I love to read. But I can only read one book at a time. Much to my frustration. Whether it's a study book, a novel, text book...doesn't matter...I get things mixed up and confused if I attempt to read more than one book at a time. Which for a bookworm like myself is VERY frustrating. That's why I love Chicken Soup books. I get them often when we venture to the library. If I don't have time to just sit and read for a couple of hours but have a few minutes of downtime I can quickly pick one up...read a story or two, and go on about my business.
This story I found the other night while reading right before bed and knew immediately I wanted to share it. It is a great illustration about just how unimportant denominations in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of Heaven really is. It is so easy for Christian's to get caught up in the simple, subtle (or not so subtle) differences of their denominations that's all they focus on. Meanwhile, while they're bickering about why the church across the street allows it's members to wear jeans to service while that one thinks it's blasphemous, someone is standing on that same street corner wondering where they're going to get their next heroin balloon and secretly wishing someone would walk out the doors of one of those church doors and show them a different way of life, or a word of hope, or a compassionate hug. I hope this story brings things into perspective for you like it did for me.
The Agnes Story
I wandered up and down the streets of Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. Since I live on the East Coast, it felt like 9:00am to me. I was wide awake and hungry for breakfast, but found nothing open before dawn.
Up a side street I found a little place. I went in, took a seat on one of the stools at the counter, and waited to be served. This was one of those sleazy places that deserved the name "greasy spoon." I mean, I did not even touch the menu. I was afraid that if I opened the thing something gruesome would crawl out. But it was the only place I could find.
The fat guy behind the counter came over and asked me, "What d'ya want?" I told him, "A cup of coffee and a donut." He poured a cup of coffee, wiped his grimy hand on his smudged apron, then grabbed a donut off the shelf behind him. As I sat there munching on my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:35, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and, to my discomfort, in marched eight or nine provocative looking and boisterous prostitutes.
It was a small place, and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was loud and crude. I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be thirty nine." Her "friend" responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing happy birthday?" "Come on!" said the woman next to me. "why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that's all. Why do you have to put me down? I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"
When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women and left. Then I called over to the fat guy behind the counter and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?" "Yea," he answered. "The one right next to me, does she come here every night?" "Yeah," he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d'ya want to know?"
"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her-right here, tomorrow night?"
A smile slowly crossed his chubby face and he answered with measured delight, "That's great! I like it!" Calling to his wife, who did the cooking in the back room, he shouted, "Hey! Come out here! This guy's got a great idea! Tomorrow's Agnes's birthday. This guy wants us to go in with him and throw a birthday party for her-right here-tomorrow night!"
His wife came out of the back room all bright and smiley. She said, "That's wonderful! You know, Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind, and nobody ever does anything nice and kind for her."
"Look," I told them. "If it's okay with you, I'll get back here tomorrow morning around 2:30 and decorate the place. I'll even get a birthday cake."
"No way," said Harry(that was his name). "The birthday cake's my thing. I'll make the cake."
At 2:30 the next morning I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe paper decorations at the store and made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.
The women who did the cooking must have gotten the word out to people on the street, because 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 friends. I had everybody ready and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy Birthday!"
Never had 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, "Happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and openly cried.
Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly said, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I...what I want to ask you is...I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"
"Can I?" she asked. Then looking at me she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home and show it to my mother, okay? I'll be right back, honest."
She got off the stool, picked up the cake and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all stood there motionless, she left.
When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the quiet by saying, "What do you say we pray?"
Looking back on it now it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at three-thirty in the morning. But it just felt like the right thing to do. 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.
When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and said, "Hey, you never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?"
In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws parties for whores at three-thirty in the morning."
Harry waited for a moment, then he answered, "No you don't. There's not church like that. If there was, I'd join a church like that!"
"There is a church like that, Harry-started by a man who did JUST that. Let me tell you about Jesus..."