Deacon Robert Kinghorn, who takes to the streets weekly to minister to prostitutes and drug dealers along “the track” of downtown Toronto, speaks with Tracey Ferguson, who he helped leave a life of prostitution and addiction. - Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato

Deacon's street ministry brings hope to prostitutes and dealers on Toronto's streets [w/ video]

By 
  • November 17, 2011

TORONTO - It’s a cool autumn night, and Robert Kinghorn begins his downtown ministry as night falls on Jarvis Street in downtown Toronto. Amid the hustle and bustle of night life near a local hamburger joint, Kinghorn stands out sporting a white Roman collar.

But here on these streets, Kinghorn, the 26-year deacon with a background in prison ministry, seems at ease.

Toronto’s unofficial red light district isn’t where you’d expect to find hope and a prayer. But here on “the track,” the notorious downtown area with a well-earned reputation for crime and prostitution, is where Kinghorn has been ministering to people once a week for the past six years.

Kinghorn lends a sympathetic ear and offers prayers for the women and men on the track who seek his counsel, the prostitutes and drug dealers, many of whom are wrestling with broken childhoods and drug addictions.

“It’s showing the presence of Jesus and the presence of the Church on the streets,” said Kinghorn of his street ministry.

- Download statistics report on prostitution in Toronto - Incident-based crime statistics, by detailed violations - Census metropolitan areas (Toronto), 2006 to 2010

- View a video of Sheila interviewing Deacon Kinghorn and Tracey, a survivor of these streets.

In Ontario, the Supreme Court is considering an appeal by a group of former sex trade workers to decriminalize prostitution, claiming Criminal Code provisions are against their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet Tracey Ferguson, a survivor of these mean streets, says ministries like Kinghorn’s do more to promote the human dignity of street workers than any legislation ever could because of the human face he brings to his ministry of compassion.

“Him showing people that he cares even though he doesn’t know them,” Ferguson said, “it’s stuff like that that gives people a little bit of hope.

“If more people took heed to what he’s doing and started doing that, I think you would start to see a bigger change,” she said.

Ferguson has joined Kinghorn for this evening’s walkabout. A veteran of these streets — she spent a dozen years in the sex trade — Ferguson has successfully left the cycle of addiction and abuse. She has been clean for the past five years and has a new job. Ferguson has dealt with the ghosts of her past, reunited with her family and summoned the courage to forgive those who have hurt her while she was on these streets, including a man whom she considered a friend who raped her.

Ferguson credits God for helping her deal with her struggles. She always carried a Bible with her during her street-walking days, knowing “this is what is going to save me.” She thanks Kinghorn for “empowering” her and helping her reconnect with her faith.

As a bonus for her remarkable journey, next summer the 49-year-old will be the first in her family to graduate from college.

“She made it to the Dean’s honour list each term,” Kinghorn beams of the George Brown College student.

Deacon Robert Kinghorn with Tracey Ferguson, who he helped leave a life of prostitution and addiction.

Deacon Robert Kinghorn is joined in his evening ministry by Tracey Ferguson. She spent twelve years in the sex trade but has now left the cycle of abuse and addiction and will graduate from college next summer.

- photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato

Kinghorn said the heart of his ministry is about accepting others and “listening to the hurts that have happened in people’s lives and to let them know that if we can accept them, God can.”

“Jesus had talked about, when two or three are gathered, He’s right in the midst of them,” he said.

How did this ministry begin? Kinghorn, 65, recalls being downtown one evening six years ago and sensing a great need for the Church’s presence there.

“We have to be a light in the darkness,” he said.

Kinghorn’s weekly walkabouts start around 9 p.m. and end at midnight or 1 a.m.

Kinghorn’s quiet, compassionate approach and dedication to his grassroots street ministry has earned him “street cred” on these tough streets. So far, he hasn’t met with violence or had any close calls.

There was the time, however, when a drug dealer told Kinghorn he needed something from him.

“Yes?” Kinghorn replied.

“Can you say a prayer for me?” the man asked.

“Sure, what would you like to pray for?” Kinghorn asked.

“Forgiveness,” the dealer said.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Kinghorn noticed three other dealers making their way towards them. Kinghorn waited. They asked what was going on and he told them. They also requested the same thing.

Kinghorn breathed a sigh of relief.

It’s moments like these, moments of God’s grace, he said, that have served as a testimony to the fruits of his ministry.

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