bond through dancing and appreciating the music together. It’s a universal, yet unspoken, language.
A more immediate way to meet people and build relationships is through DJing. The world of DJs is an exclusive subculture within a subculture, and as with clubbing in general, music is a means, not the end. DJing is a way to relate to people who have their own language and jargon. I want to be a positive influence and blessing to the people in clubs, and I wouldn’t have been able to connect with the DJs that I know, were it not for this shared medium. DJs are also, in a sense, worship leaders who affect the spiritual realm. They determine the ambience, influence the crowds. They control the ebbs and flows, the highs and lulls. People look to DJs to guide them through the night, and famous DJs are literally idols. As a DJ, I can use my gift to worship God. I believe the spiritual realm is radically affected when the DJ is a Christian. I don’t intend to change people by playing “Christian” music; I intend to change the unseen through who I am, a follower of Jesus.
Nightclub ministry can be summed up in one sentence: get yourself out there and stay there, no matter what. It’s necessary to be consistent in getting out there, even on the nights you’d rather go to bed. But trying too hard isn’t a good idea either, because it makes going out with your friends a burden. Clubbing and DJing are intense and time-consuming, and to prevent burn-out I have to take breaks. When your passion is your ministry, the very thing you love can also drive you crazy. But it’s so richly rewarding and deeply satisfying. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.When your passion is your ministry, the very thing you love can also drive you crazy. Click To Tweet
In a city where many foreigners come and go as tourists or students who don’t get to know or respect the culture, the locals here are genuinely touched when someone takes the time to understand them and wants to stay. A guy once told me, “I appreciate that you’ve stayed around long enough to really understand our culture, because most foreigners don’t.” Since many traditional Southern Spaniards have never departed from a 60-mile radius of their hometown, they haven’t had much contact with people of other colors, cultures, and countries, and the little they see or hear in movies and the media is often negative. Plus, Spaniards are naturally proud of their own culture and closed to outsiders. All this makes it difficult to integrate yourself into the culture.
Take my clubbing friends. Here is a group of intimate friends who grew up in the same neighborhood and have known each other for 15 years. Then I come along, an outsider, and they don’t know what to make of me. In general, I’m not exactly welcomed with open arms. I often find myself in a circle of people talking to each other as if I wasn’t there. They’re not trying to be exclusive or pretentious. They just don’t know what to do with a foreign newcomer. It’s not like we come around very often. There’s no reason for them to feel that they need my friendship, and it’s hard for them to understand why I would want to be friends with them, especially when I don’t do drugs. I want to be friends with the people I meet in clubs because I care about them like Jesus does, but from their perspective this must be a bit perplexing.
During those awkward nights when no one talks to me, I persevere in the uncomfortable because I know that my presence speaks words. I’m often ignored, but I am never unnoticed. When people see me sticking around weekend after weekend, I become a familiar face, and that’s when they start smiling when they see me, when they start to open up to me, when conversations go beyond the typical, “Where’re you from?” and “Are you studying here?” This is the point where real relationships begin.
I’m a Christian, and I’m a clubber. A part of me comes out and flourishes in a nightclub, where I feel the freest to be the person God created me to be. When you love the music and dancing as much as everyone else, it shows. I’m not out there just to have fun, but I do have fun because it’s what I love. When “going out” is also your work, it’s a challenge to know how to balance ministry and leisure. It is nearly impossible for me to separate the two, but maybe it isn’t necessary. I cannot separate being a Christian and being a clubber. I am both.
But the truth is, no one there knows I’m a Christian—at least not yet. That’s partly because it hasn’t come up, partly because it’s not time, and partly because of the erroneous ideas in Spain of what a Christian is. Here, the concept of Christianity revolves around ornate crucifixes and statues of Mary, superstitions, and a multitude of confusing or irrelevant traditions and rules. I want the people who know me well to one day find out what I really believe as a Christian, correcting these misconceptions. At this time, though, overtly sharing my faith could be inappropriate and even detrimental to my goal of revealing God’s love. So, I work undercover, praying for the friends God has given me, trying to be Jesus to them, and waiting for opportunities to arise.
In the beginning, I expected that God would bring me another Christian to go clubbing with on a consistent basis. One year later, that still hasn’t happened, but there are advantages to going out alone. Being an individual, female, and Asian makes it easier to get into the places I want to reach—and easier for people to approach me and incorporate me into their groups. I’ve prayed and thought a lot about taking teams into the clubs here, since it sounds like the thing that I “should be” doing. But to be realistic, it would be nearly impossible for a group of foreigners to assimilate into a circle of Spaniards. Instead, I’ve been tremendously blessed by my community here, who pray for me when I am out. They are “the team.” We cannot all enter the club scene, nor is it necessary. God hears every single prayer, and this is the most important thing.
The best way to change anything is through prayer, and since night clubs are huge and impersonal, prayer plays an especially key role in nightclub ministry. You don’t have to be there to make a difference; you can pray for entire clubs in general, or for specific individuals, as you would pray for a friend. I pray that God will reveal himself to the people in these places and that they will come to know God. It doesn’t matter what state people are in. I know that God is bigger than any substance they are taking. I’m not condoning drug use, but God can speak through and use anything. I have a friend in Spain who became a Christian after God used his drug use to convict him of his need for God.
Not only is there plenty to pray about, there’s plenty to praise God for in a nightclub. I see beauty in nightclubs. Hearing great music makes me want to worship God as the Creator of all good things. If the created music is so wonderful, how much more wondrous must the Creator be! I worship, acknowledge, and praise God’s name in a place where it is not normally lifted up, and I dream of seeing others also celebrating God in nightclubs. The many good things there are from God: music, dancing, friendship. My prayer is that people will recognize that.
In fact, if God hadn’t specifically called me to this scene, I wouldn’t be going clubbing on a nearly weekly basis either. This ministry is not for everyone. Clubbing for one night actually takes up to three days. In order to pull an all-nighter dancing and without drugs, I have to keep Fridays work-free and stay off my feet as much as possible. I even have a special stool I use for DJ practice so that I don’t have to stand unnecessarily. And then there is a subsequent day of recovery.
It’s 9 a.m. The party ran over the official closing time by two hours because the DJ was that good. You stayed out that late to be with your friends. Your friends all go crash at someone’s house. You decide to go home. You’re so tired that you feel sick. You’ve not only pulled an all-nighter like in college, but also danced a marathon. When you get home, you down a couple of bananas and go straight to bed.
You force yourself to get up at 5 p.m. after 7 hours of sleep, still feeling off and zoned out. I hate the day after clubbing, you mumble to yourself. Even though you swap your days and nights nearly every weekend, you still can’t get used to it. It’s like having jetlag once a week.
You want to see your Christian friends who prayed for you all night, but you’re too tired to compose sentences, so the day—your Sabbath—is spent in a solitary state of vegetative recovery on the sofa. It’s only on the following day that you are able to talk about the party with one of your friends. By then, it’s already the end of the weekend. Tomorrow is Monday, time to get back to teaching English.
Behind the (Club) Scene
Nightclub ministry sounds “great, awesome, and cool,” but it’s also hard work and brutal at times. I find the actual clubbing to be relatively easy simply because I love it so much. The hardest part is the day after, when it has taken a toll on you physically, and spiritual warfare hits the hardest.
I used to be afraid that people would condemn me for what I do, and this is where many of my spiritual battles took place. I would have thoughts like, “What I am doing is all so wrong. I’m not supposed to be going into nightclubs—and never alone, not as a girl, and most definitely not as a girl alone.” Nowadays, instead I have doubts like: “What do I think I’m doing? I can’t make a difference in a huge nightclub; I am only one person. All of these hours are a waste. What if all this comes to nothing one day? I should be doing something more worthwhile, something more ‘Christian.’ What I’m doing is less valid than what other Christians do. Maybe it is invalid, period.”
This onslaught of thoughts also comes at other times during the week, often conveniently right before something important or when I practice DJing. Starting out, I discovered that the more I prayed in a club, the worse the warfare the day after. It got to the point that I stopped praying when I went out, because I couldn’t take the attacks anymore. Now my whole community prays for me, and things are a lot better; I don’t experience so much direct attack. But the reality remains the same: nightclub ministry can be brutal—both physically and spiritually.
It’s only by the grace of God that I’m doing what I am. If you knew my personal life, you’d know what a mess my life has been and how broken I’ve been at times. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I’ve had a history of mental illness and have been on medication for 10 years. And I’ve paid for clubbing with chronic insomnia.
I don’t see myself as a missionary. I’m a Christian who happens to be living in Southern Spain. In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle writes:
In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.
The vision that God has given me is enormous, and I feel small and inadequate. I’ve been told that the opposite of fear is faith, but if that’s the definition, then I have no faith. I’m scared. The spiritual influences in a nightclub are fierce, and the stakes are high. Following where Jesus leads will cost me everything.
I’m DJing because God has called me to. It’s not something I would have ever dreamed of or dared to do. It’s expensive, takes a great deal of time and practice, and worst of all, I’m terrified of performing in public. There have been days when I tried to hide in bed or run from God, telling Him I couldn’t go on with this clubbing stuff. Other days I get so freaked out by the thought of DJing publicly that I don’t practice at all. I balk. How I wish sometimes to be able to stand back as a spectator and support another Christian DJ!
It’s not like I know what I’m doing. In this ministry, I have no one else’s example to follow, except the example of Jesus Himself. I have this long-range vision of seeing the nightclubs in my city transformed, but I have no idea how to get there. I don’t walk by faith, I stumble. Every night out is like a box of chocolates: I never know what I’m going to get. I just get out there and then God somehow works.
I still don’t pray and read the Bible enough. I don’t do all the things that I should. But I don’t have to be a “good Christian” before God can use me. God uses me in spite of the way I am. I’m being supported from the U.S. to live out my life here, not to be a super-Christian. When I boarded the plane to Spain, nothing changed. Being a missionary doesn’t make you a super-Christian. If anything, living in a different country brings out all of your weaknesses and humbles you.
When I lived in Southern Spain five years ago, I used to get a lot of comments about my race. People on the street would shout at me, “la china” (the Chinese girl). Once, I walked out of the house and a 5-year-old boy said to my face, “You’re stupid because you’re Chinese.” Another night, a teenage guy imitated kung-fu and blocked me from walking down the street. I had to maneuver around all his laughing friends to get past them. I wanted to put a brown bag over my head, and I came to hate the way God created me.
Since then, God has dealt with those issues. I don’t have a problem walking down the street anymore, because I’m no longer ashamed of who I am. The problem didn’t originate with the Spaniards. It originated with my own shame. And I now see that their behavior is not racism. It is just ignorance.
I unintentionally shatter stereotypes everywhere I go. Spaniards think I’m Japanese, but I’m Chinese. Actually, I’m not Chinese but Taiwanese, and yet my nationality is American. I’m not a tourist; I actually live here. I’m Asian, but I’m an English teacher. And I speak Spanish. I look young and innocent, but I’m a clubber. People think I must do drugs; I don’t, yet my friends do. I’m small and petite and not afraid to go into a big nightclub alone. And yes, I’m a girl, and I DJ.
The issue of my appearance will never go away. I can’t hide it, so the question is what to do about it. And so I hash it out with God: God, what do you want to do with me? Why do you want to use me in this situation? How are you going to use me, as opposed to, say, a male or a blond, blue-eyed American?
It’s no coincidence that God created me this way. Psalm 139 says so: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. God didn’t make a mistake in making me Asian and female and then calling me to go clubbing in Spain. In the underground nightclubs where I go, it’s as local as local gets; there simply are no other foreigners. I stick out like a sore thumb, and God uses that. No one forgets my face. If they don’t remember my name, they can always refer to me by my race. They like to guess where I’m from. People come up to me because they’re so curious about me, and that is how some friendships begin.
Up Close and Too Personal
I feel comfortable in a club full of Spaniards, but as with any ministry, sometimes I get stretched way beyond my comfort zone. Two months ago, the group of guys I go out with finished clubbing early at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when there were no taxis. I had no way to get home. There was a 15-minute discussion about “what to do with her.” The whole conversation took place in front of me in the third person “she”; I wasn’t included in the discussion. Stranded and helpless, I had no choice but to sleep over at a stranger’s house, where there was already not enough space for me. One of the guys drove home drunk so that I’d have a place to sleep. It was terribly awkward, and I wanted to disappear.
I unwittingly walked in on their 72-hour weekend lifestyle. They were all drunk, some of them doing more cocaine. They were nearly on top of each other on the small sofa. Neither awake nor asleep, they mumbled to each other in slurred fragments. One by one, each left to fall asleep in different parts of the house. It was like one big slumber party. Except this wasn’t one where you neatly pulled out your toothbrush and pajamas and got ready for bed. Here, you could fall asleep wherever you were, even sitting up.
At last, it was just my good friend Manolo and me in the living room. He graciously gave me the couch and slept in the armchair. Unable to fall asleep, I laid awake all night listening to him breathing and snoring. I thought to myself, “This is really intimate, a little too intimate.” But I admired how comfortable his friends were around each other. Things that mattered to me didn’t matter to them.
They had obviously woken up to one another a lot. None of them got off the couch to shower or brush their teeth that weekend. I, on the other hand, wanted to get out of there as soon as the sun came up, before anyone could see how awful I looked by then. They had let me in on a raw, intimate part of their lives, a part that few, if any, foreigners would ever see. It was a critical junction. Not only was I uninvited, I was sober, which could either divide us or bring us closer together. I wasn’t sure which way it would go. To my pleasant surprise, Manolo called three days later to ask me two things for the first time: 1) whether I wanted his friend to buy presale clubbing tickets for me (which meant that they were starting to see me as part of their clubbing group), and 2) whether I would hang out them before going clubbing (which meant that they saw me as more than someone to go clubbing with). It may sound superficial, but this seemingly insignificant gesture was significant progress to me. This is what answered prayer in nightclub ministry looks like. I thanked God that we were becoming closer friends. Without hesitation, I told Manolo, “Of course, I’ll be there!” I grinned to myself in excited anticipation. It was the beginning of yet another weekend.