On Sunday evenings, Salil Jain prays in church. The 21-year-old UW graduate attends Jubilee Evangelical Church in the University District. It is a young congregation-the oldest member is Jain's sister Sapna, a 31-year-old doctor-and relatively small, with perhaps 80 to 100 regular worshipers. A Charismatic Christian, Jain is transported to a different realm-a spiritual and godly realm-when he prays. His arms will rise above his head of their own volition, as if drawn by a divine force that counteracts gravity. He will sway from side to side and, when the Holy Spirit is strong within him, experience visions or speak in tongues-unleashing a free-ﬂowing babble of consonant sounds that signiﬁes God's power over him.
As another sister, Sanjeeta, a 29-year-old attorney at a prestigious downtown law ﬁrm, describes it, prayer is uplifting and emotionally transformative; God's presence is physically manifested in the believer, who experiences the divine spirit as "warmth, joy, or electricity" coursing through the body. Miracles often follow: the sick are healed, the emotionally damaged made whole, the implausible, and even impossible, becomes reality. "We believe that God is more real than the person next to you," she says.
But Jain, his family, and an expanding coterie of his friends do not limit their praying to an hour or two one day a week, locked away in the semi-private setting of a church. He prays in public, too, seven nights a week, setting an example for the wayward and offering the ecstatic fulﬁllment of grace to all young people who feel a void in their lives. In late March, he and two friends, James Hua, 22, and Wing Yew Lum, 23, were inspired (by God, they say) to begin praying in Red Square at the University of Washington. They began every night at 9:30 p.m., rain or shine, and carried on sometimes into the early morning hours. The response has been overwhelming. What began as three young men praying together has grown in eight weeks to a group of 75 or more that gather nightly to sing, sway, and fall prostrate to proclaim their communal connection to God.
"We are praying for the city and for the region. We are praying for unity among churches and for transformation-personal transformation, transformation of family and neighborhoods. We want to see this region become a region that celebrates God's glory," Jain says to me as we sit in the comfortable living room of his family's home high above Lake Washington in Seattle.
He is casually but stylishly dressed, soft-spoken yet earnest. He has no doubts. He knows that God cured the fatal kidney ailment that afﬂicted him as a teenager, as his sister Sanjeeta knows that God lifted her out of the bottomless pit of self-pity she felt after a car accident left her wheelchair-bound. He knows that God wants him to offer that same miraculous transformational power to others. "From our biblical perspective, Christians are not supposed to be hidden away," he says when I ask him why he feels compelled to proclaim his faith publicly. "Honestly, we believe that a lot of people are Sunday Christians. That doesn't line up to what God wants us to be, what God wants us to do."
For Jain, these burgeoning nightly prayer vigils are only the beginning, a portent of a vastly larger national rising of spiritual rebirth that looms on the horizon. Jain, who has also recently founded a Christian clothing company called Jesus Branded, came to The Stranger's attention through a press release for his newly formed organization, Shakina.net, which he hopes will become a sort of Friendster for young Christians. On Friday, May 20, at 6:00 p.m., Shakina is hosting a prayer rally: a sort of super-sized, updated version of a tub-thumping tent revival, at Red Square. Jain estimates that at least 5,000 Christians, drawn from more than 100 local churches, will gather to, as the press release puts it, "join together to pray in one accord to see one of the least-churched regions in the nation transformed into a region inhabited by God's glory." It is, apparently, a contagious message: More than $15,000 has arrived, miraculously, in Shakina's coffers to pay for the gathering.
While Jain and his friends are Charismatics, they stress that the Shakina meetings are nondenominational, a place where all sorts of Christians, and even people of other faiths, can come together as a uniﬁed group to praise God.
Those who are surprised at this explosive outpouring of prophetic Christian expression in the midst of enlightened, secular Seattle have not been paying attention. Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity is a surging global movement, particularly in Latin America and Asia, but also here in the United States. It is the spearhead of what New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof describes as "the new Great Awakening unfolding across the United States." Jain and his cohorts certainly understand that they are part of something large, vibrant, and growing. "This is a hunger so many people have-to come out as a uniﬁed body," he says of the wave of enthusiastic religiosity of which he is a part.
With an estimated 500 million practitioners worldwide, Charismatic Christianity, built around biblical literalism-the belief that God routinely acts in the world, and that He can be accessed directly through expressive prayer-continues to grow in the United States as mainline Protestant denominations decline. At current growth rates, the movement may overtake Roman Catholicism, with some one billion adherents worldwide, well before the middle of the century.
After our Saturday afternoon conversation, some 200 people, mostly Asian, almost all college age, attend Shakina's pre-rally event in a UW auditorium. Many wear blue rubber wristbands that read "Shakina 5000." The worship is emotional, effusive, openly therapeutic, and centered on a message of personal empowerment-something like a pep rally for God's team. There is no ﬁre and brimstone, no judgment, no mention of divisive social issues. As a prayer leader offers words of inspiration and encouragement, worshipers respond with applause and shouts of "Amen" and "That's right!" A Christian rock band plays, belting out celebratory lyrics: We love You, Lord/We love You/We love You. Attendees sway and clap themselves into a trace-like state. A young woman rolls around on the ﬂoor as the spirit takes her. Another well-dressed young man begins speaking in tongues, spraying out a cascade of sounds with the rapidity of an auctioneer; a student next to him begins to cry, apparently overcome with joy.
To an ardent secularist, this seems pretty weird. The young participants are not scary-they come across as sincere and likeable-but it's hard to avoid seeing this trend as more than a little worrisome. In a country where the teaching of evolution is under sustained and growing assault-a 2004 Gallup poll showed that only 35 percent of Americans believe that evolution is a theory well supported by facts-and where the religious right is increasingly willing to use its growing political muscle to force science to conform to religious beliefs, or to inﬂuence social policies according to conservative Christian tenets, the basic worldview expressed by Shakina is troubling. Jain and his cohorts do not have a political agenda, but he concedes to me that if the spiritual revival fostered by Shakina leads some Christians to express their faith in political activism, then that is just part of God's plan.
If anything, this sort of Christianity is a repudiation of the Enlightenment, which proposed that truth was not revealed but was to be found through the application of human reason. This new form of aggressive Christianity is predicated fundamentally on the idea that reason is a dead end, and that justiﬁcation comes by faith alone. Monday evening, as a light rain falls on Red Square, and about 50 young people pray, I press James Hua on Shakina's social agenda. "Jesus loves everybody," he says when I ask him what he thinks of gays. "Our goal is to love people, we're not condemning people. However, that's not how God made people," he says. ■