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Tony Campolo wrote a book called “The Kingdom of God is a Party.” In chapter one, he tells the story of a trip to Honolulu in the mid 80’s. Having crossed far too many time zones from Philadelphia to Hawaii, he found himself awake and needing breakfast at 3:30am local time. He ended up in a greasy, divey place ordering a donut and a coffee, and while consuming this wholesome breakfast in walks 8 or 9 prostitutes. The place is small, Campolo is surrounded, and like most of us decides the best thing to do is to get out of there. Then he overhears one of them say, “Tomorrow is my birthday; I’ll be 39.” Somebody else tears into her. “So?? Whadya want me to do about it?? Want me to throw you a party, bake you a cake, sing “happy birthday???” The first shot back, “Come on! Why do you have to be so mean? I’m just telling you, you don’t have to put me down. I don’t want anything. I’ve never had a birthday party my whole life, why should you give me one, why should I have one now. I’m just saying.”

If you know Tony Campolo, you probably have an idea what happens next. He hangs around till they leave, then asks the guy who runs the place if those people come in every night. They do, so Campolo asks if he could throw that one prostitute a big birthday party that next night. They get excited about the idea, make all the arrangements – Campolo decorates the diner, the chef bakes a cake, somebody gets the word out on the street. This is how Campolo describes the scene:

“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 have 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 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. Then, when the cake was carried out with all the candles on it, she lost it and just openly cried.”

She couldn’t blow out the candles. She couldn’t cut the cake. In fact, she was so overwhelmed that she asked if she could just keep the cake for a little while. The gruff chef said, “It’s your cake. Go ahead.” And so Agnes picked the cake up and carried it home as if it were the most precious thing imaginable.

The crowd was stunned into silence. Not knowing what else to do, Campolo said; “what do you say we pray?” And he did. He prayed for Agnes, for her salvation, for God to turn her life around. At the end, the chef turned to him with a trace of hostility in his voice and said, “You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” Campolo replied, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.”

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