Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The Kingdom of God is a Party

"All the Gospel accounts tell us that sinners flocked around Jesus. His love for God brought him into contact with all manner of men and women, none of whom seemed to find him an embarrassment. Nor did Jesus consider them an embarrassment to him. It was the religious hierarchy who had difficulty with Jesus. And frequently, his association with disreputable types was a particular source of criticism by religious groups.

"Churches and religious people today do not make friends easily with people who are looked down on in society-jailbirds, prostitutes, drug addicts, drunks, thieves. This suggests that they may not be so near to God as they suppose. "Sinners" do not find churches attractive, so that sinners and would-be saints often keep to their respective ghettos.

"However, there are refusing exceptions to the rule. Tony Campolo, professor of sociology at Eastern College, tells the story of his visit to Honolulu for a Christian Conference. On his first night there, he awoke sometime after three (a six hour time difference had confused his sleep pattern) and left the hotel in search of a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny coffee shop, 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, for the girls were discussing their night's work and their 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 flabbergasted...so stunned...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 is...is 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!"

[from Changing on the Inside by Dr. John White, Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, 1991].


6 comments :

  1. Vague,

    Yes, that's exactly what I thought when I read this, which is why I just had to publish it here.

    Deb

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  2. I love this story. I have heard Tony several times over the years and have always been very inspired each time. He also tells a story about "hiring" a bunch of earliteen prostitutes, I think in Haiti, and taking them all to a hotel room. There he bought them all ice cream, let them watch TV for the evening and just be little girls again instead of having to sleep with men to make money. He wanted to give them at least one day of normal life.
    Thanks for publishing this.

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  3. wOW! is correct!i am so glad that i sit at the sinners table too, and Jesus always comes to sit by me!

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  4. Clay,
    I've never even heard of Tony before. I came across this story on the Internet and just had to share it.

    I can see it appeals as much to everyone else as it does to me.

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  5. Yes, life is hard. I had to tell you that I heard Tony's story when he had a worship service at the General Conference of SDA where I worked. He is a friend of the church and often speaks at SDA gatherings.
    Ellamae

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Comments, anyone? I'd love to hear your point of view.