Robert Kinghorn encounters a downtrodden stranger who gives him hope in God's presence among those he meets on Toronto streets. Register file photo

The Church on the Street: Reaching out a hand of hope

By  Robert Kinghorn, The Church on the Street
  • January 22, 2018
It is a frigid evening, and the setting sun leaves the grip of darkness on the downtown area where hope and despair wrestle nightly for sovereignty.

I see acts of distress which almost make me lose hope for a better future for a person in pain, but within the same evening I am inspired as I meet someone in agony who is reaching out for a hand of hope. 

I was approaching an intersection well known for violence due to the competing dealers who make this their base of operation. They attract clients who hover before making a quick purchase and disappearing into the darkness. A conspicuously pregnant girl started across the street towards me. Her empty stare broadcast that she was high on drugs.

“I need money for something to eat,” she whispered into the darkness.

“How are you, Marie?” I asked. “You know I don’t carry money downtown with me.”

I was hoping to continue our conversation as in the past, but with that answer she abruptly walked off, carrying her hopelessness into the darkness. It was one of those meetings that challenges my hope, not just because she has been on drugs for years, but because there are two lives involved in this now. So I walked on and, in prayer, offered her to the Father, that God will bless them both and make them holy.

I had only gone about a hundred paces when I happened upon a man sitting on the cold stone steps of a downtown church, a haven for the homeless and refuge for the troubled. Soon our dialogue turned into a monologue as he poured out his life story.

“I am an engineer by profession” he said, “and I used to be in the Salvation Army, but it is years since I have attended. I like to go to St. Michael’s Cathedral because I find it beautiful and peaceful. My father died and not long after that my brother died. It was so hard for me and as an alcoholic I turned to that for support.

“Many of the people you see around you are trying to kill themselves slowly with the drugs. They don’t have any hope, so they just take enough drugs to get rid of the pain of daily life but not enough to kill themselves.”

His monologue was briefly interrupted by a young man who crossed the street. “Can you help me get food?” he pleaded. “I’m not asking you for money, just food or where I can find it.”

I watched as my friend talked to him gently and directed him to the Salvation Army a block away. “I feel bad for him,” he said.

He continued his monologue.

“Recently I feel that I am getting a little glimpse of something that I think I can call happiness. Not a lot, but it is like a little light in the darkness. I have asked so many people this question: Why does God leave us on Earth when we cannot have any peace? I want to die but I am not saying I want to kill myself.”

“I really don’t know the answer,” I replied. “But do you think there is a possibility that perhaps you are helping people? I saw how you talked to that young man and it was beautiful the way you treated him.”

“It’s strange that you say that,” he said. “Listen, here’s something that has been happening to me in the last few weeks. I have felt that God is saying to me, ‘You are my helper. But don’t tell anyone. I will take care of you. Just be at peace.’ I have heard this three times. Do you think it is schizophrenia or is this really God talking to me? If I can believe that it is God, then maybe that is the answer to my question.”

“Believe,” I said. “Those who heard the call of God in their life were a diverse group. What stands out is their sense of inadequacy for the work they have been called to do, and their reluctance to accept the call. What you are telling me sounds like the word of God.”

And so, I said goodnight to a downtrodden stranger who brought me encouragement and hope that God is still acting in the lives of all I meet.

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)

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