This post from Nancy Alcorn, founder of Mercy Ministries blog. You can tell Nancy is pulling all the stops against the Mercy girls who are outing her for abuse and scandal. She’s invited the governor of Tennessee to visit! No doubt First Lady Crissy Haslam has no clue the expansive detailed abuse cases that Mercy Ministries has covered up in the past 30 years they’ve been around. Does Mrs. Haslam know the group is anti-gay? Does she know it’s anti-choice? Only time will tell. This whole blog post REEKS of an attempt to garner good PR while silencing the voices of victims. We’re watching Nancy Alcorn and Crissy Haslam. And we will call out anyone who’s involved, no matter the “role” you play in our government.
We spent the entire morning receiving a very special visitor, and I thought you would be interested in knowing about this wonderful time together. Our Governor’s wife, First Lady Crissy Haslam, came to Mercy at 9:00 AM this morning for an official visit and tour, followed by a very special time with our staff and residents in our main classroom. I thought you would enjoying hearing about this from my perspective as well as see some of the pictures from this morning’s interaction.
First Lady of Tennessee Crissy Haslam
addressing the staff and residents
First of all, it is an honor when someone from such a position takes the time out of their busy schedule to come and see the work that we do at Mercy Ministries. One thing about being in existence for almost 30 years is that we now have a track record of longevity and success that speaks to the credibility of the program. Two of our Mercy graduates who are now working as a part of our team had the opportunity to meet with Mrs. Haslam one-on-one and share their story. She was especially interested in hearing about the fact that they came to Mercy Ministries and then were able to complete their college education after graduating from the program.
First Lady of Tennessee Crissy Haslam,
Graduates Jen Grinder and Kim Brownie, and Me
For me personally, I was blown away by the fact that Mrs. Haslam took extra time with our residents and staff to actually allow them to ask her questions, while at the same time interacting with them and asking them questions about the program and their personal experience thus far. I thought it was extra special that Mrs. Haslam encouraged the girls about their faith in God by relating to them with her own journey. Today I found myself feeling very proud of being a Tennessean in light of who our current leaders are in the Governor’s office. Hope you love seeing these pictures. Would love to hear your comments!
P.S. For those of you who are wondering, I did ask our First Lady why she and Governor Haslam were unable to help land Peyton Manning back in the state where he belongs. 🙂
Going after a cult is like playing cat and mouse. Sometimes you’re the cat and other times you’re the mouse.
There’s a game of chase going on online. Mercy Ministries appears to be in the lead, but they’re running head long into a trap. It’s a trap they’ve set up for themselves. They’ve manufactured what they think are “professional” sounding answers, but let’s be honest–they’re not professionals. They have a hell of a lot of money to hire professionals, though, and this is where they sometimes have the upper hand. But they don’t actually have the upper hand and this is why: the laws are against what they’re doing and no matter how many times they change their website to conform to their newest lies, or attempt to silence the victims who’s lives they’ve destroyed one thing remains true–many victims of abuse have emerged from Mercy Ministries to tell their truth. And truth will prevail.
Oh and I’m on the front page of Google for “Mercy Ministries” searches. Let’s watch this change as they attempt to squash my victory.
In the past few weeks, the Lincoln Messenger has ran a series of articles on Mercy Ministry. These reports were done with great care, as you can tell from reading them. The reporter and editor went to great lengths to present both sides of the case. However, Mercy disputed the articles. Sadly, it takes a trained eye or a survivor of Mercy to recognize their “dispute” for what it is: lies.
Yes, you read that right. Mercy Ministries is lying. And they’re changing their web presence to match their lies. They’ve also modified their Wikipedia page to attempt to remove the Australia scandal, but don’t worry we’re bringing those stories back like 2010 brought back Ray Bans.
[This article originally posted in the Sydney Morning Herald. I’m reposting for educational purposes under Fair Use to bring light to new allegations that Mercy Ministries, International has continued abusing young women. If you have any new information regarding this program, please email Lisa Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
March 17, 2008
THEY call themselves the Mercy Girls. And after years of searching they have found each other.
Bound by separate, damaging experiences at the hands of an American-style ministry operating in Sydney and the Sunshine Coast, these young women have clawed their way back to begin a semblance of a life again.
Desperate for help, they had turned to Mercy Ministries suffering mental illness, drug addiction and eating disorders.
Do you know more? Message 0424 SMS SMH ( +61 424 767 764 ) or email us with information or images.
Instead of the promised psychiatric treatment and support, they were placed in the care of Bible studies students, most of them under 30 and some with psychological problems of their own. Counselling consisted of prayer readings, treatment entailed exorcisms and speaking in tongues, and the house was locked down most of the time, isolating residents from the outside world and sealing them in a humidicrib of pentecostal religion.
At 21, Naomi Johnson was a young woman with a bright future, halfway through a psychology degree at Edith Cowan University, working part-time and living an independent, social life.
Yet she was plagued by anorexia.
With her family’s modest means and her part-time job there was no way she could afford to admit herself into the one private clinic in Perth that specialised in adults with eating disorders.
They had no private health insurance, and there were no publicly funded services in the state. So after much research Johnson found a link to Mercy Ministries on the internet.
Months passed as she devoted herself to going through the application process, pinning all her hopes on what appeared to be a modern, welcoming facility, backed by medical, psychiatric and dietitian support.
She flew to Sydney, thousands of kilometres away from her family and friends, and entered the live-in program.
Nine months later she was expelled, a devastated, withdrawn child who could not leave her bedroom, let alone her house.
Nine months without medical treatment, nine months without any psychiatric care, nine months of being told she was not a good enough Christian to rid herself of the “demons” that were causing her anorexia and pushing her to self-harm. After being locked away from society for so long, Naomi started to believe them. “I just felt completely hopeless. I thought if Mercy did not want to help me where do I stand now?
“They say they take in the world’s trash, so what happens when you are Mercy trash?”
Two months after she had been expelled from Mercy’s Sydney house (her crime was to smoke a cigarette) Johnson ended up in Royal Perth Hospital’s psychiatric unit. From there she started seeing a psychologist at an outpatient program two to three times a week.
“Even now, three years on, I don’t socialise widely, I don’t work full time, I don’t study full time. Even now there is still a lot of remnants hanging around from my time at Mercy.
“The first psychologist I saw rang and spoke to Mercy. She wrote to them over a period of time, just trying to get answers. They were very evasive; they avoided her calls. Eventually she got some paperwork, some case notes, from them.”
Mercy Ministries made the psychologist sign a waiver that she wouldn’t take these notes to the media before they would release them. Johnson has signed no such waiver and, months ago, she posted her notes on the internet, almost as a warning to other young women considering a stint at Mercy Ministries.
Yet for so long she just wanted to go back to the Sydney house, because they had convinced her that Mercy was the only place that could help her.
“It is difficult to explain, in a logical sense. I know how very wrong the treatment, their program and their approach is, but the wounds are still quite deep, and even though I know that they were wrong, there is still a part of you that just even now wants to be accepted by Mercy.”
In the northern suburbs of Perth, in a large, one-storey home bordered by a well-tended cottage garden, the Johnson family is attempting to pick up the pieces of a life almost cut short by Mercy.
With two fox terriers at her feet and doors and windows shut against the relentless Western Australian heat, Johnson – a small, delicate young woman with a razor sharp mind – unveils a sophisticated, nuanced interpretation of her time in the Sydney house.
Careful and articulate, her struggle with the horror of her descent into despair at the hands of Mercy is only evidenced by the occasional tremor in her hands and voice as she describes her experience. She was sharing the house with 15 other girls and young women, with problems ranging from teenage pregnancies, alcohol and drug abuse, self harm, depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.
“There were girls who had got messed up in the adult sex industry – a real range of problems, some incorporating actual psychiatric illness, others just dealing with messy lives, and the approach to all those problems was the same format,” Johnson says.
Counselling involved working through a white folder containing pre-scripted prayers.
“Most of the staff were current Bible studies or Bible college students, and that is it, if anything. You just cannot play around with mental illness when you do not know what you are doing. Even professionals will acknowledge that it is a huge responsibility working in that field, and that is people who have six years, eight years university study behind them.”
And while there was nothing that was formally termed “exorcism” in the Sydney house, Naomi was forced to stand in front of two counsellors while they prayed and spoke in tongues around her. In her mind, it was an exorcism. “I felt really stupid just standing there – they weren’t helping me with the things going on in my head. I would ask staff for tools on how to cope with the urges to self harm … and the response was: ‘What scriptures are you standing on? Read your Bible.”
Johnson had grown up in a Christian family; her belief in God was not the issue; anorexia and self harm were. “A major sticking point was when they told me I needed to receive the holy Spirit in me and speak in tongues, to raise my hands in worship songs and jump up and down on the spot in fast songs. I told them that I really didn’t understand how jumping up and down to a fast song at church was going to fix the anorexia, and yet that was a big, big sticking point, because it showed I was being resistant, cynical and holding back.”
Her mother, Julie Johnson, watches as she talks, anxious about the effect of her daughter’s decision to tell her story, yet immensely proud of her courage.
“Naomi was very determined to find somewhere that could help her. We didn’t have private health cover, so our resources were limited, so she searched the net and came across Mercy Ministries,” Julie Johnson says.
“It sounded very promising … she went off to Mercy a very positive young lady who finally had some hope that she was going to come back completely free of this eating disorder.”
And the family was excited, too, pleased that there was someone who could help their daughter beat anorexia. “But unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. They gave her hope and told her they would never give up on her but … in the end she got quite distraught that she was never able to please them.”
Johnson sent her parents a letter telling them she was not very well and that she was very confused with the kind of program Mercy Ministries was running.
“I called and spoke to her counsellor in person,” Julie Johnson said. “She told me that Naomi was lying to me, that Naomi was just rebelling … she was making the wrong choices.”
But instead of taking her mother’s concerns on board, the staff punished Naomi for disclosing anything about her time at the Sydney home.
“They told me that what happens in Mercy stays in Mercy, that what happens between the staff and Naomi stays at Mercy. It is not let out to the family,” Julie Johnson said. “We were isolated, we were not involved in her progress at Mercy, we were just excluded and yet we were a family that wanted to be behind her and they wouldn’t allow us to be.”
The situation came to a head when Johnson returned to the Sydney house after spending Christmas with her family in Perth. She was told she had been seen smoking at the airport and that she was being expelled from the program. Naomi phoned her mother in tears, and the staff informed her they were putting her on the next plane back to Perth.
“She was distraught; she was an absolute mess; her life was in danger. I could hear it, she was capable of anything, the anxiety was so extreme … she was just out of control,” Julie Johnson said. “I said to them, ‘There is no way you are going to send her
back on her own, she is suicidal. You will deliver her to me at the airport when I can get a flight over’.”
Mrs Johnson flew to Sydney to collect her daughter.
“She went into that place as a young lady and came back to us as a child. She was very confused, like she was 12 or 13. She shut herself in the bedroom and thought she was nothing but evil. Her self-esteem went down. She thought, ‘I may as well die.”‘
Johnson, now 24, and her mother, know how close the end had been.
The executive manager of programs with Mercy Ministries, Judy Watson, is proud of the organisation’s achievements, and rejects the claim that there are no staff qualified in psychiatry, psychology or counselling.
It appears that there is one registered psychologist at Mercy’s Sydney house, although the Herald understands that the little contact she has with the residents is around scriptures, not psychological care. She did not respond to a request for an interview.
In a written statement, Watson said: “Mercy Ministries counselling staff are required to have tertiary education and qualifications in counselling, social work or psychology. Staff also participate in externally provided supervision from psychologists.”
Yet she was unable to detail what qualifications each staff member had, or how many had qualifications beyond their one registered psychologist.
On the allegations that young women are denied medical and psychiatric care, Watson had this to say: “Residents’ mental and physical health concerns are taken very seriously, and appropriate treatment is made available.
“Mercy Ministries provides a range of services to young women in the program. Mercy Ministries provides services through either health professionals employed by Mercy Ministries, subcontracted to provide services to residents at Mercy Ministries, or taken to specialists at their practice.”
Rhiannon Canham-Wright and Megan Smith (not her real name) are two others who have suffered at the hands of Mercy Ministries, this time in the group’s Sunshine Coast house.
Smith had also been at university before she went into the Mercy Ministries house. She had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and thought a residential program with medical and psychiatric care would help get her illnesses under control. Yet almost from the moment she arrived she began to struggle.
Sitting in the courtyard of a cafe in a large, central Queensland town, as storm clouds gathered above, she told her story in a soft, quiet voice. Like Johnson, she is fiercely intelligent and articulate, focused and determined. She described her mental illness growing quickly out of control the longer she was subjected to the cruel, illogical treatment in the Sunshine Coast house.
“I was pulling my hair out – it’s a condition called trichotillomania,” said Smith, now 29. “However, it wasn’t bad before Mercy. I let the staff know about it because suddenly it had got a lot worse. Instead of taking me to the doctor to where I could have got assessed and got some medication, they just told me to forget about it.”
Her condition worsened without treatment, but she had no way of getting any medical care because the house was locked down most of the time.
“To take the rubbish bin out to the footpath we had to get special permission. If we stepped over the boundary we were kicked out of the program because it was treated as absconding. Even to go to the toilet or brush our teeth we had to have specific permission. It was such a sterile environment. We were not allowed to talk about our feelings, there was no family support, no friend’s support, and no professional support.”
Before long, Smith began to harm herself in other ways. Again she alerted the staff to her concerns. They reprimanded her for wasting their time, calling her a “fruitcake”, she said.
“The [staff member] said I was attention seeking, bringing negative energy to the environment and taking her valuable time away from girls who really need her.
“With this particular staff member, I know she had issues in the past, because she used to talk about it with the girls. She was open about it because she thought that was how God qualified her for the work that she did.
“But she had mood swings and anger problems. She would go from calm and normal to aggressively angry very quickly.”
Again, there was no medical treatment, just Bible studies and prayer reading, relentless cleaning and many rules that were often only revealed to residents when they broke one of them.
“I went to a residential place that said they help people with mental illness using qualified professionals, [instead] going there took away my help. Even the GP they took me to to get my prescriptions filled was their GP, who they said had been specifically chosen because they were supportive of ‘the Mercy way’. I wasn’t allowed to talk to the doctor by myself; they had a staff member or volunteer with us at all times.”
Asked to name the most valuable thing she learned in Mercy Ministries, she said, without hesitation and with much mirth: “cleaning”.
“I am no domestic goddess, so I needed all the help I could get.”
In both the Sydney and the Sunshine Coast house residents were prohibited from talking about their past, what brought them to Mercy, their struggles and problems.
“We were threatened with being kicked out if we did disclose anything,” Smith said. “It was a lot to do with control and manipulation, and it just shows that they did have that power over us. We could have talked and rebelled but we were so scared of them and just so desperate for help.
“I was really sucked in. That was my world; it was locked down 24/7, so anything the staff said I believed to be the truth.”
By the time Smith was expelled from Mercy, three months into her six-month stay, she was a mess. She was locked in a room and told she was not worth helping, she said, then driven to the airport and left alone to wait for a flight to her central Queensland home.
A family member met her at the airport. He had been told, incorrectly, by Mercy staff that Smith had chosen to leave. He was unprepared for the state she was in when she arrived.
“She was extremely upset. She didn’t want to come back at all … she was in a real mess,” said the relative, who did not want to be identified. “I was extremely fearful that she was likely to commit suicide. It was an extreme shock that this ministry we all had decided was the real deal had turned out to be a worse problem … it left her in a worse state than she had ever been in before.”
For two years just keeping her alive became a full-time job, he said. “Whenever she was alone for any length of time it was always a fear that she may not be alive when you got back. When you did get back there were quite a lot of times when she had a knife and she had been scratching her wrists.”
Since then Smith has received effective psychological care and is no longer at risk of self-harm or suicide. After more than a year of searching the internet, she found one other woman who had been at Mercy, using the social networking site Facebook. That is Canham-Wright, 26, another former resident of the Sunshine Coast house.
Canham-Wright, now living in Darwin with her daughter, 1, and her partner, describes every day as a struggle since she was thrown out of Mercy, after living there from July 2003 until the following March.
She had gone into Mercy Ministries just after her 21st birthday following a drug overdose and suffering bipolar disorder. Soon after she was in conflict with staff over her regular medication.
Canham-Wright has asthma, and yet she was prevented from having her ventolin with her at all times, she said.
“Every time I had an asthma attack they told me to stop acting … I was punished, I had to do an assignment about why God believes that lying is wrong.
“I was told, ‘You still have demons to battle with. Satan still has a huge control over your life. That is when the exorcism and the prayers over my life started.”
She got to the point where she no longer knew herself or what she believed in.
“They would call me into their office, saying that I was just make-believing and trying to get attention, and they would start praying over me. They would always pray for Satan to be dismissed out of my body.”
Every night there was a prayer meeting. “When someone wanted to have something prayed about in particular, we would all have to lay hands and the staff member … would perform an exorcism.”
You will find a donation box and pamphlet in every Gloria Jeans store soliciting donations for Mercy Ministries. “Your spare change helps transform a life,” the pamphlet reads.
Yet few who donate to Mercy understand they are giving money to fund exorcisms in a program that removes young women from proven medical therapies and places them in the hands of a house full of amateur counsellors. Its literature claims to have a 90 per cent success rate – yet nowhere does it publish any results.
The allegations by Johnson, Canham-Wright, Smith and others indicates the program cannot lay claim to such a success rate.
The internet is littered with other young women making similar allegations about the Mercy Ministries program.
One young woman wrote in January: “I have been to Mercy Ministries – I have seen so many girls hurt and abused there, it is really sickening. Many girls are also kicked out and leave there far worse off than before they went to get help.”
Another replied: “Mercy Ministries operates off the grid, and therefore can abuse and harm young women who go there.”
And yet Mercy continues to operate without the scrutiny of government authorities, under the radar and with impunity.
This post originally appeared on “Sarah’s Collage” a blog written by a Mercy insider who attend the program in Australia.
Since around the beginning of the year, myself and some other fellow survivors have been involved in a struggle to have our respective client files released to us.
(Some coverage of this can be found here, compliments of Sean the Blogonaut).
As this is public domain, I will speak only for the situation involving myself.
When all of this began, I fasted and prayed my heart out, considered scripture and discussed the issue with a few wise friends.
After much delay and Mercy’s subsequent refusal, a bunch of phone calls, intervention of a Lawyer and the Privacy Commissioner and further delay, I received an incomplete file.
Prior to my appointment on Tuesday evening, I did not expect that I would feel troubled by its contents. In fact, I did not expect to feel anything at all.
This was true of most of it, even of the more sensitive material.
Some of it that would have troubled me years ago actually made me laugh out loud.
There was only one thing really that I felt a bit disturbed by. It related to one of the major traumatic events I experienced there, and the account of that event was so twisted and untrue. For a second, I felt that old familiar feeling again of having my sanity put in question.
I was glad to have my Psychologist present to share a good chuckle with.
I just feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to heal from that experience with the help of some safe, wise and discerning women in my world. Not all girls have had that opportunity, but God can use many things to heal an abused heart.
I can see how going through one’s own file with a sane, trusted and qualified person can be a significant healing experience for those who are still reeling from the impact, even several years on.
Having that choice restored to us is healing in itself, validating of our adulthood and our own ability to make decisions that are in the best interests of our healing.
I am yet to receive the remaining documents, and after several delays I have come to expect that I will not be receiving it any time soon, and definitely not before I go into hospital in about two weeks.
So today, I am thanking God for victory, for healing and restoration in the lives of survivors both here and abroad, for the voice He has restored to me, and most of all I am thanking him that my suffering was not in vain.
Mercy Ministries’ free-of-charge, voluntary, faith-based residential program serves young women from all socio-economic backgrounds, ages 13-28, who face a combination of life-controlling issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, drug and alcohol addictions, depression and unplanned pregnancy. Mercy also serves young women who have been physically and sexually abused, including victims of sex trafficking. Using proven methods, a holistic approach and professional counselors in a structured residential environment, Mercy has helped thousands of young women be restored to wholeness. Mercy’s goal is to help these young women find freedom from their issues and empower them to serve in their communities as productive citizens.
Mercy Ministries exists to provide opportunities for young women to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and life-transforming power.
Mercy Ministries is committed to being an effective and well-respected global organization dedicated to transforming lives of generations searching for truth and wholeness.
What makes Mercy Ministries different?
We believe freedom is possible!
We don’t teach methods of coping with life-controlling issues, we teach God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and life-transforming power. Our program gives young women the tools they need to break free! We apply Christian principles and teachings with proven methods and a professional counseling staff. Our approach to healing allows young women to permanently stop destructive cycles and prepares them to take hope out into their communities.
Our program is completely FREE OF CHARGE
We want our residents to know that we genuinely care. They can trust us because we are not making money off of their problems. We raise all the financial support for our programs through private funding.
We have seen thousands of lives transformed
Mercy Ministries International has helped over 3,000 residents in its nearly 30 years of operation. In a recent survey of former Mercy Ministries of America residents, 93 percent of respondents said Mercy Ministries “transformed their lives and restored their hope.” Time and time again we have seen girls who have no hope or will to live develop into strong, passionate leaders. God is using Mercy graduates to impact lives all over the world.
What is Mercy Ministries behind the mask?
Mercy Ministries is a Nashville, Tennessee based group which was accused of misrepresenting their counseling and recovery services to young women in Australia in 2008. The misrepresentation in Australia was two-fold. First, they claimed their services were free but had the girls sign over their government checks. Second, the ministry claimed to be using licensed therapists and professional counseling methods. In 2009, Mercy admitted their guilt in misrepresentation on both counts and paid back $120,000 of government aid it had wrongly taken from the girls who attended—in Australia.