I had the privilege of hearing this story first hand. It is a story that inspires me to get out of my comfort zone and to love more boldly.
It’s a story Tony Campolo tells about a trip he and his wife took to Hawaii several years ago. Because of the time change, he couldn’t get to sleep, so he decided to take a walk down the streets of Honolulu during the middle of the night.
At about 3am, he walked into a little coffee shop to get a coffee and doughnut, and as he was sitting in this empty shop, four prostitutes came walking in, talking loudly, and ordering something to eat after a night of prostituting.
They seemed to know the guy working behind the counter, and they talked to him and to each other, and as they talked, they were teasing one of the prostitutes named Agnes.
Apparently her birthday was the next day and they were making jokes about her age, and wondering how long she could keep prostituting.
Tony was sitting close and listening and even though Agnes was laughing on the outside, he could tell by her voice and her tired face that the teasing hurt and that there was an emptiness in her soul.
They eventually got up and left, and Tony got an idea.
He went to the gentlemen working behind the counter and asked if these ladies came in here every night about this time. The man said that they usually came in around 3am after turning tricks.
So Tony asks the man, “Would you help me throw a birthday party for Agnes the next morning? My wife and I will bring the decorations and the cake, if you can supply the dishes and silverware.”
The man looked stunned but said he would go along with it, since there wasn’t anything else to do at 3am in the morning. So Tony said, “It’s a plan. See you here tomorrow, same time.”
Early the next morning, Tony and his wife set up the decorations and brought a cake that said, “Happy Birthday Agnes!” and they waited impatiently.
At 3am sharp the door opens and in comes the ladies and Tony and his wife yell out, “Surprise!” and sing happy birthday to Agnes.
Agnes was stunned. She didn’t know what to say. She began to cry. Then she laugh.
Before they could cut the cake, Agnes asked if she could take the cake home and show her children. She had never been given a birthday cake before. Tony said, “Of course you can take it home.”
Agnes grabbed the cake and left the diner.
So here was Tony and his wife, sitting around with three prostitutes they did not know and the guy behind counter who seemed irritated by it all, and Tony didn’t know what to do.
And then it hit him. He announced to everyone in the room, “Let’s pray for Agnes.”
So Tony, his wife, three prostitutes and the guy behind the counter formed a little circle and Tony prayed that Agnes would have a great birthday and that she would experience God’s Grace and that she would understand how much God loved her.
When Tony said “Amen”, the guy behind the counter belted out, “I didn’t know this was some kind of religious gesture! If I would have known, I don’t think I would have gotten involved. What kind of church do you go to anyway?”
And Tony said the famous words that challenge my heart to this day.
He said, “I go to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3am in the morning.”
The guy behind the counter then said, “No you don’t. Because if you did, I think I would go to that kind of church.”
I think more people would go to church if there was more love, practical action and greater compassion.
I pray that there will be a new epidemic of “Churches throwing birthday parties for prostitutes at 3am in the morning.”