Birthday Party Ministry
This is gonna sound really weird, (I think), but here goes: Special Agent D and I – a couple of young-to-middle-aged, white boys from the college-educated, white-middle-class side of the tracks – found ourselves throwing birthday parties for young children in the homes of complete strangers! Let me unpack this a bit. Some readers might recall Tony Campolo’s birthday party for a hooker in Honolulu, but I sense my story is as strange as a baptized version of a Quinton Tarantino movie.
Imagine with me for a moment, two white guys knocking on the door of an apartment at the Cricket Court complex – 152 units of Section 8 housed, mostly poor, black, single mammas and their young children with obligatory drug-dealers’ cruising the lot, thumpin’ the HipHop, showing off their shiny rims, and making more babies – (anyway, back to the two white boys knocking in the midst of this scene). Go there with me a moment.
The door opens about three inches and stops as the little security chain restrains it. Suddenly, about knee high you see a pair of young curious eyes appear. Right above them appears another pair. Right above those, yet another pair. And from behind these eyes a voice shouts, “Who is it?” And then three little voices in unison say, “Mamma, It’s the cops!”
Yeah… “The cops.”
If you are a white guy of roughly 30 to 40 years of age, and want to impersonate a cop… well, just go beat on a door “down in the ‘hood” and see what it’s like. It’s really just that easy. Special Agent D and I experienced it many times as we reached out to the poor of our community for Jesus. It never ceased to amaze me. I literally have to be about as far from being a cop as it gets without being a criminal.
But stay with me a minute. Now imagine Mamma comes to the door and we white boys, the “cops,” ask if it would be okay for us to throw a birthday party for the kids.
What do you think will happen?
I can’t make this stuff up. I really would not believe it if I had not lived it. And I would not have lived it, if Vandelia had not sent me to the streets on a mission from God. And now I want to tell Vandelia, and the world along with her, some of the CRAZY things God did with our answer to his call.
Okay, in good Tarantino fashion, flashback with me now to the beginning of this escapade, and let me show you just how this crazy thing came to be. But I think, also like Tarantino, the unpacking of it will be just as strange, yet somehow believable.
Remember the hooker I told you about here? Well, she had a bunch of sisters, and well, one of them was a very hard-working driven woman who would not allow drugs in her home. She had a blistering tongue and could roll her neck with a sense of moral authority that struck fear in my heart the first time I met her. This woman did not think Special Agent D and I were cops. No. We were friends with her hooker-sister, which to her meant we were drug dealers. She did not trust us. But when her sister sobered up for 9 months, we won a second chance at a first impression with her.
Anyway, this authoritarian sister – being the hard-working disciplinarian of the family – also collected kids from her other sisters. Her house was full of the rug rats her delinquent siblings had created. She was a one-woman tour de force for reason, for sensibility, for good… in her own neighborhood and in her own family. And while her sisters were in and out of jail, their children came to live with her.
Special Agent D and I got to know these people. We saw the odds stacked against this fine woman and the children she was saving. We wanted to help. And quickly we found out that one of the children was about to have a birthday, but there was precious little money with which to celebrate. Special Agent D and I calculated the cost of a cake, some streamers, balloons, and a few party favors. This was “do-able” we thought. So, we set the date and time and made the preparations.
When the appointed hour arrived, it turned out that one of the children had gone to visit cousins at Cricket Court that day. There was nobody with a car (that worked) available to go retrieve the child to bring to the party. Now… Special Agent D and I both had vehicles. I drove a truck that would seat 3. So, when Special Agent D and I ran down to Cricket Court to pick up one child to take to the birthday party, this was just not going to be a problem… Right?
Here’s the thing: Cricket Court is notorious for little kids running hither and yon around the complex – and there are hundreds of them! So when Special Agent D and I arrived looking for the one we intended to take back to the birthday party that Jesus was throwing for the rug rat at the hooker’s sister’s house, we had to search through the mob of rug rats at Cricket Court to locate the one we were after. And, well, if you have been following these vignettes for a while, you know that Vandelia had already been reaching out to mobs of these kids – as I told about here and here. Special Agent D and I were already finding ourselves in the social network of welfare children from the Vandelia Village.
Are you catching the complex, Tarantio-ish plot development here? This story was ripe to get UGLY!
I am not saying we knew all the kids. No. We only knew a couple, but that is all it took. When a couple of these kids realized that Special Agent D and I were on the premises of Cricket Court, they went bonkers wanting our love and attention! Quickly we had a mob of 3 to 9 year-olds flocking to us. And of course, we were there in search of only one in particular to take with us to a birthday party. And when we found the child we had come for, there was only enough room in the truck to take just that one child. But of course that one child told all the others that we were taking him to a “birthday party.”
It was like a stick of social dynamite exploded in our faces.
Just imagine a couple of dozen poor kids jumping up and down begging to go to the birthday party! What do you do?
I am gonna let you sit with that a moment….
No. Keep sitting with that…
Okay. Here’s what developed then: This one little girl, about 9 years old, pops off saying, “Today’s my birthday… I don’t get no party. Can I come?”
Can you feel the knife in your heart? I did.
Let me ask this as kindly and as Christianly as I can:
What in the HELL do you do with that?
I was stunned. But of course TODAY is YOUR birthday TOO!!! Are you for real, little girl??? Do you really expect me to believe that???
Seriously, I almost asked her that. I was her chump. I knew it. I was recoiling inside. I am a sucka and everyone in this apartment complex can plainly see it. But just then, as if the Spirit of God wanted to intervene (did I just say “as if” ???), one little boy I had met across town in a completely unrelated context stepped forward from the mob. I had been teaching this kid to pray at his grandmother’s house on odd weekends. And this 7 year-old wanted to lead the whole mob in a prayer.
Now… with kids… you can do that! I didn’t know you could until just that moment, but I am telling you, YOU CAN! So… we did. We made a huge circle and let this little boy lead us all in a prayer. And while he prayed, my heart began to soften up. And when he was done, I had the presence of mind to ask the little girl her name and apartment number. I deeply regretted that I could not celebrate her birthday with her there and with all those kids just then, but I pleaded with her heartbroken eyes to TRUST me to come back one week later and throw her a party.
She had no choice. So… she accepted. But I was now on a hook I never imagined.
Special Agent D and I left there with the child for which we had come searching. We took that child back to the original birthday party and the hooker’s sister’s house. We had a great time! Took lots of photos. Made lots of memories. Loved on those kids like as if we were playing the role of Jesus in the APOCALYPTIC BANQUET OF THE AGE TO COME! And then….
And then I was bound to plan another party for the next weekend. And it felt soooooooooo open ended, like we were about to step on a never-ending treadmill of birthday parties. And where would we throw the party??? Apartment 14??? Do we know those people??? Everyone in Cricket Court, like everyone on 65th Drive, thinks we are the cops! “These people” (as we are apt to label them) don’t trust the cops! How exactly is this gonna work??? And, heaven help us, if it does work, when will it end??? Oh, my God! My life is not my own! I am scared. I am overwhelmed. And anyway, what lasting change in these lives will be achieved with a few balloons, streamers and chocolate cake???
One week later, Special Agent D and I arrived at the appointed time and place: the door of Apartment 14. We knocked. The door opened three inches. The obligatory eyes and the obligatory question with the obligatory answer: “Mamma, It’s the cops!”
“What do you want from us?”
“Ma’am, Do you have a daughter by the name of [Agent Belated Birthday]?
“Yes. What did she do?”
“Ma’am, she turned 9 years old last weekend, is that right?”
In a fearful tone, “That’s right.”
“And she did not get a birthday party. Is that right?”
Now in a totally perplexed tone, “Uh… no.”
“Ma’am, would it be okay with you if the Vandelia Church throws her a birthday party here today to make up for missing it last week?”
“Ummmm…. really? Ummm… okay… I guess. Ummm…. come in, will you?”
I thought you would never ask!
Special Agent D and I walked into that apartment and interrupted a football game the adults were watching on their gigantic Rent-A-Center TV. The children went on a mission trip throughout the complex, rounding up other children to come to the APOCALYPSE, while Special Agent D and I took over that home. We hung streamers; we aired up balloons; we cracked out $10 worth of party favors from the dollar store, all while the adults tried to watch their game and tried to ignore us taking over the place (at their own invitation, btw. Hey, we all know you should NEVER invite a vampire into your house. The same goes for Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons… Right???). And really, just what are social graces anyway?
In about 10 minutes, we had that apartment decked out in balloons and streamers. Kids from the complex began pouring in by the dozens! We fed them sugar-packed chocolate cupcakes and Cool-Aid. We sang Happy Birthday for the 9 year-old girl in front of all her friends and family! (I have a photo of this girl smiling and holding a balloon that makes me cry to this day.) And once the APOCALYPSE broke out in this apartment, suddenly a couple of kids began batting a balloon over one of the streamers almost like a tennis match. The adults sitting on the sofa watching TV began to join in the fun. And then suddenly 30 people crammed into this tiny Section 8 apartment were batting balloons in a festive, ballistic free-for-all!
And then we prayed.
And thanked Jesus for the grace he brought to us that day.
This is but one of the untold stories of the Vandelia mission to the neighborhood.
The telling of it is long overdue.
This is what your left foot, Vandelia, was doing in the dance just then, and I think you should know about it. Perhaps you could find that rhythm again and go with it???
What do you think LIFE in the AGE TO COME is like? Is it like a mustard seed? Is it like throwing mountains around, walking on water, stopping the sun in the sky? Is it like lions lying with lambs and children playing with snakes?
Is it like throwing perpetual birthday parties for little kids?
Do you think such birthday parties at least lift the veil just for a moment so that we can experience here and now just a taste of the AGE TO COME????
Think about it.