Dr. Deb King’s life has been shaped by a variety of gathering spaces: the boxing ring (her father, Don King, is a famous boxing promoter), the classroom (from high school to grad school, her experiences in education have been life-changing), the rehab (her own journey of recovery led her to life-saving recovery work), and — through it all — the table, as God keeps calling Dr. King back to serve in spaces that nourish others.
Dr. King describes her family as being immersed in a spiritual environment despite the high-profile nature of her father’s career and his incarceration. In particular, her mother was a spiritual anchor in her life, taking her to church and instilling a strong sense of faith.
This early exposure to spirituality and her experiences in various religious settings, including schools that encouraged the exploration of different faiths, laid the foundation for her spiritual journey.
“My dad is big on the Bible; he knows the Bible cover to cover — my mom was very spiritual, and I went to church a lot as a youngster,” Dr. King reflected. “We moved from Cleveland to Windsor, Ohio, and there, my godparents were Baptist, my mother was Methodist, and I went to Windsor Methodist Church before going to boarding school in the ninth grade and being part of a class called ‘humanities,’ and we had to go and participate in every religion, and that was very interesting … synagogues, mosques, Catholic Church, Buddhist temples, every religion that we had in our school culture, we had to visit. That was an education in itself.”
Dr. King left boarding school to pursue a professional path toward criminal justice and law. She moved to New York City where she studied and earned a B.A. in criminal justice with a minor in forensic science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and graduated near the top of her class.
As a young professional married with two children, Dr. King’s life took a dark turn when she became entangled in addiction, specifically cocaine. She admits that at the time she believed cocaine gave her the balance she lacked due to her bipolar disorder. But it wasn’t long before she realized the devastating toll it was taking on her family and herself. The pain of her addiction led to suicidal thoughts, which forced her to face her need for recovery.
Her path to recovery was marked by a profound spiritual awakening, culminating in a conversation with God that Dr. King chronicled in a letter, predicting the path her life would take in the coming months and years.
That path led her to make a bold decision to return to school and pursue a master’s degree in mental health at age 50. Dr. King’s mission was clear: to understand the human mind and the underlying factors that drive addiction. With a newfound knowledge and burning desire to make a difference, she began ministering in Florida.
“I would go into every jail and every dope house; and was accepted because I could speak their language,” Dr. King recalled. “I got a job in a rehab while I was in school because they needed therapists so badly. I worked as a tech and a therapist so I would know every aspect of the business — and then I graduated already a therapist. I saved more people and kept them from killing themselves or talked them down from overdose than that rehab had ever had, and I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do.’”
After some time in Florida, Dr. King returned to Ohio and began the process of finding a new church. She joined a church where the pastor’s background in law enforcement and the Holy Spirit’s call to ministry began to shape her path. She entered a school for ministry and her path toward becoming a pastor began.
Dr. King’s journey intersected with The Wesleyan Church (TWC) when she met Bishop Mocc Rodgers, who introduced her to TWC. As she read about Wesleyan history, she was impressed with our historic emphasis on social action and women in ministry.
“I like the fact that Wesleyan history and beliefs align with the abolitionist’s heart and support of black people,” said Dr. King. “My difficulty with TWC is many have fallen away from the history, and it saddens me … so I had to ask Pastor Les (Crossfield, district superintendent of the Greater Ohio District) during a session we were in together, ‘If we’re somewhere together and someone resists me because I’m black, or because I’m a woman, what are you going to say? Are you going to have my back, or slough me to the side and be with the person who’s against me? I want you to give this some thought.’ And before the session was over, he answered me and told me he would have my back; and that was my deciding moment about whether or not I wanted to become a part of The Wesleyan Church.”
Today, Dr. Deb King is the pastor of D’Sanctuary House, a Wesleyan church in rural Ohio that continues our legacy of social action. Her church provides spiritual and physical nourishment through fellowship and meals for the less fortunate. Their gathering takes place on Saturday mornings, allowing congregants to join together while also serving other congregations on Sunday mornings.
The first initiative of D’Sanctuary House has been “Henrietta’s Hope,” named in honor of Dr. Kings’ mother. The campaign’s goal is to feed rural America, starting with shared meals; but Dr. King has plans to branch out through an agricultural enterprise that would include a working cattle farm and a farm-to-table restaurant, all accessible to the community.
“God says, ‘if you love me, feed my sheep,’” said Dr. King. “And there are so many people who need fed — they need food for their bodies, and their souls, too.” As Dr. King continues to work alongside her community, she continues to see the importance of investing in community-based partnerships, and (just as important) prayer support, as she does work that only God can bring to fruition.
Dr. King’s life — and now her work — are reminders of how God keeps calling us back to serve in places where God nourishes.
For more stories of God’s redeeming work, and ways you can get involved, visit wesleyan.org/news.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.