This article by Ruth Pollard was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.
Further evidence has emerged that Mercy Ministries cuts off young women who fail to comply with its complex web of rules and regulations, as more former residents come forward to detail their time in the conservative Christian homes.
One 21-year-old woman who lived in the ministry’s Sunshine Coast house said she was expelled from the program without any warning.
The reason: “Because I was not trying hard enough, I was not far enough along in my journey and I had broken the forbidden rules of not talking about why I was there with the other residents. I had also hugged two girls over the seven months I had been in the program. You even think about challenging them and they will throw you out with no hope, no follow-up and no place to go.”
She was told at 9.30am that she had to leave the house by 5pm. In that time she had to pack her bags, organise flights from Queensland to the ACT and tell her family she had failed the program.
Another former resident confirmed allegations that the program did not employ qualified dietitians or psychologists. “They believe that all you need is the Holy Spirit and God to overcome a major life problem like an eating disorder. They truly believe what they do is right,” she said.
“One major issue that I struggled with throughout the duration of my Mercy stay was complete submission; being told how to dress, when to sleep, when to shower, when to wash your clothes, when to eat, how much to eat, when to change your sheets, what music you were allowed to listen to, what shops you could and couldn’t go into.”
She said residents were prevented from entering newsagents to ensure they were not exposed to the world outside Mercy Ministries.
Neither of the two women wished to be identified.
In response to allegations in the Herald this week, Mercy Ministries posted a media release on its website denying claims of a lack of psychiatric and medical care for its residents and saying it had received “overwhelming positive feedback from supporters, graduates, their family members and members of the community”.
Gloria Jean’s Coffees hit back at claims it has connections to Hillsong Church, saying on its website: “We are not religiously affiliated, or affiliated to any other beliefs or preferences.”
It said it donated $150,000 to $170,000 a year to Mercy Ministries, plus the donations made by the public to the money boxes in each cafe.
“Since then we have seen many young women’s lives transformed for the better … we have been in direct discussion with Mercy Ministries and we will be working with them to understand what elements of their program could have given rise to these very concerning claims.”
Along with many young women with serious complaints about their treatment at Mercy Ministries, the Herald has been contacted by some who had positive experiences.
“Mercy Ministries really showed me how to live, not just survive,” one wrote. “They taught me about the love of God, and that changed my life. They showed me how to care for myself and others.
“They gave me medical treatment, counselling, psychiatric care and dietary care. I never paid a cent before or after entering Mercy Ministries.”
Another who had been in the Sunshine Coast house said that before she entered Mercy Ministries she was a “lost little girl”, suffering depression, bulimia and self-harm.
“I am now a strong, healthy 21-year-old woman with a sense of my identity, and I’m currently studying and working, starting my career and life that is so promising for me – I am happy, free and am able to live a normal life again, that I can solely thank Mercy Ministries for.”