Tony Campolo, (born 1935) is a sociologist, pastor, and social activist. In his 2000 novel, Let me Tell You a Story, Campolo tells the story about when he was in Honolulu to do a Christian event, and late one night could not sleep. This is, “The Agnes Story.”
So he goes to the local greasy spoon at about 3 a.m. The waiter has a dirty apron on, and Tony orders bad coffee and a doughnut. The overweight waiter, who is also the owner, slaps it on a plate and then wipes his hand on his apron.
Not long after, some women come in. It’s the local prostitutes. They sit on either side of Tony, some eight of them sitting on stools, and they start talking as if he is not there. The one to his left is named Agnes. The girl on his right is ragging on Agnes and teasing her. Agnes makes the mistake of saying that tomorrow is her birthday. “No big deal,” says the other girl, “we all have them.”
Agnes says, “Yeah, you’re right no big deal. I’ve never had a birthday party anyway.”
Eventually, the girls get up and leave.
Tony asks the owner, “Do those girls come in here every night?”
“Yep,” says Marty the owner, “why do you ask?”
“Well, what would you think about having a birthday party for Agnes tomorrow night right here, same time? I’ll go get the cake in the morning.”
Marty calls his wife in the back, “Hey Louise, this guy thinks we should have a birthday party for Agnes . . . what do you think?” Well turns out they both think it’s a nice thing to do. Marty says to Tony, “No way are you buying the cake. I’m making it.”
“Fine,” says Tony, “I’ll get the balloons and stuff.”
The day comes and goes, and Tony shows up at 3 a.m. again. They decorate the diner, and out comes a nice sheet cake with “Happy Birthday Agnes” on it and lots of candles. These girls are all in their late thirties and forties. Sure enough, they show up at 3:30am sharp, and Tony and the owners say, “Surprise Agnes,” and start singing Happy Birthday to you, and bring out the cake.
Well, Agnes is stunned, having never had a birthday celebration before. Marty says, “Blow out the candles.”
Tony interrupts and says, “Wait, if you don’t mind I’d like to say a prayer first for Agnes.” And so he does—thanking God for Agnes’ life and saying that she is a person of sacred worth created in God’s image.
There is an awkward pause, and then Marty says again, “Blow out the candles and cut the cake.”
But Agnes is crying and says, “Could I wait just a bit on cutting the cake? I’d like to take it down the block to my Mom’s and show it to her first.”
“Sure,” says Marty, “It’s your cake.”
No sooner does she leave then Marty says to Tony, “Hey I didn’t know you were a minister. You didn't tell us you were gonna get all religious. What kind of church do you serve?”
“A church where prostitutes are welcome,” says Tony.
“Nah,” says Marty, "There ain’t a church like that, because if there was I’d go there. I’d feel welcome too.”
“Honest,” says Tony, “You could come to my church—Jesus loves everybody and accepts them and starts with them where they are.”