El Rey Jesús

At night the only lights shining on SW 136th Street between 137th and 144th avenues belong to two behemoths: Tamiami Airport and the neighboring El Rey Jesús (14100 SW 144th Ave, Miami; 305-382-3171). The former lifts visitors up physically, while the latter does so spiritually. But El Rey — a Christian ministry — makes "finding Jesus" more than a metaphysical task. On a recent Friday night three consecutive cars made U-turns after missing the elusive driveway to the church.

The entrance of El Rey was swamped with teenagers and early-twentysomethings for the weekly youth outreach program, Chosen Generation, led by the zealous Frank Hechavarria. Young devotees from different sects of pop culture were there to represent. Some sported Mohawks and multiple bracelets, others wore Timberlands and blingy cross pendants, and the rest looked like your average mall rat.

The event was held in an expansive amphitheater with a group of people speaking onstage, as a band prepared to perform in the background. "Ten people gave their name to Jesus tonight — former gang members," shouted Hechavarria. "My friend right here, he got blessed. He made $350 for his probation; someone he didn't know gave him the full amount." Outfitted in a stylish printed T-shirt and antique jeans, he asked onlookers to "pray for the homeboys" who had to go to court the following Monday. After blessing a number of people near the stage, Hechavarria bellowed, "Freedom! Freedom!" The crowd hailed him, and the Christian rock band began to play.

The scene turned into something of a club for the God-fearing. Drunk not on alcohol, but on the power of Jesus, youngsters frantically hopped, danced, sang, screamed, cried, and prayed aloud as the band churned out alt-rock tunes worshipping the Almighty. When the show ended, prayer circles formed and a few girls took pictures with band members until everyone was scooted out around 10:30 p.m.

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