Campolo, tells a story of being in Hawaii a few years ago for a Christian conference. It was 3:00 in the morning, and Campolo, could not sleep. So he got up, got dressed, and left the hotel where he was staying to search for a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny coffee shop that was open. Here is his description of what happened there:“The guy behind the counter came over and asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted a cup of coffee and a donut. As I sat there munching my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door suddenly opened, and to my discomfort in marched 8 or 9 provocatively dressed and rather boisterous prostitutes. It was a small place and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was garrulous, loud, and crude. I felt completely out of place.
I was just about to make my getaway when I heard the woman next to me say, ‘You know, tomorrow is my birthday. I’m going to be 39.’ Her friend responded in a rather nasty tone, ‘So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?’
‘Come on,’ the woman sitting next to me said, ‘why do you have to be so mean? I’m just telling you that it’s my birthday. Why do you have to put me down? I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?’
Campolo says, “When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women left, and then I called over to the guy behind the counter and asked him, ‘Do they come in here every night?’
He answered, ‘Yeah.’ ‘The one who was sitting right next to me, does she come in every night?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘that’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in every night. Why do you want to know?’ ‘Because,’ I replied, ‘I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you say we do something special for her? What do you think about throwing a birthday party for her right here in the coffee shop?’
A cute kind of smile crept over that man’s chubby cheeks. ‘That’s a great idea,’ he said. ‘I like it. That’s great. Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind. I don’t think anybody has ever done anything nice and kind for her.’ ‘Well, look,’ I told him, ‘if it’s okay with you, I’ll be back here tomorrow morning at 2:30. I’ll decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake for her,’ ‘No way!’ he replied. ‘The birthday cake, that’s my thing. I’ll bake the birthday cake myself.’
“At two thirty the next morning,” Campolo says, “I was back at that coffee shop. I picked up some crepe paper and other decorations at the store, and made a sign of big pieces of cardboard that said ‘Happy Birthday, Agnes!’ I decorated that diner from one end to the other. I had it really looking great. The word must have gotten out on the street, because by 3:15 that morning every prostitute in Honolulu was in that place. There 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… When they came in we all jumped up and screamed, ‘Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Then we sang to her. And you know, I’ve never seen a person so flabbergasted, so stunned, so shaken. Her mouth fell open, her knees started to buckle, her friend had to offer her arm to steady her, and I noticed she had started to cry. When the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, that’s when she lost it. She started sobbing. Harry, the guy behind the counter, gruffly mumbled, ‘Blow out the candles, Agnes, blow out the candles.’ Then he handed her a knife and said, ‘Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake.’
Agnes looked down at that cake, and without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, ‘Look, Harry, is it okay with you if I, I mean, if I don’t, what I want to ask, is it okay if I keep the cake for a little while? Is it okay if we don’t eat it right away?’ Harry shrugged and answered, ‘Well, sure, Agnes, that’s fine. You want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to.’ ‘Oh, could I?’ she asked. Looking at me, she said, ‘I just live down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, okay? I’ll be right back, honest.’ She got off her stool, she picked up that cake, and she carried it out of the diner like it was the Holy Grail. She walked slowly toward the door, and we all just stood there, speechless. When the door closed behind her, there was stunned silence in the place.
Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, ‘What do you say we pray together?’ Looking back on it now, it seems more than a little strange that a sociologist from eastern Pennsylvania would be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But I prayed. 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.
And when I finished, Harry leaned over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, ‘Hey, you never told me you were a preacher! What kind of preacher are you anyway? What church do you belong to?’ In one of those moments when just the right words come, I answered him quietly, ‘I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.’ Harry thought for a minute, and then almost sneered as he answered, ‘No you don’t! There is no church like that. In fact,’ he concluded, ‘if there was, I’d join it.’
Sometimes we forget that we are to be a church like that. Just like Jesus did, we are to be a church that reaches out to those who are overlooked and those who are different than us. Those who look different, dress different, talk different and think different. And if we really become a church where no one stands alone, you’ll be surprised who comes.