This is the conclusion to the story from my previous blog about Tony Campolo throwing a birthday party for a prostitute at a diner in Hawaii...
A lot of people want to know what happened to Agnes?
Tony became friends with Harry and Jan from that night forward, and keeps in touch with them and whenever he returns to Hawaii.
Campolo continues: “Agnes gave up the streetwalking life shortly after that time. She ended up going to work at that diner. And she, Harry and Jan have turned that diner into a place where people come for help day and night. The word is around town: if you’re in trouble, go to that little restaurant…the people there will listen to you, talk with you, and help you if they can.
After that event, I was at Linfield College, a conservative Baptist college that’s related to Jesus somehow in Oregon to speak at their spiritual emphasis week—you know…“Be Kind to God Week.” It was Feb. 25th—easy to remember the date because it’s my birthday. The place was decorated with balloons, streamers, banners, and there was a sign that said:
“Happy Birthday, Tony!”
-Agnes (your friend from Honolulu)
She had somehow found out when my birthday was, where I would be on that date, and contacted some officials and students at the college and set this up for me.
This account says a lot of good things. First of all, it says something about prostitutes. It says you can’t judge people superficially. Agnes is one of the good people…kind, caring, and thoughtful. When all the other prostitutes show up it’s because she’s been so good and kind. And when I prayed I asked that God would deliver her from what dirty, filthy men had done to her…making another point that all sociologists knows: that generally every prostitute is somebody who got messed over at the age of ten, eleven, or twelve. When I share this story I always make it clear that Agnes was not an evil person, but she was a victim.
When I tell the story and I say, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning” and people laugh, it sets me up for the line: “that’s exactly the kind of church that Jesus came to create.” And I always add, “I don’t know where we got this other one that is half country club.” Down deep inside everybody knows that’s true.
The reason why this story clicks is very simple—it does what Jesus does. It takes Christianity outside of a religious institution—we’re outside of the church—outside of the stranglehold of the religious environment. Once you get the truth of God out of the church, and come up with its bare realities, its impact of loving care rings true to people.
I find that people don’t reject Jesus—they reject the religious institution that is presenting Jesus. If we can just get Jesus out of the institution and into the real world situations, if we can just get rid of the trappings, it comes alive for all of us. That’s what Jesus did in his day. He took the truths of the Torah, most everything that He taught was already in the Jewish Bible—but He takes all of that stuff out of the religious institution and puts it on the street where people live. When that happens, everyone says, “Yes!” Because they agree with the truth. They do not agree with these structures that have hidden the truth, or smothered the truth--that are into a lot of money-making on many occasions. They just don’t seem valid valid. But remove Jesus from “the church,” and people are drawn to Him.
I go to the book of First John—this cuts it down to the bottom line: “God is love.” We all know that verse. I don’t think many people know the verse that comes right after that. “And whoever loves is born of God.” And there is a sense in Agnes’s story that all those prostitutes who showed up that night, and Harry and Jan who ran the diner—that they all were expressing the love of God. Some will ask, “Well do they theologically agree and believe this doctrine, or live by these creeds, or confess in such and such way?” My response is to point to those verses: “God is love, and whoever loves is born of God,” and that’s what I want people to carry away from this story.
This true story was adapted into a short film called The Least of These, which won 27 film festival awards. The link on how to find out more about it is below.