Tony Campolo, Agnes, Birthday Parties for Prostitutes, and God's Love

The Kingdom of God is a Party: God's Radical Plan for His FamilyI want to share one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. It comes from Tony Campolo's - a pastor, speaker, and professor of sociology at Eastern College in Pennsylvania - The Kingdom of God is a Party: God's Radical Plan for His Family. It is a little lengthy, but it reveals that if we keep our eyes open and hands ready, we can be used in simple and practical ways to show God's love to those who have a tough time seeing it. We just have to be ready to be bold and a little foolish. It's about showing God's love in incredible, yet simple ways.  I asked Tony in person whether this story was real.  He affirmed that it was. 

Tony was on a trip Honolulu to speak at a Christian Conference. On his first night there, he awoke sometime after three (jet lag from a six hour time difference was keeping him from adjusting to Hawaii time - he's from Pennsylvania) and left the hotel in search of a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny diner, with one man behind the bar who served him coffee and a doughnut. Tony was the only customer until, quite suddenly, the coffee shop was filled with girls. Some sat at small tables, others at the counter near Tony. From their conversation he learned an astonishing amount about Honolulu's night life as the girls discussed their night's work and male clients. These girls were prostitutes. He tells the story:

I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be thirty-nine."

Her friend responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing 'Happy Birthday?'"

"Come on!" said the woman sitting next to me. "Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that's all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?”

"Yeah!" he answered.

"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"

"Yeah," he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d'ya wanta know?"

"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday," I told him. "What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her right here tomorrow night?"

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks and he answered with measured delight, "That's great!..."

"Look." I told him, "if it's OK with you, I'll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I'll even get a birthday cake!"

"No way," said Harry (that was his name). "The birthday cake's my thing. I'll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.

The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes...and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready (after all I was kind of the M.C. of the affair) and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy birthday!" Never have I seen a person so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. As we came to the end of our singing with "happy birthday dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles! If you don't blow out the candles, I'm gonna hafta blow out the candles." And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, "Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, "Look Harry, is it all right with you if I... I mean is it OK if I kind of... want I want to ask you it OK if keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's O.K If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to."

"Can I," she asked. Then looking at me she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, OK? I'll be right back. Honest!"

She got off the stool picked up the cake, and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail walked slowly toward the door.

As we all just stood there motionless, she left. When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, "What do you say we pray?”

Looking back on it now it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do.

I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her. When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said "Hay! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!”

Here are some relevant Bible verses:

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him" (Matthew 21:32).

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

Are we bold enough to be Jesus in our communities? In the small country town that I live in, I do not know of prostitutes, but there are definitely people in this town that it would not be "appropriate" to hang out with and minister to. But it is these very people that Jesus came for. It is these very people that Paul said that we need to "associate" with. Are we willing to be Jesus to those around us?