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Church on the Street: Friends stand by with help and prayers

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  • November 5, 2018

“I’m going down east to try to be reconciled with my father.” 

There was an audible gasp from the people at a meeting of Friends of the Street.  The young woman had told her story to all of us a few months before, so the events of her life were still fresh in our minds.

As a very young girl her father had thrown her into the cold waters of the local harbour and, having escaped that trauma, he continued to abuse her in fits of alcoholic rage for several years. She kept silent about these assaults and others in the small town in which she grew up. Ultimately she turned to drugs and alcohol to escape the reality of daily life. 

Running away to the “big city” of Toronto, she became another innocent, faceless street kid who abused alcohol and drugs and turned to prostitution to support the habit. In an attempt to escape this lifestyle, she had attempted suicide and finally ended up at a women’s shelter. That is where I met her as she prepared to enter a six-month rehab program and to attempt to find housing once again. 

And here she was two years later, clean and drug-free, standing in front of the Friends of the Street group sharing her desire to find reconciliation with the man who had hurt her so badly. 

At the next meeting she stood up tentatively.

“I would like to give you all an update on what happened when I went back home,” she began. “When I got in the door, my father came to meet me, and we embraced. That was all, we embraced. It was the most wonderful feeling I could imagine. 

“Yes, he still drinks, but he is no longer abusive and has control of his drinking and of himself. It is nice to have my family back.”

Friends of the Street is a community drawn from various churches which supports those on the street through prayer and friendship. 

Each month there is a speaker, alternating between those from the streets and someone working in support services such as Circles of Support and Accountability, Good Shepherd Ministries or Yonge Street Mission. 

It grew out of a plea from an addict I was sitting with one evening as she was “coming down” from a drug high. A passer-by had looked at her and hurled an abusive comment. After she replied in kind she turned to me and said, “I wish people could get to know us and hear our stories and they would not be so quick to judge us. In many ways we are just like them.” 

Knowing her story and understanding the pain in life that had brought her to this moment, I asked if she would come to our parish,  St. Margaret’s, and tell the story of her life so we all could become less judgmental. It was her acceptance that initiated the Friends of the Street group and its two dimensions of ministry: prayer and friendship. 

The ministry of prayer finds its focus in prayer sheets that are signed at each meeting. If anyone has asked for prayers, people sign the sheet as a commitment to pray for that person for the upcoming month. I then take the sheet and give it to the person. 

One addict who has been fighting her addiction for 10 years started to cry when I handed it to her and said, “I can’t believe they are praying for me, and they don’t even know me.” 

The ministry of friendship, on the other hand, puts a human face to the labels “drug addict,” “prostitute,” “drug dealer” or “homeless.” As people share their stories, we come to understand that we have more in common than we realized, and friendships have emerged between those who listen and the story tellers. Others, with friends or family members in the grip of addiction, come to obtain support from those now living drug-free. 

The challenge of escaping the jaws of addiction and mental health problems is always ongoing. The courageous young lady I speak of in this column has struggled throughout the years to stay clean and has had brushes with death in her moments of depression. 

However, she is still in constant contact with her parents, and is still supported through the prayers and friendship of the Friends of the Street.

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

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